Scottish Government Rural Affairs and the Environment Strategic Research Strategy 2011 - 2016

The strategy behind the Scottish Government's Rural Affairs and the Enviroment Strategic Research 2011-2016

3. Objectives of the Strategic Research Portfolio

There are three strategic priorities for the research portfolio:

  • Supporting policy and practice;
  • Supporting innovation and the economy;
  • Scientific resilience;

Underpinned by two further supporting priorities:

  • Scientific excellence;
  • Collaboration and multidisciplinary working.

To that end the strategic research portfolio supports:

  • Applied research to address current and emerging challenges (e.g. climate change, food security, natural resource scarcity), to meet short and medium term policy needs and to enhance productivity and economic growth (with a particular focus on agriculture, the food and drink industry and animal life sciences);
  • Longer-term strategic research to understand change over time and enhance resilience to future threats (e.g. plant and animal disease);
  • Maintenance of critical infrastructure and research assets including, facilities, collections and databases;
  • Development of future research capacity and capability (e.g. funding PhDs and post-doctoral opportunities).

These strategic priorities are delivered through a wide portfolio of research activity (see Figure 1 below) comprising:

  • two five year multi-disciplinary programmes of strategic research - one on environmental change and one on food land and people;
  • three 'policy-facing' Centres of Expertise covering climate change, animal disease and water;
  • two 'industry-facing' Strategic Partnerships focused on animal science and food and drink;
  • investment in underpinning capacity to support Scotland's strategic rural and environmental science base.

Annex 5 outlines research spend across the Portfolio while alignment of the different components of the Portfolio with the strategic priorities is set out in Annex 6.

Figure 1: Strategic Research Portfolio: Component Parts

Figure 1: Strategic Research Portfolio: Component Parts

The following sections outline in more detail the different components of the research portfolio.

3.1 Strategic Research Programmes and Themes

The Strategic Research Programme utilises Scotland's renowned scientific capacity and capability in the Main Research Providers, bringing it to bear to provide new insights and to apply new knowledge and understanding to support the delivery of the Scottish Government's purpose and priorities as set out in the National Outcomes.

The 2011-16 research programme addresses key current and emerging issues of critical importance to Scotland including: food security, climate change and development of a low carbon economy, sustainable use of Scotland's land and other natural resources, thriving rural communities and rural development. Developed in collaboration with Scottish Government policy colleagues and CAMERAS partners2, to ensure relevance to policy and practice the design of the programme was also informed by an independent advisory panel, a range of consultations with stakeholders, discussions and workshops with the Main Research Providers and engagement with other research funders.

The Strategic Research Programme comprises eight themes brigaded into two programmes:

Environmental Change Programme

The Environmental Change Programme includes research deliverables aimed at contributing to helping Scotland be more resilient to environmental change. Representing an investment of some £12.1 M per annum the programme is set within the framework of an Ecosystems Approach3 and aligned with the UK inter-governmental research partnership, Living with Environmental Change led by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).

There are four Themes within the programme:

  • Ecosystem Services
  • Water and Renewable Energy
  • Land Use
  • Economic Adaptation

3.1.1 Ecosystem Services

The Ecosystems Theme aims to ensure that Scotland's environmental assets, biodiversity and ecosystem services are identified and valued to inform decision making.

Scotland's environment is a national asset and many sectors such as food and drink and tourism depend upon it. Securing the health of Scotland's environment is vital to sustainable economic growth and to a sustainable legacy. This theme provides techniques to measure that health, evidence for its resilience and mechanisms to better value it. Research and knowledge exchange activities within this Theme fall into four general areas:

  • The production of methods for mapping Ecosystem Services (ES) in Scotland and of associated indicators to enable the spatial visions for trade-offs and/or multiple benefits in decision-making;
  • The sustainability and resilience of ES to land use change, including the consequences of agricultural cropping systems on ES and the role of biodiversity in underpinning these services (in the uplands and lowlands);
  • Development of an ES or green accounting methodology and concepts of value in relation to ES, incorporating issues of equity in ES benefits and utility of "Payments for Ecosystem services";
  • Development of an Ecosystems Approach decision making framework to understand the consequences of management decisions on ecosystem services. Exploring the utility of such a framework in relation to local applications, sustainable land use choices and the linkage to strategic planning approaches.

3.1.2 Water and Renewable Energy

The Water and Renewable Energy Theme aims to deliver strategic research to better understand the dynamics of water and renewable energy supply and how they may be affected by global change. There are four main objectives:

  • to understand the current availability of water and renewable energy resources within Scotland and how these will be affected by changes in climate, land use and population. Outputs include maps of current and predicted future water availability and deficit, capacity for water storage, data on water quality, implications of renewable energy development for ecosystem services, inter-relationships between water and energy;
  • to improve the environmental sustainability and resource efficiency of water and energy supply chains. Outputs include recommendations as to renewable energy options which are most suitable for Scotland, an assessment of Scotland's contribution to global carbon emissions, the environmental impacts of wind and hydropower and tools to reduce water consumption;
  • to improve the effectiveness of measures to manage water quality and control diffuse pollution. Outputs will include ways to promote uptake of policy measures and to achieve multiple benefits from water quality / flood risk policy measures, tools to identify pollution sources, prediction of future pollutant levels and their ecological impacts, and better understanding of how water quality will respond to land use and climate change;
  • to mitigate, manage and adapt to increased flood risk. Outputs will include tools and guidance on effective Natural Flood Management measures, effects of land management and climate change on flood risk, ways to achieve multiple benefits with respect to ecosystem services.

3.1.3 Land Use

Research in the Land Use Theme aims to increase knowledge of how Scotland's environment might be affected by predicted changes in climate and land use. It will provide evidence to inform the development of policy and practical measures to reduce Scotland's greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from land use, forestry and agriculture, and deliver multiple benefits from land use. In the longer term, outputs from this Theme should help improve management of Scotland's rural environment, to help ensure that land use is sustainable and resilient to the impacts of climate change.

Research and knowledge exchange activities in this Theme falls into the following areas:

  • Improved understanding of how changing land use (e.g. farming practices, peatland restoration and reforestation) affects GHG emissions, carbon sequestration, soil properties and biodiversity;
  • Applying and testing the Ecosystem Approach for a range of land use systems and management practices (such as different tillage regimes and application of fertilisers and wastes to land). This builds on developmental work in the Ecosystem Services Theme, and should help identify opportunities to manage land to deliver multiple services and functions;
  • Assessing socio-economic aspects of land use policy measures and practices. This includes assessing the cost effectiveness of different technical solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Other research focuses on understanding what influences land manager attitudes and behaviours towards climate change adaptation and mitigation measures to inform strategies for dealing with barriers to uptake.

3.1.4 Economic Adaptation

The Economic Adaptation Theme considers the major changes facing Scotland's rural economy and aims to provide an evidence-base to help polices targeted at helping Scottish rural businesses adapt to these changes.

Work within the Theme falls into the following areas:

  • Consideration of the impact of major drivers of change, such as CAP reform, global trade patterns and climate change, and the policy options available that will increase the underlying adaptive capacity of Scotland's rural economy to meet these changes. To date, the work on CAP reform has been vital in helping the Scottish Government understand the implications of different policy options on the agricultural sector in Scotland;
  • Assessing the transition to a low carbon economy in Scotland by improving our understanding of the impact of climate change on the rural economy of Scotland. This will include enhancing our understanding of, and potential pathways towards achieving, a low carbon rural economy.

Food, Land and People Programme

Representing an investment of some £19.4 M per annum, the Food, Land and People Programme includes research deliverables aimed at optimising the use of Scotland's natural assets and is aligned with the UK Global Food Security programme led by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

There are four Themes within the programme:

  • Food
  • Health and Welfare
  • Diet and Health
  • Rural Communities

3.1.5 Food

This Theme on "Efficient and resilient supply chains for food" aims to produce scientific evidence and techniques that will make Scotland's food and drink supply chains more resource efficient and more resilient to change. Research and knowledge exchange activities within this Theme fall into three general areas:

  • Socio-economic assessment of the resilience, efficiency and sustainability of food supply chains in Scotland, including a review of measurement approaches, projections of the impact of high level changes to demand and supply, and identification of opportunities for improvement;
  • Improvements in resource use and resilience of crops grown in Scotland. This includes tools and technologies that will enable the breeding of varieties with improved nutrient uptake, better potential for by-products, improved nutritional qualities, and/or better resistance to abiotic stress. It also covers improvements in cropping systems and screening of wild species and landraces for desirable genetic traits;
  • Improvements in performance of livestock production in Scotland, including tools and technologies to produce breeds with improved genetic traits for productivity, health, welfare and resilience, evidence to improve farming systems and the management of genetic resources, approaches to overcome barriers to the uptake of new technologies by industry, and decision support tools to optimise farm profitability and sustainability.

3.1.6 Health and Welfare (Plants and Animals)

Scotland's high health status for livestock, agricultural and horticultural crops gives competitive advantage and export opportunities to Scottish producers. The Health & Welfare Theme aims to improve farm productivity and sustainability through improvements to plant and animal disease control and enhancement of farm animal welfare. Research and knowledge exchange activities within this Theme fall into four general areas:

  • Improvements in measuring and monitoring animal health and welfare and in evaluating the impacts of various health-promoting measures;
  • Reduction of infectious disease in Scottish livestock and the maintenance of Scotland's biodiversity, reduction of the risk to humans from zoonotic disease and securing the supply of safe foods. This will be achieved by the production of new diagnostic tests and vaccines, advice on cull strategies and bio-security measures, targeted treatment regimes and risk reduction through changing practices;
  • Improvement of animal welfare through production of validated indicators of positive welfare in all farmed species, investigation of farmer motivations for and barriers to the uptake of welfare-related practices on farms, investigation of pain associated with management practices (such as castration in lambs) and the economic viability of a food certification scheme based on positive welfare. The socioeconomic context of animal welfare in Scotland will be examined by addressing the links between animal welfare and sustainable land use;
  • Reduction of losses in the potato, barley and berry fruit industries, through the development of new tools and methods for protecting food from pests and diseases while maintaining, and potentially increasing, sustainable crop production.

3.1.7 Healthy Safe Diets (Human)

The "Healthy, Safe Diets" Theme aims to improve the evidence base on what constitutes healthy food, on the contribution this makes to human health and wellbeing, and on how nutritional benefits can be improved through optimising food production and processing. The research and knowledge exchange within this Theme falls within two general areas:

  • Consumer choice, diet and health, which seeks to understand the barriers to the uptake of a healthy diet by the people of Scotland and develop strategies to overcome these. This includes research to provide evidence on the mechanisms that induce satiety and on the effects of certain food groups (sugars, fats) on health to influence consumer behaviour;
  • Enhancing health benefits of food including the collection of evidence to improve the Scottish diet through improvement of the nutritional value of food produce and products currently being consumed in Scotland. This work looks at different stages in the production process including methods to improve food through the introduction of changes in farming and processing techniques. It also covers the development of methods for food authentication.

3.1.8 Rural Communities

The Vibrant Rural Communities Theme aims to improve understanding of what makes a rural community economically and socially vibrant and what government and other stakeholders can do to assist communities to become more vibrant. Research and knowledge exchange within this Theme falls into three general areas:

  • Rural economic performance and social outcomes. This work seeks to improve our understanding of why some rural communities perform economically better than others as well as examining whether economic performance is necessarily linked to better social resilience and well-being;
  • Improved understanding of governance and decision making structures and processes for community empowerment. This work uses in-depth case studies, to improve our understanding of how empowerment currently works in rural communities, as well as how changes to governance frameworks or place based policy could make community empowerment more effective;
  • Improved understanding of the existing linkages and the role of policy in shaping interdependencies, synergies and conflicts in land use. This policy related work looks at different aspects of rural and urban linkages including consideration of different models of service delivery, health and welfare benefits of greenspaces, as well as conflicts and synergies in access to, or use of, greenspaces.

3.2 Centres of Expertise

Alongside investing in two 5 year strategic programmes of research SG is investing over £6 M per annum in three Centres of Expertise. Focused on areas of high policy priority these centres enable SG to address more immediate policy needs making best use of existing evidence and expertise. Introduced in 2011, and funded as collaborative ventures between the MRPs and university sector, these virtual Centres aim to enable the SG and its partners to draw on Scotland's scientific research and expertise in a more co-ordinated and integrated way. There are currently three Centres of Expertise focused on:

  • Climate Change;
  • Water; and
  • Animal Disease.

3.2.1 Centre of Expertise in Animal Disease Outbreaks - EPIC

EPIC aims to provide the best available scientific advice to inform government policy on reducing the impact of animal disease outbreaks. It provides access to expertise from across Scotland to enhance the co-ordination and synergy of the science and to stimulate innovative thinking in support of policy. To that end the Centre provides:

  • Rapid access to emergency advice in the event of a disease outbreak;
  • Greater understanding of the risks and uncertainties associated with animals movements;
  • Analysis of potential disease control options;
  • Advice on the implications, risks and opportunities presented by international developments, commercial and institutional factors;
  • A programme of knowledge exchange.

3.2.2 Centre of Expertise on Climate Change - ClimateXChange (CXC)

CXC aims to deliver objective, independent, integrated and authoritative evidence to support the Scottish Government in relation to its activities on climate change mitigation, adaptation and transition to a low carbon economy.

A collaborative initiative between sixteen of Scotland's leading research and higher education institutions, with a small Directorate team based at the University of Edinburgh, CXC provides an evidence base for Scottish Government policy and implementation partners through responsive call-down advice and analysis and a programme of short-term policy-focused research.

Key objectives of this research include:

  • Analysing mitigation options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and enhance carbon sequestration;
  • Assessing distributional impacts and equity to understand the social and economic consequences of climate change policies;
  • Developing adaptation strategies and appraising adaptation options drawing on an analysis of key climate change risks and opportunities;
  • Promoting & demonstrating adaptation in practice through strategic advice and knowledge exchange;
  • Developing indicators of climate change adaptation to assess the nature, extent and effectiveness of adaptation responses.

3.2.3 Centre of Expertise on Water - CREW

CREW aims to inform the Scottish Government's policy on water management drawing on the best available scientific advice from across Scotland and beyond. It delivers both call-down expert advice and a programme of short-term research. CREW's work programme is responsive to the needs of its users and is currently focused in the following areas: flood risk and hydrology, impacts of climate change, reducing diffuse pollution, sustainable water treatment, catchment-scale management, ecosystem services, water and health, and the Scottish Government's Hydro Nation agenda. CREW's work is aligned with and complementary to the water-related work under the RESAS Strategic Research Programme and links with ClimateXChange work where appropriate. CREW is a developing partnership between the James Hutton Institute and all Scottish Higher Education Institutes. CREW's primary customers are Scottish Government policy teams, SEPA and Scottish Water.

3.4 Strategic Partnerships

In line with its support for innovation and the economy SG is investing over £3 M per annum in two Strategic Partnerships in key sectors with high growth potential: (animal) life sciences and food and drink science. The Strategic Partnerships provide a mechanism to enhance closer collaboration between the MRPs and Scottish universities in the context of the Government Economic Strategy and the overarching priority of increasing sustainable economic growth.

Introduced in 2011, along with the Centres of Expertise, these initiatives aim to strengthen the flow of knowledge from basic through applied research to meet longer-term industry needs and to enhance the commercial exploitation of the science base.

3.4.1 Strategic Partnership on Animal Science Excellence (SPASE)

SPASE was set up to improve the exploitation of research and contribute to innovation and economic growth in the livestock and animal health sectors. Specific objectives are to enhance Scotland's world-leading position in animal science and to enable the animal science community to leverage additional funds from outside the Scottish public sector. SPASE aims to achieve these objectives through building collaborations between the Main Research Providers and Universities and delivering international quality science that will benefit the livestock industry.

SPASE research focuses on three areas:

  • The study of how genetic variation in animals and pathogens affects disease. The long-term benefits of this research will arise from the development of new vaccines and methods for disease control;
  • The study of how early life environment affects productivity and welfare of Scottish livestock. The benefits of this research will arise from improved management techniques for farmers that will increase productivity and welfare;
  • The use of systems approaches to understand, predict and control livestock health in different environments. This research aims to deliver improved methods for controlling livestock disease and preventing the transmission of disease to humans.

3.4.2 Strategic Partnership on Food & Drink Science

SPF&D aims to provide scientific evidence on food and drink to inform industry and government. Specific objectives are to: support growth of the Scottish food and drink industry and Scotland's reputation as a "land of food and drink"; to help the industry deliver healthy, sustainable, affordable and available products and to contribute to food security and resilience.

It conducts research into areas related to Scottish industry priorities including:

  • The potential of cereal products to benefit human health;
  • Short-chain fatty acids as satiety agents;
  • Foodborne pathogen adaptation and survival through the food chain;
  • Local and regional food systems;
  • Effect of production techniques on nutritional quality;
  • Sustainable protein selection for the food & drink industry.


Email: Scott Boyd

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