by Veronica Barry
Birmingham City University’s CEBE faculty hosted a national workshop on 23rd May, for the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project ‘PEGASUS’ (2015-18). The event was facilitated by University of Gloucester’s CCRI (Countryside and Community Research Institute), which is one of 14 pan-European project partners. The workshop enabled stakeholders to share learning to date and give input and comment into initial findings and research process. Over thirty people attended the event, including representatives from the Department of Environment and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), National Farmers Union (NFU), Natural England, Care Farms UK, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and academics, among others.
PEGASUS (Public Ecosystem Goods and Services from land management – Unlocking the Synergies) delivers an innovative European wide research programme, exploring the provision of public goods and ecosystems services from agriculture and forestry. Taking a socio-ecological systems approach, and through detailed case studies, action research has involved diverse stakeholders. The project aims to explore and unlock the potential synergies between environmental, social and economic benefits of agriculture. It is hoped that this will shed light on the contexts in which these synergies can be best supported and developed, with the aim of informing policy development and practice on the ground. At the heart of the research is a recognition of the multi-level influences on the provision of public goods and ecosystems services, and their complex interdependencies. Over fourteen pan European in depth case studies have been chosen, providing contrasting environmental and social challenges across a mix of landscapes and contexts. In depth analysis of the systems within which each case study is situated has begun to reveal some important lessons.
Rob Field from RSPB described the work of Hope Farm, Cambridgeshire. Purchased by RSPB in 2000, the aim was to change practices within the farm to demonstrate that agro-environmental interventions within a commercial farming context can ameliorate the intensive impact on birds, wildlife, insects and soil health. The farm has been building links with other farmers in the area, and gathered information to gain a greater understanding of the barriers and drivers of change. Barriers can consist of scepticism about benefits, reduced funding incentives and commercial concerns. Drivers identified include the need for change agents and farmers feeling the need to address wider sustainability issues. Looking at changes that could demonstrate clear benefits to farmers was seen as important, for example, collaborative work to reduce run off, which would have agronomic and financial benefits as well as synergistically supporting birdlife.
Other case studies provided a range of in depth studies demonstrating the diverse social and ecological benefits provided through farming and forestry. This included Care Farming UK’s model which provides therapeutic, health and social care opportunities on farms for people with a range of health conditions. Jenny Phelps from Farming and Wildlife Action Group (FWAG-SW) described work with local communities, farmers and others in partnership to address flooding, water quality and water ecology issues in the Upper Thames. Here a place based approach had begun to link biodiversity with neighbourhood planning, and behaviour change was supported through improving communication and knowledge exchange across different levels. Rebecca Barrett, working for the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, described work with multiple stakeholders in the North Pennine uplands, Allen Valley, to conserve and restore important heritage assets embedded in upland farming systems. Here, understanding the wider issues of community viability, resilience and economic marginalisation was key. Finally, we heard from other European examples including forestry and niche organic products from Czech Republic, Italy and Estonia. Chris Short from CCRI also gave an overview of initial experimentation with an innovative multi-level mapping approach aimed at highlighting the different layers of influence on land… although the group expressed some reservations about this leading to over simplification of the complex factors at a local level. More details on all case studies can be viewed at www.pegasus.ieep.eu.
The plenary session in the afternoon enabled group discussion on key themes that have emerged from the work, and gave stakeholders an opportunity to feed into the next phase of the work. Debate covered wide ranging themes, perhaps common to any investigation into complex systems including complexities of collaborative, cross sectoral work, the role of policy, silo mentalities, short-termism and the overriding pressures for economic viability.
Discussion took place as the role of the market… was policy there to fill gaps that the market does not provide or was it more about policies working with the market? The research has led to growing understanding that policy needs to work with the private sector as a key stakeholder, and build common ground between public, private and voluntary sectors at a local level. Trust was seen as key, and building relationships at different levels was acknowledged to take time.
The complexities of scale were also raised; what scale – for policy, spatial, sector, land tenure and so on – would provide best insight into complex issues? The need for joined-up policy, with longer term funding, and integrated from the ground up was raised, as well as the recognition of the role played by key individuals in interpreting and joining up policy with local stakeholders. Fragility of gains at a project level were set against the backdrop of an ever changing and uncertain policy landscape, especially thrown into light with Brexit negotiations.
The wider systems issues included the recognition of the challenges facing community social and economic viability, were described as the ‘elephant in the room’. It was recognised that important landscapes and their ecological and social benefits would be inevitably lost if these wider issues were not tackled.
Overall, the day gave a great insight into the action oriented approach taken by this important research. It has helped shed light on the synergistic potential of provision of social, economic and environmental benefits from farming and forestry, and the need for cross sector, collaborative work to achieve multiple aims. The work continues, with more workshops taking place across Europe over the next few months, and drawing up of lessons for future policy and practice emerging over time.
Veronica Barry is a final year PHD Student in the Centre for Resilient Environments, Faculty of Computing, Engineering and Built Environment at Birmingham City University.