Much of the UK natural environment (particularly in Scotland and Wales, though less so England) consists of upland areas. Currently, this is dominated by extensive sheep and beef cattle production systems that are economically fragile. These systems, if once lost, will be extremely difficult to re-create, unlike some more intensive systems where the environment is better controlled and there are more opportunities to switch agricultural production focus.
Upland systems are less reliant on large and expensive infrastructure per se, but the environment in which they operate is such that once lost the underlying management skills and understanding of animal-environment interactions are extremely difficult to replace. Therefore, understanding the resilience of these upland systems to policy, economic, climatic or other shock is not only valuable but needs to take into account the opportunities and constraints facing individual businesses (which are often driven by the spatial location of those businesses in the wider landscape). Our research demonstrates that the four areas we have examined (North Yorkshire, Scottish Borders, Skye and North Uist, and Orkney, are very different, even if superficially they appear similar upland systems. While they face some common challenges, they also each have different challenges and present a range of different responses to become more resilient to these challenges.
We seek to understand resilience from a number of different perspectives; the economic, food supply, environment, social and cultural angles.
The economic strand, led by Dr Andrew Barnes at SRUC, is using Farm Business Survey data to understand the features of upland farms that remain resilient across a number of years. Further modelling is taking place to examine the impact of Brexit scenarios and climate change scenarios.
The agricultural and environmental strand led by Professor Davy McCracken at SRUC. Farms and crofts in the case study areas have been taking part in using the Public Goods Tool developed for Defra by the Organic Research Centre, to measure the public goods being produced by their land management.
The role of social networks in facilitating resilience. A short pilot study was conducted in Orkney by Dr Cornell Jackson then at the University of Edinburgh, to seek to understand how social networks contribute to resilience.
Understanding farmer, crofter and food chain actor perspectives on resilience. A series of interviews and focus groups were undertaken by Dr Chrysa Lamprinopoulou and Dr Ann Bruce (both from the University of Edinburgh) in each case study area.
Understanding where people from these areas source their food and what that indicates about the resilience of food systems in predominantly beef and sheep producing areas. This work was conducted in each case study area by Dr Isabel Fletcher at the University of Edinburgh.
Capturing the cultural value of livestock in stories about the past/present and future. This ongoing work is being conducted by the professional author Dr Pippa Goldschmidt. Four stories are already drafted: A new recipe set in Nidderdale, Calf rock set in North Skye, Hill mother set in the Ettrick Valley and The last hen in Orkney set in Orkney mainland.
Funded through the Global Food Security’s ‘Resilience of the UK Food System Programme’, with support from BBSRC, ESRC, NERC and Scottish Government.