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New rural partnership develops the research landscape in South East England

New opportunities for multi-disciplinary research collaborations in South East England were given a boost today (24 April) with the launch of the Rural Research and Strategy Partnership (RRSP).

The RRSP brings together five of the region's leading research institutions to help find ways to solve its most pressing rural problems.

It comprises Farnham, Surrey-based Forest Research (the research agency of the Forestry Commission), which will co-ordinate its work, the Universities of Reading, Surrey and Sussex, and the University College for the Creative Arts at Canterbury, Epsom, Farnham, Maidstone and Rochester. It is supported by the South East England Development Agency (SEEDA).

The RRSP aims to form new communities of multi-disciplinary teams of internationally recognised researchers from top-rated research establishments to address the issues important to the region. New collaborations between the research teams and key regional policymakers and rural stakeholder groups will encourage the generation and use of new research evidence to provide practical and innovative solutions to rural issues.

Despite the UK’s highest density of tertiary education and research establishments, there has not been, until now, any formal rural research network in the South East, despite rural issues being a principal element to the region's distinctiveness. Although the region is densely populated, more than 80% of its land area is classified as rural. One third of its countryside is protected for its landscape quality, and it holds 10% of the UK’s farms.

Peter Bunyan of the University of Surrey explained, "The South East is the economic powerhouse of the UK, and our rural heritage and assets play an important role in that. But one of our big problems is in understanding how we can maintain and improve rural sustainability alongside the demands of economic progress. The South East is a local exemplar of this global paradox. I believe that the RRSP will lead the way to resolving the dilemma through enabling targeted, appropriate research, and in doing so, provide a model transferable to similar areas of the world."

The RRSP also aims to ensure that current research that informs key policy areas is showcased. Dr Anja Ueberjahn-Tritta, the partnership co-ordinator, said, “We want to ensure that researchers already working to underpin rural regional policy have the opportunity to show the region the results from their projects, and the impact that their work can have.”

Phil Eadie, head of the South East England Intelligence Network, added, “I welcome the new partnership as a guiding force to connect research with the key regional priorities. I believe that the partnership will catalyse innovative partnerships, and the knowledge gained from these will support the choice and implementation of the most effective policies.”

The RRSP was launched at an event in London today entitled ‘A Breath of Fresh Air’, which highlighted the key regional priorities that researchers will initially focus on. Findings from the event will be discussed by the research community through a series of research workshops to be held by the partners in the summer and autumn.

The Vice Chancellor of the University of Surrey, Professor Christopher Snowden comments: “I very much welcome this initiative, which capitalises on the rich mix of research skills and talents that we have at Surrey and will enable our researchers to contribute in a meaningful way to the region’s development. The RRSP intends to make the dialogue between the research community and policy makers and rural community groups deeper and more vibrant which will really help our researchers to form new, multi-disciplinary research consortia focused on rural issues.”

Stuart Miller | alfa
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