19/01/2005

Rural research receives million pound boost

The Department of Enivronment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has announced a million pound boost for science and research in rural England.

The money has been granted to the Rural Economy and Land Use (RELU) programme, which is designed to support social and economic development, as well as promote environmental protection and conservation in the countryside.

Speaking at an RELU conference, Food and Farming Minister, Larry Whitty, said that a mix of social and natural science, which dealt with real-life rural issues, could help to improve the quality of life for countryside communities. He explained: "Defra's five-year strategy is all about creating thriving rural communities. That means affordable housing, access to local services and an economic boost for areas lagging behind the relative prosperity of the majority of rural England. It means tackling social exlcusion and it means protecting and enhancing the countryside, vital to the health of the rural economy."

Mr Whitty also recognised the importance of RELU and its integration of social and natural science in his speech. He said: "RELU cannot be detached from the real world. It has to involve local people and businesses as well as dealing with the natural environment. I hope that by working together, we can maximise the opportunties that RELU provides."

Defra provides funding for rural research, including studies on the environmental impacts of agriculture and on alternative land uses. It has now set up the Rural Evidence Rsearch Centre and the Sustainable Farming and Food Research Priorities Group, in order to gain a better understanding of both rural society and the rural economy, and to improve the range of expertise and advice informing its policies.

The Rural Strategy will aim to establish more effective rural delivery, with greater devolution. Defra is set to give £72 million to Regional Development Agencies in 2005/06 to help create and maintain thriving rural economies. Another £13 million from regional government offices will fund rural community and voluntary sector projects.

Mr Whitty added: "Our rural plans and policies are informed by the most detailed evidence base there has ever been, designed to deliver real, sustainable benefits which balance people's social and economic needs with a responsibility to protect and enhance our natural heritage. A greater focus on regional and local priorities will be critical to ensuring that we deliver more effectively."

Further information is availabe from www.defra.gov.uk/rural/rural/delivery

(KMcA/SP)

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