The role of livestock in food system resilience in remote, upland regions

Lead Research Organisation: University of Edinburgh
Department Name: Science Technology & Innovation Studies


This proposal will examine how beef cattle and sheep farmers in upland areas of Northern England and Scotland can improve their resilience to environmental, economic, and social change, and what impact their actions to improve resilience will have on food supplies, natural resources and society.
Uplands make up 70% of Scotland, 60% of Wales, 40% of Northern Ireland and 15% of England. Hence over the UK as a whole uplands are a substantial element of the agricultural land resource. The upland regions of Scotland and Northern England have been historically dominated by grazing beef cattle and sheep. Beef cattle and sheep are important to local livelihoods as well as the national food supply and economy. Scotland, for example, has around 2.6 million ewes, 12,700 agricultural holdings, providing the economy with an annual return of £189 million. The UK is a world player when it comes to producing sheep meat. It is the sixth biggest producer globally and exports 36% of output to more than 100 countries.
In addition, the UK uplands as a whole - including agricultural land - have a substantial role to play in addressing many wider environmental issues (e.g. flood prevention; biodiversity enhancement; carbon sequestration in upland moorlands, peatlands and forests). Reduced numbers of animals grazing can have positive impacts on biodiversity, but there are equally concerns that reduced grazing can have negative impacts on open habitats in upland landscapes.
Farming and other land uses in the uplands is extremely challenging, currently financially unviable, and needing to respond to the challenges such as climate change, livestock diseases and changing demands from society.
In this project we will study four upland case study areas in-depth, and work with the people living there, and with organisations working in those areas to understand better what are the critical factors that influence beef cattle and sheep farmers' resilience to change, and what impact changes in bef cattle and sheep farming can have on food supplies locally and globally, the upland environment, local employment opportunities, and local cultures. These four case study areas are Orkney, Lewis and the Isle of Skye, Scottish borders and Yorkshire Dales.
The aim of this project is to provide better tools for decision making for policy makers, local authorities and enterprise agencies, non-governmental organisations, food processors and retailers, farmers and farming groups and local people. By understanding better the interactions among different aspects of the food system, we will be able to appreciate who become vulnerable and how, and what actions will make these vulnerabilities better or worse.

Technical Summary

This proposal takes a Food System approach to understand the resilience of livestock production in remote upland regions of the UK, the consequences to the global and local food systems of these responses, and provide policy makers, food chain actors and individual stakeholders' knowledge with which to adapt to challenges to food systems.
This interdisciplinary project will examine four case study areas (Orkney, Lewis and Isle of Skye, Scottish borders and Yorkshire Dales). In each case study area we will:
Undertake a systematic stakeholder analysis and Social Network Analysis.
Characterise 20 farms on the basis of habitat occurrence and condition, herd and flock management practices and health.
Develop metrics to examine economic resilience using quantitative approaches. We will use survival analysis and path dependency modelling to identify individual farm variability over time, and measure the response of these systems to shocks. These data will parametrise a series of farm level optimisation models which characterise these systems and allow for future scenarios
Develop a set of metrics that can be used to assess the extent and condition of the terrestrial and freshwater resource on each farm together with the degree to which agricultural management is linked to the extent and condition of those resources. We will use multivariate analysis to identify clusters of generic and specific issues relating to resilience within and between areas, thereby helping to highlight whether or not approaches to address impacts need to be area, region or UK specific.
A standard method will be used to characterise each case study area in terms of food system activities (e.g. food processing, retailing), food security (e.g. food availability and access), societal factors (e.g. social and cultural impact of livestock production).
Scenario analysis will be undertaken, integrating the above data and developing four rich scenarios to be explored with a range of stakeholders.

Planned Impact

This research addresses the critical factors affecting the resilience of beef and sheep production in upland regions of Scotland and Northern England. The way in which these producers can increase resilience in the face of uncertain environments and policy landscapes, and what are the possible consequences of these responses to the global and local food systems, and ecosystem services provided by upland regions.
Key beneficiaries of this research are individual farmers, environmental and food-related organisations, policy makers and local organisations promoting the wellbeing of the area. More specifically we have support from local enterprise agencies (York, North Yorkshire and East Riding Enterprise Partnership, and Highlands and Islands Enterprise have both indicated this project is aligned with their strategic objectives). This research will benefit these organisations by providing knowledge useful for strategy development, with full exploration of different responses to increasing resilience of hill farms and the interactions of these responses with other activities (both intended and unintended consequences, and trade-offs among consequences).
Our approach is to treat farmer participants in this research as collaborators rather than research subjects. We have support from a number of farmer networks e.g. Yorkshire Agricultural Society, Yorkshire Farmers Network and Scottish Crofting Federation as well as existing farming networks via XLVets and SAC Consulting. The benefits to farmers of this project is a fuller understanding of the options for increasing resilience, and potential impact of adopting specific practices. The range of upland areas being covered in this project should provide knowledge that will allow farmers in specific situations to develop bespoke responses.
We will also interact with wider food system organisations with our existing extensive networks and new relationships established during the project, though interviews, workshops, participation in scenario planning and membership of the Advisory Committee. These links will reach beyond farming communities to food processors and retailers (e.g. supporting letter from Quality Meat Scotland provided) and environmental organisations, both agencies and non-governmental organisations (e.g. supporting letter from Scottish Natural Heritage provided). This research will benefit these organisations by providing a fuller understanding of the interactions in the food system, and resilience metrics that can be used in their strategy development.
The public in these areas also have an interest in the outcome of livestock farming practices, as they affect livelyhoods, the environment, culture and potentially local food sources. They will be engaged through interviews, workshops, food sourcing survey and stories told about the cultural values associated with local livestock. Public events such as Open Farm Sunday and Countryside Days at county shows are also targets for communication with publics. A project website and the use of social media will enable stakeholders and publics stay abreast of project developments and progress. Benefits include being able to contribute to an understanding of the impacts that activity to increase resilience of beef cattle and sheep farmers may have on others, the values that local communities hold and ideas about desirable futures and how to get there.


10 25 50
Description Oral evidence given to UK Parliament Scottish Affairs Committee enquiry on Future of Scottish Agriculture
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
Description Peer review of Defra Evidence Statement on benefits and trade-offs of cattle farming in pasture-based and housed systems
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Description Public event 'Should we all give up eating meat to save the planet' as part of Edinburgh International Science Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Should We All Give Up Eating Meat to Save the Planet? was a 90 minute discussion event on the topic of sustainable diets held in the Red Theatre at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh International Science Festival (EISF) on the evening of 6th April 2018. Tickets were sold via the EISF box office and attendance was 84 - capacity for this venue.
The event was structured around two short (15min) presentations - given by Dr Isabel Fletcher and Dr Pamela Mason (author of a book on sustainable diets with Professor Tim Lang) - followed by a 30 minute question and answer session that allowed audience members to ask questions about, or comment further on, specific issues covered in the two talks. Between the talks and the discussion session, there was also a short break in which a selection of sustainable snacks (based on local seasonal ingredients) were served. This were provided by Edinburgh Larder, a local catering business.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Workshop on meeting the challenge of sustainable ruminant feed 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Industry/Business
Results and Impact An interdisciplinary, stakeholder engagement event to look at supplying ruminant feed more sustainably. From a post-workshop questionnaire: 82% had at leas one new insight into the challenges of sustainable ruminant feed, 82% helped clarify thoughts, 82% thought about a strategic response to the question in at least one new way, 91% made at least one new poentially useful contact. 43% of attendees were from industry.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014