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The Rural Reimagined: Continuing Scottish/Irish Synergy in Action

Updated: Apr 26

by Ewan Allinson

13 March 2024

The Rural Reimagined project has developed my understanding of something at the heart of my PhD research – the empowerment of local knowledge within rural decision-making frameworks. This issue dominates both my research and practice as an artist.

A research trip to The Burren, May 2023.

Ireland has been leading the way internationally in devolving the design and implementation of agri-environment schemes to locally-led groups of farmers. This quiet revolution began in The Burren, where a farmers group and an ecology PhD student successfully fought against an attempt to stop the centuries-old tradition of ‘winterage’, of out-wintering cattle on the limestone plateaus. They persuaded the Minister for Agriculture to let the farmer-group design and implement the agri-environment investment. The results for two decades have been success upon success. At the launch of a collaborative exhibition on hill farming for Northern Heartlands in 2019, called Hefted to Hill, our invited speaker, Brendan O’ Hanrahan, told the story of how this locally-led inversion of decision-making, in being successful at The Burren, has been adopted elsewhere in Ireland and Western Europe.

Exploring these issues through the framework of an interdisciplinary PhD at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, Dundee, Scotland, I seek to make an evidence-based case for a locally-led revolution here in Scotland. The opportunity to be a research assistant for The Rural Reimagined research project (’21-’22) was therefore enthusiastically undertaken. At The Rural Reimagined practicum at Lismore Castle in 2021, we heard from Áine Macken-Walsh, a sociologist with Teagasc, whose keen understanding of the locally-led model has informed the design of new EU funded locally-led schemes across Europe. Áine and I have subsequently remained in contact, and an offer was extended to me to be hosted by Teagasc for a research trip to Ireland as part of my PhD. I hope to undertake this in 2025.

The Rathcroghan stakeholders on a research trip in May 2023 to The Burren to witness best practice in action.

During the pandemic, separately from The Rural Reimagined project, I had a contract with Fáilte Ireland to work with stakeholders, including a farmers’ group, in envisioning a locally led partnership approach at Rathcroghan, in Co. Roscommon, the least developed of Ireland’s six Royal Sites. This initiative continues, and in May 2023, I was invited to join the Rathcroghan stakeholders on a research trip to The Burren to witness best practice in action. The photos here are from that trip.

Ireland, as a source of best practice for the kind of locally-led inversion of policy-making that I support here in Scotland and beyond, will continue to be a focus of my research and practice in the years ahead. For me, as with others, The Rural Reimagined has tapped into a hive of cross-border possibilities that deserve further development.

A research trip to The Burren, May 2023.

The Rathcroghan stakeholders on a research trip in May 2023 to The Burren to witness best practice in action.

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