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Social science, rural Scotland, and COVID-19

rural Scotland
rural Scotland
“We spend much of our time undertaking social research in rural communities and with land managers across Scotland, and internationally. We get to know people and community groups and follow their progress with interest. In each blog post, we collectively posed the questions: what we know already from our social science experience, and how can this knowledge help rural communities, businesses, and policy makers respond?”

Social science at the James Hutton Institute may provide an insight into how rural Scotland can and will likely respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. These research findings bring into focus the importance of community resilience, discuss the impact the virus may have on the agricultural sector, and finally outline the potential for positive change in a post-pandemic Scotland.

In a series of blog posts, Dr Annie McKee, of the Institute’s Social Economic and Geographical Sciences (SEGS) department, explains how the work of SEGS can be applied to ongoing events. She said “We spend much of our time undertaking social research in rural communities and with land managers across Scotland, and internationally. We get to know people and community groups and follow their progress with interest.

“In each blog post, we collectively posed the questions: what we know already from our social science experience, and how can this knowledge help rural communities, businesses, and policy makers respond?”

SEGS research outlines the importance of community resilience and how this may be critical to many areas of rural Scotland in response to COVID-19. ‘Community resilience’ is understood as a community’s capacity to adapt to change, whether as a result of an emergency, long-term transformation or issues of decline, as faced by many rural communities.

The ‘Long-term impacts of flooding’ project tracked two communities in the North-East of Scotland following flooding events. Although this project examined a very different type of emergency to the current crisis, research found the flooding instigated local resilient actions in many communities.

The formation of local community groups is one action very relevant to ongoing events. In the flooding emergency, these groups quickly established networks of volunteers who took supplies to vulnerable people or households, who found themselves in isolation. The project found that many rural communities have strong local networks and are accustomed to relying on local resources, rather than receiving support from external agencies.

This suggests that many rural communities may already be well-placed to mobilise response efforts. However, the project also showed how people respond to and move on from stressful situations. It highlighted that people’s mental health will not just be affected at the time of the incident, but also in the future, and appropriate measures will need to be put in place to address this.

The blog posts considered the impact that the virus may have on Scottish agriculture. The outbreak has already given rise to greater public awareness and interest in where our food is produced, food supply chains, and therefore arguably, how land is used for food production in Scotland and beyond.

Annie added “In post-virus Scotland, we anticipate more people seeking to access locally-grown food and a revival of small-scale food production to meet this demand. It may be necessary to consider incentivising landowners to provide access to land for smallholders and other new entrants to agriculture.”

SEGS research also suggests that collaboration and peer-to-peer learning in farming communities is vital for the Scottish agricultural sector. It demonstrates how machinery rings represent an opportunity for farmers to circumvent concerns relating to loss of independence and autonomy by accessing collaboration as a form of service provision mediated through facilitators. Examples of networks being mobilised to provide immediate support for individuals and businesses experiencing economic impacts associated with Covid-19 are already being seen.

The virus outbreak has brought many of the challenges facing rural Scotland into sharp focus; the final blog post thus considers the need for everyone to have access to basic services. Although the impacts of COVID-19 have been devasting, it may instigate advances in technology that could lead to positive changes in rural areas.

For example, many individual and communities have been left without access to adequate healthcare and schools. Solutions have arisen in the form of digital technology, including eHealth and online education opportunities, although it must be noted these are not always easily adopted by older generations.

Access to digital tools also help to maintain communication within and between communities, supporting the maintenance of social bonds. Research suggests the greater everyday use of such tools will help to embed them in communities after the crisis.

The SEGS department at the James Hutton Institute aims to continue to share relevant research experience and develop new research that will support all communities in rural Scotland in light of the Coronavirus crisis.

The complete series of blog posts can be found here.

More information from: 

Adam Walker, Communications Officer, James Hutton Institute, Tel: 01224 395095 (direct line), 0344 928 5428 (switchboard).


Printed from /news/social-science-rural-scotland-and-covid-19 on 02/06/20 08:56:47 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.