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Left to Right: Steve Albon (Chair of the National Ecosystem Assessment) Dan Osborn (NERC, Living with Environmental Change Champion) Dr Robert Fish (UoE, Project leader) Simon Maxwell (Social Research Adviser, Defra) and Daniel Start (Dialogue & Engagement Officer, Sciencewise)

Rural researchers to take the temperature of public opinion on UK environmental change

Social scientists at the University of Exeter are working with environmental policy makers to explore public views on the future management of UK ecosystems.

The Centre for Rural Policy Research (CRPR) are leading a £325,000 project, funded by Sciencewise, the UK's national centre for public dialogue in policy making involving science and technology issues. 

The year-long process will involve members of the public reflecting on the findings of the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA),which is the first analysis of the UK’s natural environment in terms of the benefits it provides to society and continuing economic prosperity. Over 120 members from a cross section of general public in Exeter, Birmingham and Glasgow will interact with policy makers and scientists over three days in spring. The findings of the process will be presented at national dialogue event in London in the Autumn.

The public discussions will involve exploring some of the big environmental challenges of the day including: how to balance the building of new homes with the protection of nature  and the provision of green space; how to harness to nature to reduce flood risk to homes; and how to manage competing demands on the marine environment. .

Speaking at the launch of the dialogue the project leader, Dr Robert Fish explained: “The NEA drew together a wealth of scientific evidence on the character, causes and consequences of ecosystem change in the UK. Yet government knows very little about how this work reflects wider public aspirations and concerns about the natural environment, and how it is valued and managed.”

He added: “Our purpose is to put this ground breaking science under the microscope of public opinion so we may enhance its impact on policy and decision making. This will help people from organisations like the Environment Agency or local authorities deliver smarter, more joined-up, responses to environmental risk.”

The project is building on the wider contribution of CRPR researchers to the NEA, which has already had a major impact on the government priorities for the natural environment under the Natural Environment White Paper. The aim is to further inform implementation of White Paper commitments as well as influence the development of Research Council programmes on environmental issues of public concern.

Professor Michael Winter, co-director of CRPR said:“The Centre for Rural Policy Research has been deeply involved in the National Ecosystem Assessment. This grant success reinforces the leading role in ecosystem social science played by Exeter.”

Date: 20 March 2014

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