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Changing rural policy in Wales

Research conducted by leading Cardiff University academics has helped shape and change rural welfare and development policies throughout Wales.

Image of a remote Welsh village
Blaengwynfi, a former coal mining village in South Wales.

In 1999, the newly founded Welsh Assembly Government publicly acknowledged a significant evidence gap in relation to rural policy within the region.  The perceived issue was a lack of an integrated approach to tackling and solving long terms issues such as the agricultural production of food and poverty in rural Wales.  However, there was no underpinning evidence to assist the Government in making the best decisions.

To address the issue, the Welsh Government awarded the first Wales Rural Observatory (WRO) grant to a Cardiff-led research team, directed by Professor Terry Marsden and Professor Paul Milbourne.

The rural web

For the last 20 years, Professors Marsden and Milbourne have been conducting extensive research into rural policy focussing their work into two key areas – rural development and rural welfare.

Their rural development research concentrated specifically on:

  • integrated rural development
  • sustainable development and communities
  • agri-food regulation and governance.

Their findings led to a better understanding of the quality of life and economic well-being of people living in relatively isolated and sparsely populated areas and agri-food systems. 

Using 60 similar rural cases studies from across Europe, our researchers were able to construct a more integrated and grounded theory of rural development, allowing the construction of a conceptual model – the rural web.  This model has helped highlight the need to change national and EU level policy to allow for more integrated and sustainable forms of rural development. 

Our researchers also examined the welfare of communities living in rural Wales, with projects examining housing needs, homelessness and poverty.  With funding provided by the ESRC, the Welsh Government and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, these projects highlighted the differences in poverty and homelessness across rural Britain.

These projects have emphasised the statistical significance and uneven distribution of poverty and homelessness in rural Britain.  It has also highlighted distinctive features of rural poverty that contribute to its continuing cultural and political invisibility:

  • poor people's denials of poverty
  • the complex relations between community, nature and understandings of poverty
  • the ways in which traditional social structures continue to shape attitudes to welfare in rural areas', leading to a reluctance on the part of the poor and homeless to accept state support.

Further research has examined rural welfare provision and the role of local politics in resisting welfare provision and how the delivery of supportive services is constrained by complex coalitions of individuals drawn from the public and voluntary sectors.

The Wales Rural Observatory

The Wales Rural Observatory (WRO) undertakes independent research and analysis on social and economic issues in rural Wales. It is funded by the Welsh Assembly Government to support evidence-based rural policy-making in Wales. WRO is operated by a team of specialist rural researchers from Cardiff University and the University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Long term change

Our research has empowered Ministers and their advisers within the Welsh Government to target policy on specific rural problems with much greater confidence. 

The WRO applied Marsden's 'rural web' model of integrated policy development and Milbourne's insights into the nature of rural poverty to specific research themes requested by the Welsh Government.  This created Wales' first major evidential resource on social, economic and environmental change in rural areas. 

It helped highlight the need for local authorities to do more to deal with the specific problems of isolated communities in rural Wales, included lack of broadband provision, an unresponsive public transport system and poor heating and energy use in rented properties.  This led to four community transport pilot projects being awarded money in order to take them forward, the development and expansion of information and communication systems and helped inform home energy efficiency programmes.

It also raised awareness and understanding of the level, breadth and specific characteristics of rural poverty enabling the Welsh Government to take account of these factors when developing its Tackling Poverty Programme.

Professor Milbourne's research into rural poverty in Wales resulted in his appointment to the Welsh Government's Financial Inclusion Steering Group.  He was also appointed to the Wales Rural Development Programme Monitoring Committee, which oversees the implementation of European rural development policy in Wales (2013-20).  He was also appointed as the academic consultant on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation's Commission on Rural Housing in Wales for his research into rural housing and homelessness.

Professor Marsden's work on integrated rural policy development led him to advising on the new Welsh Future Generations Bill, and the new Environment and Sustainability Committee inquiry into Sustainable Land Management. He was also invited to present evidence from his research to the National Assembly for Wales' Rural Development Committee (RDP), the Wales RDP Committee (2012) and the Welsh Government's CAP Reform Committee (2013).

Other beneficiaries of our research include a diverse range of policy, practitioner and community organisations in Wales, the UK and the EU.

Meet our experts

Professor Terry Marsden

Professor Terry Marsden

Emeritus Professor

+44 (0)29 2087 5736
Professor Paul Milbourne

Professor Paul Milbourne

Professor of Human Geography

+44 (0)29 2087 5791

Related links

The School of Planning and Geography is a major international centre for research in the areas of planning, human geography and spatial policy.