Both Covid-19 and the measures employed to combat the disease by the UK government are having widespread effects on rural economies.
This is unsurprising, as the success of households, community projects and businesses within rural communities are entwined and all impacted considerably by the spread of this disease and social distancing restrictions devised to limit its development.
Nevertheless, historic challenges posed to rural economies, such as Foot and Mouth Disease and the most recent financial recession exhibit their resilience and malleability. Research into the ability of rural economies to rally is often attributed to those features which make these communities unique, such as a more widely spread population and a tradition of home working. It is these features which will assist with the resilience to and recovery of rural areas from Covid-19, and farms, local businesses and communities can all play a role in supporting each other through this testing period.
In light of this, rural communities will play an important role in both kick-starting and maintaining a recovery from the present economic downturn, particularly if they are adequately buoyed by an equitable and cross-sectoral response package from the UK government. This is supported by significant commentary indicating that this crisis will accelerate a move away from globalisation toward more locally-sourced production, with a potential reduction in overseas travel and global consumption.
In this vein, Community Land Scotland (CLS) has proposed the introduction of a ‘Rural New Deal’, which asks the Scottish Government to embrace further land reform to create a more sustainable future built upon the foundation of local communities having the facilities and resources available to safeguard themselves against any future public emergency. The CLS’s report commends the actions of community owners throughout Scotland, who “provided an anchor for local residents as the tide of infection flooded”.
To ensure any future measures truly reflect the experience of rural communities, it is, however, important that information on the impact of Covid-19 is adequately recorded. For this reason the Rural Economy and Connectivity Committee has invited all interested parties to put forward written submissions on the impact of Covid-19 on the rural economy. There is no deadline for responding.
This opportunity for growth afforded to rural communities is evident within the renewables sector. As recently reported in the Financial Times, though within the setting of diminishing global energy demand likely to reduce annual carbon emissions by as much as 8 per cent, there is mounting evidence to support the suggestion “peak oil” has now been reached. If true, this will prove a significant boon to meeting the objectives of the Paris Agreement, and offers the chance for renewables to take centre stage in all future development proposals.
This is substantiated by a recent review of the global energy sector by the International Energy Agency (IEA) which endorses electricity as the only source of energy likely to experience an upsurge in 2020. Though supply chain disruptions will be unavoidable globally, this report indicates that an increase in photovoltaics, wind and hydropower will all contribute toward growth in electricity generation by 5 per cent over the course of this year.
This should provide confidence to landowners, developers and investors alike toward the commercial viability of new UK renewables projects, already being demonstrated in practice by developers actively seeking new wind and photovoltaic development sites.
Alastair Collin is a senior associate, Turcan Connell