Managing Environmental Change at the Fringe: Reconnecting Science and Policy with the Rural-Urban Fringe

The rural-urban fringe (RUF), the space where countryside meets town, is among society's most valued and pressured places. However, in policy and decision-making it remains largely forgotten, lacking sufficient understanding and evidence for integrated management.


Alister Scott (PI)

Full research team
  • Peter Larkham
  • Claudia Carter
  • Nicki Schiessel
  • Nick Morton
  • Rachel Curzon
  • Mark Reed (Aberdeen University)
  • Andrew Hearle (Natural England)
  • David Collier (National Farmers Union)
  • Keith Budden (Birmingham Environmental Partnership)
  • Chris Crean (Localise West Midlands)
  • Bob Forster (West Midlands Rural Forum)
  • David Jarvis (David Jarvis Associates)
  • Miriam Kennet (Green Economics Institute)
  • Karen Leach (Localise West Midlands)
  • Mark Middleton (Worcester County Council)
  • Ben Stonyer (Project Research Assistant: David Jarvis Associates)
  • Ruth Waters (Natural England)

Research background

This project (2011-12) was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council as part of the RELU initiative (Rural Economy and Land Use Programme). For more information, please visit the project's Twitter feed.

This research re-discovered the RUF within more positive, inclusive and proactive agendas for management. Its focus was on assessing the implications of policy and decision-making processes and outcomes for the sustainability of the RUF. The project's chief assessment tool was a framework that uniquely fused ideas from both the Ecosystem Approach (EA) and Spatial Planning (SP) to provide an improved lens through which to view the RUF.

Research aims
  • To inform future policy and practice across the UK in addressing management issues concerning environmental change within the rural-urban fringe
  • Explore social and natural science concepts of spatial planning and ecosystem services in order to create a theoretical lens to identify and evaluate management issues and needs
  • Propose and apply strategic principles within two rural-urban fringe case study areas and incorporate local stakeholders' perspectives
  • Promote an integrated and spatial model for rural-urban fringe management, and signpost further research addressing the environmental change agenda.
Research methods

The methodological approach encouraged academic and policy specialists to work collectively throughout the research process. Working across traditional urban/rural and natural/social science boundaries, this team share knowledge and experience incorporating the latest theoretical and policy contributions from spatial planning and ecology in order to create a better model within which strategic planning for the rural-urban fringe might flourish.

Research outcomes

Three cross-cutting themes emerged from the fusion of SP and EA ideas; Connections, Time and Values. These concepts were unpacked within eight themed workshops and two RUF site-based visioning exercises which formed the primary data for the project. All results were disseminated through reports, papers, real/virtual conferences, the project website and podcasts.

Read the final project report

Re-discovering the Rural-Urban Frindge (RUF)
  • The RUF needs to be re-positioned as an opportunity space based on assessments of the needs of the people, place and environment within the RUF itself.
  • The rural aspects of the fringe need to be considered more explicitly in policy and decisions rather than imposing urban expansion models.
Reconnecting the urban and rural divide
  • Agendas, policy frameworks and goals tend to be pursued separately across the urban and rural institutions creating a marked policy and practice ‘disintegration’.
  • The ideas of SP and the EA are jargon-heavy. Our cross-cutting themes of Connections, Time and Values allow professional sectors and publics to engage, interact and participate more effectively within more inclusive and understandable concepts and language.
Improving connections by crossing boundaries
  • The RUF is an ‘edge’ space crossing many boundaries with a complex pattern of explicit and hidden connections. This requires unpacking within and across RUF spaces. Working across multiple scales (national, landscape, local and neighbourhood), sectors (e.g. landscape, nature conservation, economic development) and actors (e.g. planners, developers, environmentalists, communities) is key, yet demands significant changes in work practices and tools to deliver more joined-up responses.
Adapting for the long term
  • Policymakers often fail to learn from the past when planning for the future. Here, the lack of adequate resources to capture institutional and human capital is significant. For example, research undertaken on the RUF for the Countryside Agency (2000-2006) was only available through personal copies of a project officer.
  • The RUF is a transitory space, defined within short-term thinking but requiring more long term policy and investment opportunities. However, learning from new and experimental approaches is key when planning for uncertainty with partial evidence.
Managing contested values
  • The RUF is valued differently by different people and those values need to be unpacked using monetary and non-monetary approaches. There is a danger that, in decision making we only value what can be easily measured, as opposed to measuring what people really value.
Project data

Workshop reports

The following workshop reports are now available to download. The reports reflect an ongoing and iterative process within the project. The material provides core evidence that informs our work on the policy briefs. Consequently they should be viewed in this emerging context and not downloaded or distributed as standalone documents. We hope they are of value in showing the breadth of views we are covering.


RELU Project Final Report

Final report: Managing Environmental Change at the Rural-Urban Fringe

RELU Newsletter

Issue 01 - November 2010

Issue 02 - July 2011

Other publications

The Rural-Urban Fringe - Forgotten Opportunity Space?

Planning policy has consistently struggled to adapt to the multiple demands and rapidly changing nature of development within the rural-urban fringe, but Alister Scott and Claudia Carter argue that marrying the ecosystem approach with spatial planning provides a useful means of managing such spaces effectively.

Please see full paper in Scott A J and Carter 2011 The Rural Urban Fringe - Forgotten Opportunity Space? Town and Country Planning May/June 2011 231-234.

Managing Environmental Change at the Rural-Urban Fringe

An innovative interdisciplinary project funded by the Rural Economy and Land Use Programme led by Professor Alister Scott is assessing the prospects for managing environmental change at the rural-urban fringe. Read the full article.

Major academic paper

A major 30,000 word paper with contributions from the whole project team has just been published in Progress in Planning.

Scott, A.J. (2013, as lead author) 'Disintegrated development at the rural-urban fringe: re-connecting spatial planning theory and practice', Progress in Planning vol. 83 pp. 1-52 (with 21 colleagues from the RELU project).

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