Appraisal of Sustainable Rural Policy and Land Use (SURPLUS): Scoping Study

Funded by: Defra Horizon Scanning Programme and the Treasury's Evidence-Based Policy Fund


December 2003 to September 2004


The Macaulay Institute and the University of Aberdeen

PSI researchers:

Background, summary and aims

The SURPLUS project aims to improve the ability of Defra, and other organisations, to carry out policy appraisal, based on a full assessment of future changes in land use, recreation, amenity and rural economic activity, and the impact of such changes on the rural environment and rural communities.

It will consider the interactions between policies related to, among others, agriculture, forestry, rural development, landscape and recreation, and biodiversity, as manifest in rural land uses and their environmental, economic, and social attributes and impacts. In particular, it will focus on improving the assessment of sustainable land management options with respect to the delivery of biodiversity targets, enhanced economic and employment opportunity and Quality of Life indicators.

Defra's initial objectives for the SURPLUS project are to:

  • Develop cost-effective tools for assessing trends as well as forecasting and anticipating future changes in direction in rural economic and social activity and land use and their environmental impacts and social consequences, over 5-20 year timescales.
  • Test and evaluate the tools with empirical data and provide measures of the uncertainty of forecasts and sensitivities with regard to input assumptions.
  • Ensure that the tools are relevant and useful to policy customers in Government departments and agencies, nationally and regionally.
  • Ensure that the tools build on or link with existing methods and experience and utilise existing data as far as possible; and
  • Apply the tools to a range of policy issues as identified in the Rural White Paper Our Countryside: The Future, the England Biodiversity Strategy and the Strategy for Sustainable Farming and Food and refined during consultations undertaken for the scoping study.

The overall aim of the current scoping study is to guide the further development and implementation of the SURPLUS project. Specifically, it will:

  • Confirm the user requirements and refine the objectives for the overall project
  • Assess the feasibility of using various modelling and other foresight approaches to achieve the objectives of the overall project, and
  • Develop technical specifications and determine funding arrangements for its implementation.
  • Advise on the desirability of continuing with the full project.

The results from this scoping study will be used to guide any future development of the SURPLUS project. The final report from the study will include recommendations as to whether to proceed with the SURPLUS project, challenges and limitations to be addressed, and if appropriate a technical specification for the full project.


Final report