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SUSTAinable Intensification Network - SUSTAIN

4 April 2016 - 3 April 2018

PI/s in Exeter: Professor Michael Winter

Research partners: Professor Andrew Whitmore (project lead) (Rothamsted Research); Professor Sue Hartley (University of York); Dr Matthew Heard (NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology)

Funding awarded: £ 6,810

Sponsor(s): BBSRC

About the research

Feeding an ever growing global population in a sustainable way is one of the most pressing challenges facing humanity. A key knowledge gap is how to increase crop and livestock yields from existing farmland while maintaining or enhancing the natural capital on which all ecosystem services depend. This idea of 'sustainable intensification' (SI) is now embedded into strategic goals across RCUK, has gained traction within UK government policies and has attracted considerable investment. However, despite this level of activity, SI remains a controversial concept amongst some parts of the research community. Further, there is a risk that a lack of definition and co-ordination across the diverse research community that are engaging with this area could result in duplication, wasted effort and missed opportunities. There are tensions and unresolved issues: in particular the need to reconcile the opposing views surrounding exploiting or conserving natural resources. SI is sometimes seen as a natural science issue but there is a need to ensure the economic and social welfare of rural communities and it is vital to engage the managers of land who will implement measures to deliver SI. There is thus a clear need to facilitate the development of interdisciplinary working and enable different combinations of researchers and other stakeholders to share ideas, skills, expertise and capabilities in order to maximise the UK's capacity to meet the diverse current and future SI challenges.

The Sustainable Intensification Research Network (SIRN) will build on an existing, bottom-up initiatives, developed by UK researchers and scientists, to better integrate RCUK communities and enable fuller use of infrastructure, expertise and capabilities to address the challenges posed by SI. Establishing SIRN will allow the community to further develop a clear and coherent, shared vision of SI and enable the realisation of tangible benefits that will deliver fundamental discovery science, improved business performance and support evidence-based policy making to all levels of society. To date community-led workshops have already developed a research manifesto and identified and ranked priority issues (see report at SIRN will build on these foundations by providing multiple opportunities for the wider research community to take ownership of these (and new) areas, link them to the needs of different stakeholders and appraise knowledge gaps and identify mechanisms to fill them. Our shared vision for the network is to build a platform that will ensure the diverse research community is able to easily become fully engaged in order to:

(i) optimise major investment into SI across the biological sciences, social sciences, economics and agri-tech;
(ii) respond facilitate a across- disciplinary approach es to inform and respond to RCUK initiatives and UK Gov and Industry needs and;
(iii) develop effective links with new research areas (e.g. synthetic biology, predictive biology, molecular technologies), more established research areas (eg. agro-ecology, plant breeding, soil science) and new ways of working (e.g. big data).