TV presenter and naturalist Nick Baker and director of the Soil Association Helen Browning OBE in debate about priorities for land use. Photo: Finn Woodhill.

Nick Baker joins University experts to debate future of land use in the South West

TV presenter Nick Baker joined University academics, students and local people for a debate on the future use of land in the South West on 18 November.

A new think tank of 20 students has now been established to research the issue and propose a way forward.

After its first successful year in 2010/11, the University of Exeter’s Big Dilemmas Project is continuing its focus on unpicking key sustainability issues. The project’s theme for this year is ‘The Future of Land Use in the South West: food, water and energy security in the face of environmental change’. With the global population reaching seven billion there is increasing pressure on the land to provide not only space for living but food, water, energy and wellbeing.

University speakers included Professor Peter Cox, Leader of Exeter’s Climate Change and Sustainable Futures research theme, Professor Michael Winter OBE, Coordinator of the and Chair of the Food Security and Land Research Alliance and Dr Robert Fish, Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Rural Policy Research. Other speakers included Séan Rickard, Government Economic Adviser on Agriculture and Helen Browning OBE, the Director of the Soil Association.

Dr Matt Lobley, Co-Director of the Centre for Rural Policy Research and TV Wildlife presenter Nick Baker joined the speakers for an animated panel discussion.

Nick Baker is an Exeter alumnus and has recently been appointed as honorary Research Fellow in the College of Life and Environmental Sciences. He commented: “The decisions we have to make about land use and food security are the most pressing issues we are facing. Here in the South West we have Areas of Natural Beauty to consider as well as pressures on biodiversity and farmers’ livelihoods. I applaud the University for hosting such an important debate in which all views and aspects of decision making around land use are reflected.”

The event connected the Streatham and Cornwall campuses by video-link, enabling students and staff from Devon and Cornwall to listen to the speakers and ask questions. Staff and students were not the only participants – members of the local community and business stakeholders also attended and contributed to the discussion.

A new think tank of twenty students will meet regularly with lead academics, stakeholders and experts, and announce their findings and a proposed way forward at a second symposium in March 2012.

As Professor Peter Cox explained: “It was great to have such diverse opinions expressed by the speakers, panellists and the broad audience. I think this first symposium set up the dilemmas associated with land use perfectly. It is now over to the Big Dilemma think-tank who will try to make sense of the tensions between the use of land for growing food, generating energy, and promoting human well-being”.

The project is sponsored by the University of Exeter’s Annual Fund, an annual appeal which seeks the philanthropic support of alumni and friends to invest in the University and to enhance further Exeter’s status as a world-class institution.

Date: 29 November 2011

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