Gemma Burditt - The impact of Brexit on rural communities


Gemma Burditt - The impact of Brexit on rural communities

Moving image artist Gemma Burditt is currently working with Newcastle University’s Centre for Rural Economy (CRE) to look at how leaving the EU will affect rural communities in Northumberland and updates on her research to date:

In 2016-2017 I was artist in residence with Berwick Visuals Arts and the Centre for Rural Economy and am delighted to be working with them both again on a research project exploring the impact of Brexit on rural communities. In this project I will explore how Brexit will shape the the future of land use, focusing on greener practices in energy production, agriculture and tourism. 
 
My recent work has focussed on stories which explore our relationship with nature and the temptation to only value the natural world if it has some kind of economic return. Since the Second World War the British landscape has lost large areas of woodland, been ploughed, dug up and reshaped resulting in 71% of the island’s land now being used for agricultural purposes.
 
Although the role of agriculture in rural economy is perhaps disproportionately focussed on, the agricultural landscape itself shapes our soils, waters, biodiversity and the aesthetic of the British countryside, and is part of the country’s emotional identity. However, in the light of Brexit and our exit from the Common Agricultural Policy - along with the real value of both total crop output and total livestock output continually dropping -  it is likely that how land is used and valued will change dramatically in the next decade.
 
The government is stressing that Brexit will offer an opportunity for the growth of the renewable energy sector and that increasing the funding available for emissions reductions and land stewardship is at the heart of the post EU-agricultural policy. The Northumberland region, with its varied and diverse landscape, will be encouraged to diversify its agricultural land and coastlines to wind power plots, ecotourism and experimental farming techniques which seek to improve biodiversity and better environmental outcomes, which exceed the targets laid out by the European Union. “Economic growth has to go hand-in-hand with greater protection for our forests and beaches, clean air and places of outstanding natural beauty.” (Her Majesty’s Government)
 
However, with the reduction of funding from the EU in so many areas including agriculture, how will the government manage to support and encourage this positive vision of a post Brexit future? And are local communities on board and sufficiently involved in making these changes happen? The use of the landscape to host wind turbines, for example, is often up against local opposition as their impending presence is often seen as a mark on the landscape despite the general public being principally behind the idea. It is this topic, the response of local communities to the changing use of rural landscape in a post-Brexit future, on which I would like to focus.
 
Over the course of the summer I intend to interview communities from the Northumberland area, particularly farmers, land owners, conservation organisations and innovators of land based businesses to find out how they predict the landscape may change as a result of Brexit and any future plans they may have to do so.
 

The research commission has been organised by Berwick Visual Arts with Newcastle University’s Institute for Creative Arts Practice and Centre for Rural Economy. The commission builds on the recently published report by the CRE ‘Brexit: Implications for the rural north of England’, which found these areas need  greater devolved decision making and a single, co-ordinated voice to avoid long-term issues being made worse by Brexit.

Read part two of Gemma's blog here