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NRN of the month: The United Kingdom

The National Rural Network of the United Kingdom

Rural development policy is devolved in the UK, and determined separately by the four administrations: Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, with each having a separate Rural Development Programme (RDP) and National Rural Network (NRN).  This enables the NRNs in the UK to align their work with the priorities of their ‘regional’ RDPs and the priorities of their respective Governments. This is important as priorities do vary across the four administrations. Having an NRN based in each country also allows stakeholders to feel more involved and have a greater sense of ownership.

However, when it comes to sharing knowledge and experience with rural networks across Europe and participating in the European Network for Rural Development, it helps to have some co-ordination across the UK.  As the largest of the four NRNs, a small level of secretariat support is provided for this purpose by the English NRN, and the NRNs take turns to host face-to-face meetings. 

One example is the second UK NRN which the Wales Rural Network hosted in Cardiff on 6-7 November 2013. This event has been designed to explore increased opportunities for inter-territorial co-operation between the four UK administrations during the RDP 2014-2020. Representatives of ENRD, ELARD, the French National Rural Network and the Auvergne Regional Rural Network also contributed to the conference.


The overarching aim of the Scottish NRN is to connect rural Scotland in all its diversity to promote economic growth and community development. Under the 2007-2013 programme, this has primarily been achieved through two external contracts:

  1. an annual programme of networking events and project visits; and
  2. a website.

The events programme has been run by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. It supports the on-going development of regional stakeholder groups and facilitates local events designed to maximise local knowledge of rural development issues, opportunities and inspirational practice throughout Scotland, the UK and Europe.

The website acts as a hub for those living and working in rural Scotland. It provides: information on funding and support; links to relevant reports and research; case studies; photographs and videos from events; and a weekly newsletter. But it is more than just a one-way information point as it enables interaction through various social media platforms and users can upload their own news, questions and examples of good practice.


The key aim of the Wales Rural Network (WRN) is to promote co-operation and share good practice with all parties involved in the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013.

Support for RDP implementation in Wales has been achieved via a diverse range of activities, including specific thematic events, study visits, a website and publications. In addition, assistance with RDP delivery support activities such as project monitoring and evaluation and training has been realised through a combination of facilitated workshops, seminars and communication activities.

Regular updated information is provided via the WRN website and a designated section within the Welsh Government’s bi-monthly agriculture and environment publication ‘Gwlad’ to ensure those living in Wales and beyond are kept abreast of all developments.

For the RDP 2014-2020 funding period, the WRN aims to identify and share good practice, and promote co-operation and collaboration across Wales to increase the competitiveness and efficiency of local businesses; focusing on the creation of jobs and vocational opportunities to help grow the Welsh economy.

Northern Ireland

The Rural Network for Northern Ireland (RNNI) is managed through external contract by the Northern Ireland Rural Development Council (RDC). The NRN supports the implementation and delivery of the programme across all axes, by identifying and sharing good practice; exchanging information; providing training and support and supporting Local Action Groups to promote and assist the development of co-operation projects and production of online communication tools and networking opportunities.

Regular events include facilitation of the Local Action Group Cluster Networking Forum. Some of the most recent higher profile events include a cross border conference with colleagues in the Republic of Ireland entitled ‘Investing in our Rural Future: Facilitating the role of volunteers’; a showcase of 30 RDP funded rural businesses in a LEADER exhibition at Northern Irelands premier agricultural event; management and facilitation of 12 new programme consultation events attracting 400 people and contribution to the UK NRN Conference in Cardiff.

One of the key tasks of the NRN was to establish and support Thematic Working on key topics, incorporating cross-Axis working where appropriate. The thematic working groups on ICT, Children and Young People, and Local Food have been instrumental in gathering information and reviewing key issues; for example youth engagement in RDP both at project, animation and decision-making level has been highlighted as a key issue and a set of principles and recommendations will be made in this regard. The NRN also coordinates groups linked to programme delivery.


The England NRN was originally outsourced from Government but in 2010 was taken back into Defra – the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.  A key benefit of this has been closer working with the England Managing Authority and the delivery bodies for the RDP.

The Network adopted a modest budget from the outset, focusing on providing key information on the programme and ad-hoc initiatives in response to demand.  A highlight of this approach has been the LEADER Exchange Group – a very successful forum for dialogue between the LAG community and Ministers that led for example to the development of transition support for existing LAGs.  A guiding principle of the network has been to add value to existing networks rather than duplicate or replace them.  An example of this approach is the stakeholder-led ‘Rural and Farming Networks’ that co-organise a series of events across England to engage a wide range of people on the priorities for the 2014-2020 period.  Making the most of its limited capacity the NRN has also shared its expertise with other teams in the Department to help run further consultation events on rural development.  The 2014-2020 programming period is an exciting opportunity to develop the contribution of networking - a clear intervention logic is needed and the NRN is looking for ways to get greater integration between stakeholder engagement activities across the programme.