Climate Change and Smart Village Scotland

Looking back over recent years, it is interesting to see how rural development plans have evolved to incorporate new ways of thinking on modernising rural communities.

In rural Scotland the priorities since the turn of the century have been; to improve the living standards by providing; food, shelter, clothing, employment and education.

Rural development is the general process of improving the quality of life and economic well-being of people living in rural areas, who are often relatively isolated and located in sparsely populated areas. Education, entrepreneurship, physical infrastructure, and social infrastructure all play an important role in developing rural regions.

Suddenly and most would accept, inevitably, there is a new additional challenge to add… That of climate change adaption.

For those living and working in cities, or areas of industry, the impact for urgent change is the highest with the carbon footprint reduction overwhelmingly urgent. The daily commute, public transport, air pollution, landfill and daily consumption of energy is all under the microscope.

To the same but slightly less critical level is rural Scotland, where the adoption of carbon reducing measures are already written into the psyche of those that live there. In rural parts, home insulation, adoption of green energy in solar and wind is all around us and has been for around two decades. It is here where most hydro power sources can be found and just off our rural coastlines where tidal energy makes a more than useful green contribution.

So in many respects rural is leading the way on climate change adaption in Scotland.

This trend is likely to continue but subject to continued essential investment in:

1.      Super-fast broadband for all rural communities

2.      Sufficient infrastructure on eCar charging to support eCar travel confidence

3.      Incentives in 5+ years -time to bridge the gap between economical to run cleaner diesel vehicles and eCar prices, which are currently way beyond the reach of the average rural family.

4.      Public transport infrastructure and consideration of new electric train routes deep into rural Scotland.

5.      Alternatives to oil boilers as a lower cost heating option, where gas does not exist and where electric heating costs are still too high. Increased consideration of community power options.

6.      Incentives to create more local hubs and encouraging the infrastructure to allow more home working as a carbon footprint reducing measure especially over winter months when roads become unsafe.

7.      Local health and social care resilience infrastructure

8.      Food provision and supply

Smart Villages will need to have a new focus on community development plans to accommodate the many changes and challenges we will face in the future.

Rural tourism will continue to be important but where there may be a gradual reduction in long distance international travel through disincentives such as; air travel tax and city tax, this potential reduction in footfall could be compensated by encouraging local tourism, opening up communities to new incentives and events.

The digital portal element of Smart Village Scotland holds a key role with the incorporation of these considerations into its content and information resources to help support rural communities prepare, plan and share ideas on dealing with the challenges of climate change.

The power of Internet of Things integration can fit with the Smart Village model linking communities at risk from severe weather, storm and flooding conditions with essential information to prepare and mitigate on such events – just one example.

FINLAND CASE STUDY

In Northernmost rural Finland, there are lessons to be learned on building resilient rural communities where rural health services are designed to deliver day to day health care and remote diagnosis making best use of fast broadband infrastructure. Education is handled in a special way with close integration into rural communities, hub creation to support entrepreneurial activities and cottage Industries. Local co-operatives are created to deliver hydro, wind and thermal community power.

Finland covers an area of 390,903 km² (Scotland is 80,000 km²) of which 95% is rural. Of the total land area, 86% is covered by forests and 7.6% of agricultural land. The total population is approximately 5.5 million (Same as Scotland) – of which 30% live in rural areas. (Scotland- 20% is Rural) The built environment in Finland is low, about 3% of the total surface area.

The main challenges for agricultural activities in Finland relate to the low profitability of the agricultural sector due to cold climate and poor soil i.e. the natural constraints. The negative impacts of agricultural activities on the environment include eutrophication of the water bodies, deterioration of natural habitats and reduction of species. The positive impact of agricultural activities on the environment relate to increased biodiversity, open agricultural landscapes and diverse cultural landscape, as well as improved living environment.

About 42% (nearly 118 000) of all enterprises operating in Finland are located in rural areas; In 2010 about 93% of enterprises were defined as “micro sized”, i.e. employing not more than 9 persons. Finnish agriculture is still based mainly on the family-farming type of agriculture.

The number of farms is relatively high and the farm size relatively small. The amount of agricultural land has remained approximately the same in recent years. Big changes will soon be faced with the need to consider new targets on climate change but the country is well placed to cope.

There is much to learn and share with our European Neighbours in Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Estonia, Faroe Islands and Iceland where similar rural climate challenges exist.

For most Northern European Countries there are a number of Key focus factors to be considered for Climate change impact in rural areas:

  • Coastal management
  • Buildings and construction
  • Water supply and quality
  • Energy
  • Agriculture
  • Forestry adaption
  • Fisheries
  • Planning
  • Health and Social resource
  • Preparedness
  • Nature and ecology
  • Insurance
  • Transport infrastructure
  • Weather extremes: Storms, winds, temperature, rainfall, flood risk

The Smart Village Portal can extend to the above key areas to provide better informed, better connected more engaged communities to help prepare them for the future.

A recent visit to the Island of Mull and the small Island Community of Iona brought home how well these communities have adapted to change and are doing their best to make best use of Broadband to support a strong entrepreneurial spirit in rural micro businesses and Tourism.

On the three vehicle ferry to Iona it was interesting to see the fibre broadband support team in attendance to enhance the Islands connections, so essential in many parts of rural Scotland, some yet to benefit, but hopefully coming soon.

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