New Blog – SIP: Putting a Platform in Place

Dr Jennifer Preston (NIAB), SIP Project 1 Co-ordinator and Gavin Huggett (University of Exeter), SIP Project 2 Manager

It has been more than 5 years since the Sustainable Intensification Research Platform (SIP) was conceived. A lot has changed on a UK and world stage since then, but the term sustainable intensification has proved enduring. Whilst its exact meaning and its relationship to other concepts such as ecosystems services and natural capital is debated, the overall ethos is a good one. It helps us get from where we are now to where we need to be.

As Andy explains in his blog Making Sustainable Connections, SI implies collaboration as there are too many disciplines and too many environments for an individual body to oversee. If I can add too many stakeholders to that list, it can be seen that achieving SI involves, not just collaboration between academics, but with industry, farmers, land owners, policy makers, water companies, environmental organisations, and the list goes on.

SIP was set up to not only to develop, test and demonstrate approaches to help farmers achieve SI, but to forge these links across the agricultural community. These links have taken time, effort and good will to build, and as SIRN takes the helm, these relationships need to be nurtured and protected.

If we look back at the vision of SIP, the Platform was to be made up of three proposed components of the Platform – the physical platform, the data platform and the community of practice.

The community of practice maps most closely to the objectives of SIRN. Many of the SIP community are now part of the SIRN community, many knew or worked together before SIP. With time mutual understanding forms – of viewpoints, skills and approaches. That’s not to say in SIP we got it perfect, we stumbled at times over the detail and different ways of working, but ultimately what kept us together is that we are all trying to achieve the same thing for the country, the environment and society.

The data platform is a key, but little talked about component of the programme. We should not underestimate the power of Big Data and the capacity of individuals or enterprises to innovate. Data should be free, available and easily obtained by people who could benefit from it or those who come up with ideas and products that improve the lives of people and the environment.

Several study areas and five study farms were the focus SIP research. This physical platform strengthened the bond between academics, research and local communities in each of these areas and also between them. These are probably the most delicate and important component and care must be taken by the research community, in an effort to achieve its own objectives, not to harm those that provide the valuable sense check and information it needs.

Then of course there are the SIP research outputs. Over the last three and a half years SIP has studied in detail how to achieve SI on the farm and a landscape scale. We consulted farmers on a range of subjects from what makes a good decision support to sustainable farm practices to collaboration. We have produced a set of indicators for SI using the Farm Business Survey and ground-truthed these against real farm data. A new framework was designed to guide policy makers the impact and interactions of farm practices on SI, a new benchmarking tool to measure farm performance in terms of SI and the original Landscape Typology Tool for better targeting of advice and policy on a landscape scale. There have been a range on-farm and collaborative interventions designed and tested. This broad and multi-disciplinary evidence base will provide Defra with some of the tools it needs to design effective post-Brexit policy to balance economic, environmental and societal needs when it comes to the land.

SIP was built on foundation of knowledge exchange. We would not have been so successful without the input of local experts – farmers, advisors, land owners or local stakeholders into the work. This, our community needs to continue to be guide and be guided by not just the funders, but the people our research most affects.

If you missed recent SIP seminars, you can watch them again:


9th January 2018