Getty images 1181422453. Sphere February 2021. Mountains and a lake.
RURITAGE is a four-year EU-funded research project, initiated June 2018, which strives to enable rural regeneration and local growth through natural and cultural heritage.
The project aims to sustainably enhance local heritage for regional and community development with the help of the Systemic Innovation Areas (SIA) framework, which identifies unique heritage potential within rural communities. SIAs focus on areas such as Pilgrimage, Resilience, Sustainable Local Food Production, Integrated Landscape Management, Migration and Art and Festivals. 
The project encourages the exchange of knowledge between communities, business and academic partners. By working with ‘Role Model’ partners, the project provides successful rural regeneration scenarios and ‘lessons learnt’ to communities willing to adopt and test these scenarios to regenerate their areas around their own unique potential; these are called Replicators. 
Each Replicator team received intensive training on how to design and implement change using local recourses, and by including local stakeholders into the decision and implementation process. They developed strategies on how to re-discover local cultural and natural heritage, how to navigate social change and community dialogue, and how to monitor the progress of actions. In the following two years, Replicators will implement their heritage-inspired actions. The project will monitor this process to demonstrate how the investment in local natural and cultural heritage becomes an engine for the sustainable regeneration of rural areas. 
For example, Magma UNESCO Global Geopark for Norway focuses on the promotion of their local food products and traditions, integrated landscape management and migration challenges. The region is known for its outstanding beauty of gentle slopes, small valleys and over 6,000 lakes. Now, they are opening a new walking trail that will guide visitors between local food providers, farms and shops. Furthermore, it will support the boost of local business by establishing internships and work training for migrant integration.
The team from the University of Plymouth, including Dr Lynda Rodwell, Dr John Martin, Professor Sabine Pahl and Professor Iain Stewart, is investigating how these heritage-inspired actions change people’s perceptions of a region. Local communities are invited to take part in participatory workshops (My Cult-Rural Toolkit) which, playfully and creatively, allow people to reflect on their relationship with the landscape. These insights help us understand better what kind of benefits a particular site brings us, whether it provides recreational space, meaningful memories, inspiration, or spiritual experiences. These are more widely classified as benefits of the cultural ecosystem services provided by the landscape.
Additionally, a broader community is encouraged to share their views on the area via smartphone apps such as RateMyView and Landscape Connect. These apps allow us to collect geo-located data on how people use and what they find attractive in their surroundings. This data will be used to create a spatial map of values (cultural ecosystem services) for each rural site. Together with other approaches, such as analysing the social media images from these sites, we hope to gain a more in-depth understanding of the varied ways that people interact with their environment. As a result, the project aims to gather supporting evidence for the importance of considering natural and cultural heritage contexts while planning rural regeneration projects. Read more about the RURITAGE project.