NEW RESEARCH UNVEILED ON EXMOOR’S RURAL ECONOMY

Dulverton
ENPA

60 per cent more businesses are operating in the National Park than previously known, according to findings from one of the largest ever surveys undertaken into the rural economy on Exmoor*.

It reveals a total of nearly 1,300 businesses operating within the National Park, many of which had been previously missing from national datasets that can overlook micro-businesses and sole traders, which comprise most of business activity on Exmoor.

The research has been undertaken by Wave Hill, an independent social and economic research firm, as part of the Rural Enterprise Exmoor Initiative – created by Exmoor National Park Authority to better understand the local economy and bring together partners to support sustainable economic development in harmony with the area’s special status as a National Park.

It was compiled following an audit of business activity across the moor via an in depth survey of businesses, supplemented by additional workshops and focus groups, to gain a deep understanding of the unique challenges and opportunities facing businesses operating within one of the most iconic and deeply rural areas of the country.

Dan James, Sustainable Economy Manager for Exmoor National Park Authority, said: “As we emerge from lockdown, the findings of this report will provide an important baseline to understand the issues affecting Exmoor’s rural economy and how we can best plan our recovery. The National Park Authority is primarily charged with conserving and engaging the public with Exmoor’s special landscape, wildlife and cultural heritage. But we also have an important role to play in fostering economic and social wellbeing and these findings will be invaluable in helping us better support communities to thrive, while living and working in such a deeply rural place.”

The findings show that the accommodation and food and drink services are the most common line of business, representing 38% of the total number of businesses and 44% of all employment (compared to 8% and 11% of employment across Somerset and Devon respectively). Agriculture and retail are the next largest sectors each representing 14% of all business on Exmoor and each providing an estimated 9% of jobs.

Report highlights:

  • Productivity is low with an estimated Gross Value Added (GVA) per job of just under £22,500, compared to over £45,000 across the South West**. This may reflect the sectoral composition of Exmoor; the higher number of lower value and lower skilled industries compared to the region. It may also reflect some of the challenges of doing business on Exmoor of the lifestyle element attached to some business choices.
  • Over a third of businesses are based from home (35%).
  • Poor connectivity – both physical and digital networks – were seen as the biggest barriers to doing business on Exmoor.
  • The status of the National Park and its natural and historic assets were highly valued for their ability to attract customers. Over half of businesses (52%) also identified wellbeing benefits for staff as being important.
  • 40% of businesses perceived the National Park designation as providing a positive opportunity, whilst 10% considered the National Park designation presented challenges ‘to a great extent’.
  • A non-sector specific Exmoor based Business Network was identified as a practical way to provide business support needs and draw on the experience of the business professionals within the National Park and be mutually supportive.
  • Making better use of the Exmoor brand and highlighting products ‘Produced in Exmoor’ was also seen as an opportunity to further maximise the brand appeal of the National Park in support of businesses.

The study was funded by the National Park Authority, the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, West Somerset Opportunity Area and North Devon and Somerset West and Taunton District Councils.

All of the primary research was gathered prior to the emergence of Covid-19 in the UK. The National Park has subsequently completed a business impact survey which is published alongside the main research report.

Dan James continued: “Exmoor is especially vulnerable to the economic impact of Covid-19 given the dominance of the hospitality and retail sectors. And while farming may seem like a relatively safe industry in these uncertain times, many agricultural businesses on Exmoor have diversified into tourism over the years, making them vulnerable too. As a result, our survey suggests a staggering two thirds of all Exmoor businesses had to cease trading with 89% reporting a negative impact on trading – 66% describing this as ‘severe’.

“We know that Exmoor’s communities are innovative and resilient, and we plan to use this latest research to grow our economy sustainably in a way that benefits the area’s special status as a National Park, as well as the communities that contribute to it being a vibrant living, working landscape.”