Possibly the only good thing to happen in January 2021 (apart from the Bernie Sanders memes) was the CCRI Winter School, which took place from January 20th – 22nd. Although this year it was delivered over Zoom, the event continued its history of bringing together a range of postgraduate researchers from across the agri-food sector to present and discuss their research in a supportive and collaborative environment.

Day one saw presentations focused on fishing, facilitation and food systems and was chaired by Caitlin Hafferty. Adam Fisher kicked things off with a summary of his planned PhD research, which will explore conservation behaviours among recreational sea anglers. This was followed by Aimee Morse, whose research focuses on developing a framework for the successful facilitation of collaborative agri-environmental management. Both highlighted the importance of trust between researcher and participants, and between facilitators and group members when seeking to understand and change behaviour.

The second half of Day one featured three expert panellists discussing the future of rural research post-Covid-19. Dr John Lever spoke on regional food system responses to the pandemic, while Dr Megan Palmer-Abbs explored peripherality and encouraged participants to reflect on how the situation may have affected our research approach. Finally, Professor Damian Maye shared key insights from his work following the food system impacts of Covid-19, suggesting we can learn a great deal from the global experiment we’re all living through. In the discussion afterwards, Megan reminded us that have more capacity than we think we do to enact change- and that academics have a key role to play.

Day two opened with a “Bring and stare” lunch, with a quiz run by chairperson Charlotte Chivers. Highlights included some surprising revelations about senior staff members’ illustrious musical careers, and a very impressive sandwich filling : bread ratio.

Philippa Simmonds began the presentations with some insights from her PhD literature review regarding the complex and contested issue of climate change and livestock. We then heard from Peter Gittins, whose research explores the realities facing English upland beef and sheep farmers, drawing on his position as an industry insider.

Slide by Peter Gittins, screenshot by Philippa Simmonds

Thirdly, we moved to the Welsh countryside to hear from Théo Lenormand who has been using an agrarian diagnosis tool to study farms in the Upper Dee Valley catchment: from glacial formation, to farm expansion in the 21st century, to future possibilities and challenges. Our final PhD research presentation of the day came from Adrianna Kapek-Goodridge, who is exploring farm animal welfare governance in new and old EU states. Her research will draw on two case studies – the UK and Poland – to explore differences in terms of consumer attitudes, NGO strategies, and the relationships between NGOs and retailers.

Day two culminated in the very grandly titled PhD Colloquium, during which experienced supervisors Julie Ingram, Chris Short and Dan Keech answered questions from PGRs and offered their tips for managing the postgraduate experience. They advised that research disruption due to the Covid-19 pandemic can be framed positively in PhD vivas, as adaptability is a vital skill for researchers even in non-pandemic times.

The final day of the CCRI Winter School 2021 was chaired by Aimee Morse, and featured three very different and equally fascinating presentations. Emanuele Amo shared his research on the Slow Food Movement and the Terra Madre project, which explores food sovereignty and uses the concept of translocal assemblages. We then heard from Leon Radix about his planned research on the diversity and abundance of butterflies on farms in Grenada, and their relationship to farming practices and characteristics. Finally we heard from Michaela Dhas, who has conducted extensive research on factors influencing the volume of food waste produced in two very different schools. Perhaps surprisingly, she found that there was about 20% more food wasted by pupils in the school with more ‘eco’ credentials- however, the waste was partly mitigated through a composting scheme rather than all being sent to landfill.

Slide by Emanuele Amo, screenshot by Philippa Simmonds

After a final wrap-up from the rapporteurs, we all had that Friday feeling and went our separate ways to enjoy a BNI (big night in). Overall, the CCRI Winter School continued its tradition of being a supportive and encouraging space in which to share ideas and receive feedback. In a time when IRL networking has been impossible, it enabled access to experienced senior researchers and supervisors who offered valuable insights into the future of the field, as well as how to navigate the postgraduate research experience. Themes obviously included the B-word and the C-word (Brexit and Covid-19), but we were also provoked to consider concepts like trust, collaboration, heritage, and conservation. The CCRI PGRs are very grateful to Matt Reed for overseeing the coordination, as well as to all the brilliant presenters and participants from the CCRI and beyond.