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Campaign to Protect Rural England Standing up for your countryside

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The first food web project

Caroline Cranbrook (right) pioneered food web research Caroline Cranbrook (right) pioneered food web research Photo: © CPRE

In 1998 a new out-of-town superstore was proposed in the Saxmundham area. Local CPRE volunteer Caroline Cranbrook was concerned that this would have a devastating effect on the area. She feared that the network of local food shops and businesses would collapse and local jobs would be lost. She surveyed the network of retailers, producers and suppliers making up the local food economy and found a flourishing local food web.

Cranbrook surveyed 81 food shops in seven market towns and 19 villages. She uncovered a web of links between these retailers and the local producers who supplied them. The local food shops dealt with nearly 300 local or regional food producers and wholesalers, as well as with a whole network of other local businesses such as electricians, bankers, accountants and plumbers. Put together, all these local employers provided a vast number of jobs for people within walking or cycling distance, and often with the flexible hours suitable for those with family commitments.

This complex economy would be destroyed if planning permission for the superstore went through - 67 the 81 local retailers thought their businesses would close if they had to compete with a large supermarket. And in any case, there was no need for a large new superstore. The existing food shops were supplying the food that people wanted and needed.

Suffolk Coastal District Council refused the application...and the East Suffolk food web survived and flourished.

Cranbrook carried out a second survey in 2006 and found this area is still free from supermarkets. In fact it has become a foodie destination, attracting visitors to see the traditionally farmed landscapes and sample local products such as ice cream, strawberries, venison and the first Suffolk salami. There has been an increase in demand for this fresh, traceable and distinctive food, and more interest in local farming practices, animal welfare and other environmental issues.

We published a report in association with Plunkett Foundation, The Real Choice, based on this survey. It supports our campaign for local and national planning and retail policies which help to support local food economies and encourage new local businesses to develop.

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