Agriculture no longer forms the bedrock of the rural economy in the UK. Its decreasing role is not only due to the diminishing returns from primary production, but is also linked to an expansion of other economic sectors in the countryside. However, not all parts of the countryside have been able to grasp new economic opportunities, or fi nd alternative sources of income in the light of agricultural decline. It was in the context of the growing disparities of income and social exclusion across many rural areas, that government set the priorities for its rural strategy in 2004 (Chapter 2). These were as follows:

‘Economic and social regeneration’ – supporting enterprise across rural England, but targeting greater resources at areas of greatest need. ‘Social justice for all’ – tackling rural social exclusion wherever it occurs and providing fair access to services and opportunities for all rural people. ‘Enhancing the value of our countryside’ – protecting the natural environment for this and future generations (DEFRA, 2004b)

This refl ects the government’s broader ‘opportunity for all’ (ibid.) agenda which places better access to, and reward from, work, as a cornerstone to achieving greater social inclusion. Within this agenda, particular attention has been drawn to specifi c dimensions such as women in work, the informal economy and the role of volunteers and social enterprises in delivering services and economic regeneration (CRC, 2006a: see also, Chapter 8). Government policy today aims to embrace a diversity of economic activity while paying attention to the allocation of resources and the varying capacity of regions to adapt to new demands and opportunities. This represents a signifi cant shift from the approach during much of the twentieth century, when rural policy was fi rst and foremost focused on sustaining agricultural activity.