The Government is aiming to improve its communication with rural areas through its proposed Rural & Farming Network.
Defra has invited 14 groups covering different areas of the UK to join the network to identify and feed back local issues to make policies more rural-friendly. They will also provide feedback on emergencies such as floods so the right kind of assistance can be given to keep businesses running.
One of the bodies included in the network is the Farming & Rural Issues Group for the South East, which includes the NFU and HTA at the regional level.
Chair Andrew Colquhoun said: "The essential thinking behind this is to plug a gap in the consultation and communication network with the rural sector around England left by the loss of regional development agencies and the Government offices."
He added: "It looks like the network will provide useful pieces of intelligence gathering, hearing at first hand what rural areas are thinking. Another advantage for us is being able to talk to like-minded groups around the country.
"We welcome it in principle and we will try to help it become as effective as possible, helping Defra to make decisions close to the needs of rural areas."
Defra representative Lydia Martin said: "The Government is keen to have a new way of talking with rural areas and this should facilitate a two-way dialogue with the regional groups. These will have a hotline to the Government to feed back about how rural policies are working on the ground."
She said the network was likely to have a meeting shortly. "Defra will be working with each group individually and the minister will be seeing all of them within the next 12 months."
Rural & Farming Network - Group list
Farming Food & Rural Network East
Rural Network East Midlands
Lincolnshire Forum for Agriculture & Horticulture
Derbyshire Economic Partnership Rural Forum
Food, Farming & Rural Affairs Tees Valley
Farming & Rural Issues Group
Essex Rural Partnership
The Kent Rural Network
Rural Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Partnership
South West Rural & Farming Network
Worcestershire Rural Hub
The Rural Hubs Partnership
Yorkshire Food, Farming & Rural Network
The North Eastern Farming & Rural Advisory Network