recreational purposes. By 1980 greenbelts covered 1.8 million hectares.The amount of countryside beingtaken for building had fallen toabout 5,000 hectares a year, one-sixth of the rate during the 1930s.
(c) Rural development
During the 1980s planning lawswere gradually relaxed by theConservative government, whichwas opposed to rigid governmentcontrols and preferred to allowmarket forces to operate. There wasgrowing demand for houses, bothgenerally and more particularly inthe countryside. Between 1981 and1991 around 770,000 people movedto rural areas in England, and thepercentage of the population livingin rural areas increased from 24.1%to 27.6% (Figure 1).Who were these new rural dwellers?Many were commuters – rapidlyincreasing car ownership, plus thegrowing network of motorways anddual carriageways (themselves apressure on the countryside)allowed people to undertake longerjourneys to work and to enjoy thebetter quality of life that thecountryside is often perceived tooffer. Other new rural dwellersincluded owners of second homes,and those retiring to thecountryside. The proportion of older people is slightly higher inrural areas than in the rest of thecountry – in 1998 18% of the ruralpopulation was over 65 years old,compared with 15% of the urbanpopulation (see Figure 2).
(d) The Impact of Counter-urbanisation
Counter-urbanisation involves themovement of people with urbanattitudes into rural society, wherethose attitudes are not alwaysshared. The conflicting attitudes tofox hunting is one example. Theincome levels of ‘incomers’ whosejobs are in big cities tend to bemuch higher than those of peoplewho have been brought up in thecountryside – most ruralemployment tends to be poorly paid.The influx of wealthy newcomershas resulted in prices of ruralhousing spiralling out of the reachof local people. This, together withthe search for work, has forcedmany young adults to move awayfrom their villages in order to findcheaper accommodation elsewhere,in towns and cities. The sale of ruralcouncil houses and a lack of housingassociation homes mean there is noaccommodation for many ruralpeople setting up home for the firsttime (Figure 3).The influx of newcomers has not byany means been completelynegative. It may for instance havehelped preserve services in ruralareas. Although many of them maywork in urban areas, their childrenwill attend local schools and theywill use local services such as thegeneral stores, surgery and pub. TheRural Development Commissionconcluded its Survey of RuralServices in 1997 by saying that thelevel of service provision hadchanged little between 1991 and1997, other than a steady decline inthe number of rural post offices.This represents a marked changeover the previous three decades,when many rural services declinedrapidly.
The crisis in agriculture
Farming’s share in the nationaleconomy is in long-term decline,and this trend is likely to continue.This has brought social andeconomic distress to many people,especially in some of the remoterrural areas. In 1975 3% of the UK’sgross domestic product wascontributed by agriculture; by 2000this had fallen to just 1%. Thisdecline has been due to relativelyslow growth in demand forfoodstuffs, and the lower relativeprices for agricultural commodities,which have increased far less quicklythan inflation, largely because of theimpact of technological changes. Inaddition, the economics of the foodsupply chain appear to favour thelarge retailers, rather than the foodproducers. Making matters worse,farming has been hit by a series of health scares that have caused publicalarm and reduced demand. In theearly 1990s fears over salmonella ineggs were quickly dwarfed by theimpact of the BSE crisis. British beef exports were banned world-wide andthe national beef herd was reducedas farmers sought other sources of income. In 2000, swine vesiculardisease hit the British pig herd, andin February 2001 one of the mostdreaded livestock diseases of all, footand mouth, reappeared – the firstmajor outbreak since the 1960s.Across Britain, smoke rose fromgiant funeral pyres as thousands of slaughtered animals were crematedin a desperate effort to halt thespread of the disease. All livestockexports from the UK were banned.Farmers’ leaders warned that manysmaller farmers would be driven outof business by the effects of theepidemic. Farmers already have oneof the highest suicide rates of anyprofession in the UK, a clearindication of high levels of stress. Isthis succession of diseases the resultof ill fortune, or does it reflect adeeper malaise within the UK’sagricultural sector?Despite the range of problems facingBritish farming during the 1990s,the continuing decline inagricultural employment (Figure 4),the provision of subsidies throughthe EU’s Common AgriculturalPolicy, and a wide range of restructuring activity helped tosustain levels of income per head inthe farming community. However,the severity of the crisis of the late
September 2001no.408UK rural issues
Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2001
Figure 3: Article from
6 January 2001
The trend of rich people buying up allthe available housing in the countrysideand forcing poorer young families tomove to cities is increasingdramatically, according to research.Mark Shucksmith, of AberdeenUniversity, told the Institute of BritishGeographers’ conference: “Rural areasare now ruled by market forces, so therich will live in the countryside and thepoor in the urban areas. The social gluethat holds rural communities together isfalling apart.”The situation has been made worse bythe rich incomers taking over localcommunities by forming the majority onparish councils, being able to lobbyagainst any new housingdevelopments, especially preventing“village homes for village people”, andby doing so “inadvertently threateningthe social, cultural and economicsustainability of what they are keen topreserve.”The effect on young people wasparticularly severe, with those wantingto stay in the countryside having to livewith their parents. It was estimated that80,000 affordable homes were neededin rural England between 1990 and1995, but only 17,700 were providedbetween 1990 and 1997. Thegovernment’s recent Rural White Paperhad set a target of 9,000 affordablehomes a year being built in rural areas,but this was not enough to prevent acontinuation of the trend.