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Geofile Rural Issues

Geofile Rural Issues

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Published by: reservoirgeogs on Mar 27, 2009
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Over the past 10 years, concern hasgrown over the changes affectingrural Britain. In 1995 theConservative government publisheda White Paper on Rural England,with the aim of boosting economicgrowth. The 1997 general electionled to a change in the ruling party.After 18 years of Conservative rule,a Labour government was votedinto power. Several ruralparliamentary seats that had beenConservative for generationsreturned Labour MPs. The newgovernment had a mandate forchange, but it soon encounteredproblems with its policy for ruralareas, especially with regard tofarming policy and the Labourgovernment’s opposition to foxhunting. A pressure group called theCountryside Alliance formed,organising petitions anddemonstrations against governmentinterference. In November 2000 anew Rural White Paper waspublished, mirroring the concernsof five years previously.This
considers the conflictsof interest and issues now affectingthe countryside, and examines theproposals for tackling them.
Pressures for development
(a) The background
Development pressures haveaffected and shaped the countrysidefor centuries. However, the pace of change has never been quicker thanin the past century. Newagricultural techniques havechanged the character of ruralBritain, transforming patterns of employment and altering the landitself. Demographic changes anddevelopment of the nationalinfrastructure, together withchanging standards of living andpublic expectations, have increasedurban Britain’s influence on ruralsociety.
(b) Planning constraints
During the 1920s and 1930s asudden upsurge in urban sprawlresulted in the loss of large areas of countryside, as over four millionnew homes were built across Britainin an unplanned, uncontrolledexpansion. 25,000 hectares of countryside a year were built onduring the 1930s. This was largelydue to improvements in public andprivate transport that freed peoplefrom having to live close to theirplace of work. Effective planningconstraints were not introduceduntil 1947, with the Town andCountry Planning Act. Thisrequired local authorities to prepareplans of development in their areas.In the same year the Agriculture Actprotected farmland fromdevelopment, in order to safeguardfood production.Following the Town and CountryPlanning Act, ‘green belts’ wereestablished around London andother major cities in order to restrictbuilding and preserve areas of countryside for farming and
408Neil Punnett
Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2001
UK rural issues
 Figure 1: Population of England: % in rural areas Figure 2: Comparison of the age structure of the rural population with other districts of England 1998
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
The Guardian,
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.
September 2001no.408UK rural issues
Geofile Online © Nelson Thornes 2001
1990s has meant that average farmincomes fell in 1999 and 2000 totheir lowest point for over 30 years(Figure 5). The weakness of thesingle European currency, the euro,against sterling was affecting UKfarm exports even before the footand mouth epidemic led to a totalexport ban.For many farmers, restructuring hasbeen essential for survival.Restructuring has included:diversification, such as farmshops, organic farming, pick yourown, nurseries and gardencentres, bed & breakfast, farmvisitors’ centres, and also off-farm income through part-timejobsmore efficient utilisation of labourincreased adoption of newbusiness arrangements, such ascontracting and collaborationa shift towards larger-scaleenterprises, but also anincreasing role for smaller, part-time farms.In 2000 over a fifth of UK full-timefarms received income fromdiversified activities. The percentagevaries both by size of farm and byregion. It is higher for smaller farms(23%) than for larger enterprises(17%) and substantially higher in thewest (27%) than in the north (14%).
(a) Trends
Rural areas in the UK haveexperienced growth in totalemployment since 1971, and ruralemployment has grown faster thanurban employment. Major trendssince 1981 have included:a decline in agriculture’s share oemployment in rural areas, from6% to 4% of the total ruralemploymenta decline in the employmentshare of other primary industriessuch as mining and quarrying,from 2% to 1%a decline in manufacturing’sshare of employment, from 24%to 20%an increase in employment in theservice sector, from 60% to 71%.Increased job opportunities inleisure and recreation as generalincomes have risen have playedan important part in thisincrease.There is a high proportion of smallenterprises in rural areas, with over90% of all rural firms employingfewer than 10 people. Large firms(employing over 100 people) are lesscommon in rural than in urban areas(1.4% of rural firms, compared with2.2% of urban firms). The higherrate of small firm formation in ruralareas may partly be the result of theperceived higher quality of life inrural areas. Almost two-thirds of new rural firms are set up by peoplewho have moved into the area,compared with only one-third of new urban firms. 75% of those whomoved to rural areas stated that theenvironment was of at least someimportance in their decision.
(b) Employment growth
The successful growth of employment in many rural areas,despite the decline in agriculturalemployment, is a result of thefollowing factors:rising demand for leisure andtourism activities as disposableincomes increasethe movement of people intorural areas, especially those witheasy access to centres of employmentdevelopments intelecommunications which allowpeople to work from home via e-mail, fax, video-conferencing andthe Internetincreased demand for ruralproducts such as craft andhorticultural itemsconstraints on expansion inurban areas.
(c) Leisure and tourism
Tourism is of particular economicsignificance to rural areas. Ruraltourism supports over 400,000 jobsand generates over £12 billion –nearly a quarter of the total value of the tourism industry in the UK. Thebenefits of tourism are unevenlydistributed between rural areas.Some areas experience problems of congestion and environmentaldegradation, while other areas donot fulfil their potential becausevisitors are unaware of the full rangeof attractions in the area.Tourism is well suited to the ruralenvironment, since it is oftendirectly related to the countryside,its scenic attractions and its way of life. Properly managed, tourismoffers many opportunities forincome generation and can help tosustain local communities and localservices. Bad weather in the crucialschool summer holiday period canhave a great effect on income fromtourism – visitors either go abroad,or stay at home or remain in theirresorts where they can shelter fromthe elements.The money spent by tourists and dayvisitors represents a significanttransfer of income from urban torural areas. Total annual spendingby day visitors to rural areas is £7billion, compared with £38 billion inurban areas. The average amountspent by each day visitor is a littleover £5, the single largest itempurchased being food and drink.
(d) Rural unemployment
Unemployment in rural areas isgenerally lower than in the rest of 
 Figure 4: Trends in the UK’s agricultural labour force,1970–2000 Figure 5: Trends in total income from farming, 1973–2000

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