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'Countryside Matters!'©

Countryside Matters!©

The state of the countryside 2004 - the challenge of rural movers

Press release
Monday 21 June 2004

"Life in England's countryside is good - for many. More and more people are moving there to live - and why shouldn't they have that choice? There's nothing wrong with wanting a good quality of life - but this pressure on the countryside has an unintended impact. Those who exercise their choice to move can reduce the choices of the less well-off in rural areas and affect the character of our countryside," said Countryside Agency chair Pam Warhurst, at the launch of the Agency's latest 'state of the countryside' report (Monday June 21).

"That's why it is important to focus on what's been going on, to help national and regional policy makers better understand the impact of their decisions and initiatives on rural communities and our landscapes - and do something about it.

"We need more facts and analysis in place of rhetoric and anecdote. Our new countryside quality indicator¹, will provide the most scientific measure yet of the way our landscape is changing - whether because of the increasing rural population or due to other reasons. It will provide a tool to help focus future public policy and practice on ways of delivering a thriving and sustainably managed countryside. This report shows that during our base period of study in the 1990s, 23% of England's rural landscapes have been affected by marked change. While some changes, like unsightly developments, may have been harmful to the character of the countryside, others, such as the planting of new woodland for our 12 community forests², have enhanced their local landscapes. Having established the methodology, we will report on more recent trends in our next state of the countryside report."

The state of the countryside 2004 report shows that, as pressures grow on existing rural dwellers, the most damaging effect is the increase in house prices, making fewer and fewer homes affordable for local families and increasing homelessness in remoter areas. There is also evidence of a good deal more rural road use, partly due to the trips new rural dwellers make to urban areas for work and shopping.

The effect is not all negative. The report shows that incomers generate employment for local people as well as for themselves and that the number of rural businesses is growing faster than in urban areas in much of the countryside.

Other issues highlighted in The state of the countryside 2004 report include:

  • 14 million (28.5% of the population) live in England's rural districts, but a much more satisfactory definition of "rural" will be announced soon, as a result of work by the Countryside Agency, Defra, ODPM and ONS.
  • The rural population grew on average by more than 81,000 (0.7%) a year compared with some 48,000 (0.1%) a year in urban areas between 1981 and 2002.
  • Net migration from urban to rural districts is estimated at 115,000 people a year in the 12 months to June 2002.
  • Urban and rural residents agree on what comprises quality of life in the sense of 'a good place to live' - access to nature and countryside is fundamental to this.
  • Rural people tend to live longer and have better health than urban dwellers; health services match national target standards but accessibility barriers remain.
  • Incidence of crime and fear of crime are much lower in rural areas but people have tangible concerns about their personal safety and that of their property.
  • In six out of ten key services there has been a slight decline (1-2%) in their geographical availability to rural households, but there is some evidence that this is due in part to more people moving to relatively remote areas.
  • In 2003, 37% of the rural population spent more than half their income on mortgage payments, compared to 26% of urban residents³.
  • The level of homelessness is lower in rural areas (38 in every 10,000 cf with 68 urban households), but hidden homelessness remains an issue and in remote districts homeless households increased by nearly 30% between 1999-2003.
  • Agriculture contributed £7.9 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) or 0.8% of total GVA to the UK economy - this proportion has been stable for the past three years, but is half the 1996 level
  • Farming remains the primary means of managing the English countryside, but more farmers (17%) are diversifying their farm resources into tourism, sport and recreation, direct sales and processing. Income from off-farm employment continues to rise as a proportion of total income from farming (TIFF) which reached £15,000 pa per FTE in 2003, almost twice the 2001 low point.
  • The number of rural businesses continues to grow faster in rural (+1.1%) than urban (+0.6%) areas, partly due to those moving to rural areas with their businesses or to set up businesses - and this gap is widening.
  • Average gross weekly earnings in rural areas are lower (£431) than urban (£473), rising slightly faster (19.5%) than urban wages (18.5%) 1999-2003.
  • In 2003, there were 1.4 million 'low income households' in rural areas.
  • A quarter (more than a billion trips) of all leisure day visits are to the countryside generating some £10 billion a year to local economies, with walking the most popular activity.

The state of the countryside 2004 report presents data and analysis across 20 key indicator themes which, collectively, provide a comprehensive framework to measure change in rural, social, economic and environmental conditions in ways that cover the issues of most relevance to rural people and communities and to everyone who uses or values the English countryside. A full version of the report (CA170) and much of the underlying data can be downloaded from the Countryside Agency website at or obtained, price £10, from

    Countryside Agency Publications,
    PO Box 125,
    West Yorkshire
    LS23 7EP
    Tel: 0870 120 6466.

Underpinning the Countryside Quality Indicator is a new National Character Area Database (NCAD), consisting of 156 Character Areas of England. For more information on this and the Countryside Quality Counts (CQC) project log on to

¹Countryside character depends on the unique combination of landscape elements such as woodland, boundary features, agricultural land cover, settlement pattern, semi-natural habitats and historic features. The Countryside Quality Counts(CQC) methodology developed in partnership with Defra, English Heritage and English Nature. The National Character Area Database (NCAD) consists of 156 Character Areas of England and can be seen at

² There are 12 community forests throughout England, established to regenerate the countryside around towns, following an initiative of the Countryside Commission (the Countryside Agency's predecessor) and the Forestry Commission.

³ Assuming 100% mortgage and an average lending rate

The Countryside Agency is the statutory body working to make the quality of life better for people in the countryside and the quality of the countryside better for everyone. It is a non-departmental body sponsored by the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs.

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