Rural Change

Can you hear that? The distant sound of mooing from the local field of cows? Let's not even mention the smell! Welcome to the rural countryside of the UK, the rolling fields, scattered villages, hard-working farms, and maybe a local pub or two. They're a bit of a contrast to the hustle and bustle of urban life, but that doesn't mean that rural areas are not fascinating places. But what characteristics do rural areas have? How have rural areas changed and developed over time? Are some rural areas growing or declining? What challenges does rural change bring? Let's dive in!

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Table of contents

    Rural change definition

    In geography, we natter on about the urban, urbanisation, and the growth of urban areas. But this explanation is going to focus on the rural. How do we define the rural?

    Rural areas are basically the countryside, instead of towns or cities. Their populations tend to be less than 10,000, to be considered rural. Rural change is how these areas are changing, both positively and negatively.

    Generally, more people tend to live in urban areas, especially in the UK. In 2019, only just over 17% of the population lived rurally. But that doesn't mean rural areas are unimportant. Rural areas have experienced many changes, as they grow and decline.

    Rural Change scenic picture of a Village in the Peak District StudySmarterFig. 1 - a small village in the Peak District

    Green belts are the green areas around cities that have restrictions on the amount of housing that is allowed to be built. Inside and after the green belt, you'll find plentiful rural villages and towns! This means that these rural areas are not excessively built upon, and are therefore protected.

    Change and development in rural society

    As we have already mentioned, rural areas in the UK have been experiencing significant changes. Let's explore some of the changes and developments that occur in the UK's rural society.

    Population change

    Population change is a big one. Although the processes of urbanisation and migration into urban centres are growing more quickly, rural areas are expanding too. This process is known as counter-urbanisation.

    Counter-urbanisation is the movement of people from urban to rural areas.

    Just like urbanisation, counter-urbanisation is a result of push and pull factors. Push factors are things that make people want to move away from a place. Pull factors are those which attract people to a place. People may be pushed away from cities as a result of higher crime rates, congestion, and the general unattractiveness of cities. They may be pulled to rural areas because of their desirability; rural areas tend to be much cleaner, have better air quality, and are visually more attractive.

    Some of the other reasons for a rise in counter-urbanisation include:

    • Many retirees tend to move to rural areas, or people may have second homes there.
    • With the increase in transport, like cars, people can commute easily to work.
    • Offices can often be located out of the city now, or people can even work from home.
    • Tourism also attracts people to rural areas, such as the Peak District National Park.

    On the other hand, population decline is also a characteristic of some rural areas. These areas tend to be much more remote, and have little access to services or employment opportunities. Think of the super remote areas in the very north of Scotland (more on this later). This means that many young people leave, plummeting these areas into a cycle of decline. If people leave an area, less money comes in, affecting everyday services. This then makes the area pretty unattractive to live in, so more people leave, and the cycle continues. The movement of people out of rural areas can be understood as rural depopulation. Both population growth and population decline can cause social and economic change, which we will discuss in more detail, later on.

    House prices

    House prices have skyrocketed in rural areas; many people desire to live in such areas, which consequently makes them more valuable. With this, comes with it, increased housing prices.

    In the city of Manchester, a 3-bedroom house can cost you around £250,000. In comparison, a 3-bedroom house on the edge of the Peak District National Park will cost you double that (£500,000).

    Where do you think is a more desirable place to live?

    Rural Change Houses in Manchester StudySmarterFig. 2 - house in the city of Manchester Rural Change rural thatched home in peak district StudySmarterFig. 3 - house in the Peak District

    Diversification

    When you think of a rural area and its economy, you immediately think of the farming industry. You would be correct, as agriculture is a key economic characteristic of rural areas. However, nowadays, lots of agricultural goods are imported from abroad, which means other forms of economic activity in rural areas are becoming important. Rural areas have been becoming more diverse with their economic activities:

    • The tourist industry; bed and breakfasts, campsites, cafés, tearooms, wedding venues, craft centres etc.
    • Sports industry; walking or cycling trails, quad biking or paintballing, organised running events, water sports.
    • Non-traditional agriculture; goat farming, free-range production.
    • Renewable energy; solar or wind farms, biofuels, hydropower.

    Heaton House was a local farm in Cheshire and is now a hugely popular wedding venue. Originally a dairy farm, it has been transformed into a beautiful events destination, with a bar, barn, marquee, restaurant, and even on-site places to sleep.

    Deprivation

    Although typically seen in urban areas, in rural areas where the population is declining, the effects of deprivation can be seen. Services like shops, doctors' surgeries and employment opportunities start to dramatically reduce, and even schools are under threat of closure. Busses become few and far between, as well as costly, as fewer people are using them. This can negatively impact elderly people living there, as they often require such public transport. More people are forced to drive cars, increasing air pollution in the area, as well as it being more difficult to drive in rural areas that weren't designed for heavy traffic flow.

    Challenges for rural change

    We have just discussed some of the changes that rural areas are going through. With rural change, rural areas face many challenges. To example some of these challenges, let's look at the social and economic changes using two case studies; rural growth in south Cambridgeshire and rural decline in the outer Hebrides, in Scotland.

    Rural growth: south Cambridgeshire

    The rural areas of south Cambridgeshire have been experiencing population growth, which has caused both social and economic changes. The area of south Cambridgeshire is populated by around 162,000 people (2021).1

    Many people living in this area are commuters; this negatively impacts the rural economy, as many of these commuters shop in the towns or cities (Cambridge) close to where they are working. Many people moving here resulted in housing prices skyrocketing, as well as petrol prices, with increased car usage. Buses are also reduced as a result of fewer people needing public transport services and using cars instead. With more car usage, comes more congestion, as the small rural roads were never designed for so much traffic! The agricultural sector is also reducing, as land is sold for new housing.

    Social changes

    Village developments, like home or barn conversions, by big-shot developers, can cause tensions and mistrust in the area. Also, as a result of the increased house prices, many young people can't afford to stay there and are forced to move elsewhere. This is leaving behind a more elderly population, which puts strain on local services.

    Rural decline: The Outer Hebrides, Scotland

    The Outer Hebrides are a collection of islands off the mainland coast of Scotland. Rural decline is a major characteristic here, where people are moving away towards the mainland, causing social and economic changes, too. The population in 2020 in the Outer Hebrides was estimated at 26,500.2

    Rural Change scenic picture of Outer Hebrides StudySmarterFig. 4 - the beautiful landscape of the Outer Hebrides

    Social changes

    Because of a lack of opportunities here, many young people move away, searching for a better life elsewhere. This means that the young population is reduced, leaving behind a gradually ageing population, with no one to look after them. Schools are also closing, as there aren't enough children to attend them.

    An ageing population refers to the increase in older people in an area. It is typically a result of an increased life expectancy (how long someone is expected to live) and decreasing birth rates (the number of people born per 1000, per year).

    Economic changes

    A major economic change here is the reduction of the small-scale fishing sector; as larger commercial fishing moved in, smaller fishing communities start to reduce. Even with some positive effects of the tourism sector, it's a seasonal business, and there aren't enough people or good enough infrastructures, to keep it going.

    Rural Change - Key takeaways

    • Rural areas, which are countryside areas with less than 10,000 people, are experiencing vast changes.
    • Some rural changes include population change (growth and decline), rising house prices, diversification, and deprivation.
    • Rural growth and rural decline cause both social and economic change.
    • South Cambridgeshire offers a great example of rural growth, whilst the outer Hebrides in Scotland represent rural decline.

    References

    1. Office for National Statistics Census 2021, How the population changed in South Cambridgeshire: Census 2021, 28 June 2022.
    2. Overview, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/strategy-performance-and-research/outer-hebrides-factfile/population/overview/
    3. Fig. 1: village in the peak district (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Near_Hathersage,_Peak_District_5.jpg) by Mike Peel (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Mike_Peel) Licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)
    4. Fig. 2: house in manchester (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Terrace_on_Great_Western_Street_in_Moss_Side,_Manchester_-_panoramio.jpg) by Dai O'Nysius (https://web.archive.org/web/20161016135909/http://www.panoramio.com/user/3294567?with_photo_id=41649084) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)
    5. Fig. 3: house in the peak district (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Thatched_cottages_near_Chatsworth_Park_-_geograph.org.uk_-_583552.jpg) by Roger Temple (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/7683) Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
    6. Fig. 4: the outer hebrides (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Outer_Hebrides_2019_(48278975451).jpg) by Dumphasizer, Licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Rural Change

    How is the economic situation in the rural area?

    The economic situation in the rural area used to be centred around the agricultural sector. Now, other forms of economic activity are being turned to, such as the tourist industry or the sports industry.


    What are the major changes that can be seen in rural society?

    The major changes that can be seen in rural society are population change (growth or decline), house price rise, diversification and deprivation. 


    How are rural areas changing?

    Rural areas are changing in different ways; some are experiencing population change (growth or decline), rises in housing prices, diversification, and even deprivation.


    What are the impacts of rural population growth?

    Some of the impacts of rural population growth include high housing and gas prices, increased car usage and reduced bus use, a reduction in the agricultural sector, tensions and mistrust, and young people leaving the area, among other impacts.


    What is meant by rural depopulation?

    When people are moving out of rural areas.


    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Populations of rural areas are less than _______

    In 2019, what percentage of the population lived rurally?

    True or false: population decline can lead to a cycle of decline.

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