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Where are we now? The State of the Countryside


9.5 million people live in rural England, some 19% of the population (2001 Census). This is broken down into ‘less sparsely populated’ areas (8.9 million) and ‘sparsely populated’ areas (0.6 million).


The rural population is growing and ageing. There is net migration into the countryside from towns and cities of approximately 100,000 people each year. Just under half the rural population is aged over 45. Young people often move to towns and cities to find jobs, higher education and affordable housing.


One of the major problems in most rural areas is the very high cost of housing, especially affordable housing for young families and single people on moderate or low incomes.


Manufacturing, wholesale and retail are important employers, with hotels and tourism being especially important in sparsely populated areas. There is a broad trend towards home-working and a high proportion of self-employment.


Household income tends to be high and the countryside is considered to be generally well off. However, there is still much disadvantage in rural England that is dispersed and hidden and therefore difficult to identify.


Farming


Over 70% of England is agricultural land with around 187,800 farms in England in June 2002. Some £133 billion is spent on food in the UK each year and accounts for 12% of the national economy. However most of the money consumers spend on food rewards activities that take place after the product has left the farm, so the benefit does not go to the farmer. 200 years ago agriculture supplied around 30% of the nation’s income and 40% of employment. Now it produces only 0.8% of Gross Domestic Product and employs only 1.9% of the workforce.


Structural changes in agriculture continue at a very rapid pace with many farmers needing to diversify into new enterprises or seek work off-farm in order to survive. Average earnings from farming were around £15,000 in 2004 with the total income from farming falling by 8.1%.


The system of subsidy payments changed in 2005 with the introduction of the Single Farm Payment. Each farm gets a single payment based on an area system rather than payments for what they produce. This will result in further structural changes to the agricultural industry. Each year the number of agricultural workers and farmers declines.


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