British Studies Web Pages

The Countryside


Facts and Figures - An Introduction

Do you know the answers to these questions?

  1. What % of the UK population live in the countryside?
  2. What % of the UK population work in the countryside?
  3. What % of Britain is covered by forest?
  4. How big is the average British farm in hectares?

To see the answers to these questions given by a large group of teachers, click here

If you want to see the correct answers, click here.

  • How do the above figures compare to the situation in Poland?

If you want to see the correct answers for Poland, click here

  • In what ways do you think these figures will change in the future?

If about 20% of British people live in the countryside and less than 2% work there - what do the others do? The answer of course is that they commute to nearby towns and cities by car (and to London by train) to work. To afford the costs such people must have high-earning jobs and so the countryside in the UK is dominated by the relatively rich. This is very different to Poland.

There are a number of consequences arising from this for the UK:


·                     housing prices are usually lowest close to the city centres, increase in the suburbs, and are highest in the countryside (central London, for example, is an exception) – see Rural Housing.

·                     the common foreign perception that cottages in villages are well maintained is often because those who live there have the money to do it

Rural services

·                     schools in the countryside are usually considered better than the cities

·                     public transport is not very good as most people have cars (often two)

·                     poorer country people often end up in the cities as they cannot afford local housing (an important political issue in Wales where it is the richer English who buy the cottages as holiday homes). – again, see Rural Housing.

Agriculture and ecology

·                     farmers are often primarily business people, (though the farther from the south and east the less likely this is), and behave as such with heavy investment in machinery, accountants, computerisation and so on. The current agricultural recession has meant that farmers in the UK are having a difficult financial time, as Britain’s farmers: an endangered species shows.

·                     the ecological damage to the countryside in the UK since the war has been enormous and is now becoming obvious in collapses of very visible indicator species such as common birds (see Britain’s disappearing songbirds). There are various policies to reverse the problem but whether or not they are successful remains to be seen.

The countryside and politics

·                     part of the conflict over fox-hunting is the perception by city people that the countryside is the home of the rich. Equally, there is a feeling among those in the country that the government is run by people who do not understand the countryside, and the proposed ban on fox-hunting is an example of this. It has proved an issue around which many other rural grievances have been brought together and have expressed themselves in a number of protests in London known as The Countryside Marches. This issue is complex though and its presentation as a polarisation into two positions – for and against – is a serious oversimplification.

·                     politically, divisions in the countryside are often reflected in voting patterns, with most rural areas having Conservative MP's and cities being dominated by the Labour party

·                     Britain’s farmers: an endangered species gives a flavour of the debate surrounding the countryside in the UK at the moment.

After the election in June 2001 (itself delayed by the foot and mouth outbreak), the British government created a new ministry DEFRA (Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) bringing all aspects of rural life into a single ministry where before they had been divided. See:

If you wish to access more facts and figures about the British countryside, click here.

Produced in Poland by British Council © 2003. The United Kingdom's international organisation for educational opportunities and cultural relations. We are registered in England as a charity.