According to a survey of more than 1,100 people carried out for Country Life, 80% of people dream of an idyllic life in the countryside. Although only about 20% of the population of Britain lives in the countryside at present, the demand to do so is greater than ever. People believe that crime is lower in the countryside, and that it’s a safer place for children, with less delinquency and more space to run around. Even people unable to make the move are expressing their love of the countryside by patronising farm shops, buying organic and taking more holidays in the UK.

More than two-thirds of our sample had taken a UK holiday within the past year. The 15–24 age group was least likely to have holidayed at home, but it had the energy to commute for longer distances, with property cheaper away from city centres. The ideal dream home is a cottage in Devon. A higher proportion of respondents would rather own a second home in the countryside than abroad.

Among the positive qualities strongly associated with the countryside are fresh air (87%), beauty (87%), tranquillity (79%), cleanliness (75%) and space (74%). Our sample also believed that people in the countryside are friendlier, and that it’s a safer place to live.

The survey was carried out by M-Lab Research.

Voice of the countryside survey – THE RESULTS

Where would you most like to live?
Countryside and coastal – 80%
Suburbs – 10%
Urban – 6%
Other – 4%

How often do you visit the countryside?
Every month – 28%
Every week – 24%
Every 3 months – 19%
Every 6 months – 8%
Every year – 8%
Every day – 8%
Never – 4%

Who is the best guardian of the countryside?
Farmers – 33%
Landowners – 19%
Local councils – 17%
Prince Charles – 8%
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – 5%
Jamie Oliver – 3%
The Queen – 2%

Why is the countryside safer for children?
Less crime – 67%
More space – 25%
Can’t travel to get into trouble – 3%
Other 4%

Why do you want to live in the countryside?
Beauty – 87%
Fresh air – 87%
Tranquility – 79%
Cleanliness – 75%
More space – 74%
Better food/local produce – 56%
Friendlier people – 54%

For the questions above and below, respondents were invited to select as many options as they felt were appropriate

What are the greatest threats to the countryside?
Eroding green belt – 69%
Population growth – 53%
Fly tipping – 53%
Road building – 45%
Litter – 44%
Overcrowding – 36%
Airport expansion – 36%
Industrial farming – 32%
Foot and mouth – 32%
Global climate change – 29%
Flooding – 27%
GM foods – 23%
Nuclear power stations – 21%
Erosion – 20%
BSE – 18%
Bird flu – 18%
Other – 6%
Rural sports – 5%

Farming

Farmers are popular again. This is one of the possibly surprising findings of the independent survey of more than 1,100 people carried out for Country Life. Not long ago, the farming world felt itself poorly served by a largely metropolitan media, who knew little about growing food and lazily assumed that all farmers were barley barons. Now, 73% of people think farmers are vital for Britain’s food production.

These changes in attitude reflect a growing understanding of farming’s challenges after 15 years of decline. Farmers have won sympathy for their resilience in the face of animal plagues such as foot-and-mouth and bovine TB.

The public recognises that farmers are undervalued and poorly paid. However, this hardly promotes a positive image of the industry. Very few people actually want to work on a farm. This could change, as food prices make some farming more profitable, and feeding a world population of nine billion by 2050 emerges as one of the planet’s greatest challenges. In the meantime, it will disappoint farming leaders that the industry is particularly poorly regarded by the young.

The survey showed that the public is forthright in believing that the joy it takes in the countryside should be passed on to future generations. They want children to visit more. Inner-city teachers should bridge the culture gap between urban and rural life by giving lessons on the countryside in schools.

The survey won’t comfort the Government. ‘Over-zealous regulation’ and ‘the Labour party’ were cited among the destructive factors that could damage our countryside. Super-markets, too, did badly. A majority of our sample said they have too much power.

Views on farmers
* ‘Farmers are an underrated resource’
* ‘Farmers are ripped off by supermarkets’
* ‘Farmers are more important than the media acknowledges’
*  ‘Farmers are undervalued and underpaid’