Characteristics of rural areas

What is a rural area?

The nature of the term ‘rural’ varies from place to place. It often refers to areas in the country concerned which are less densely populated. There are different types of rural areas, depending on how accessible they are from urban areas. These range from the rural urban fringe, to the extreme (remote) rural areas.

Rural areas change over time. These changes are caused by:

Peak district - countrysideThe Peak district, in the countryside

  • economic factors – tourism income, farming profitability, primary sector jobs
  • environmental factors – land use, pollution, conservation
  • social factors – population change and migration, leisure time, retirement population

Pressures in rural areas

Decline in primary employment

Tractor in a field


One key activity in rural areas is agriculture. The number of workers has reduced in this activity because of mechanisation. In the UK, and other MEDCs, more food is now imported, reducing the potential for employment in the UK.

Rural urban migration

As employment declines in the countryside people move to urban areas to find work. In LEDCs farmers may be encouraged to grow cash crops, reducing the availability of land for subsistence farming. Natural disasters, such as drought or flooding may also encourage migration.

Commuting areas

In MEDCs some people move out of urban areas to benefit from cheaper housing and more green space. Improvements in transport have allowed this to happen. This puts pressure on rural areas that have good links with nearby urban areas.

Retirement homes

In MEDCs many people move home when they retire. They no longer need to live close to work. Also they may downsize into a smaller home, or move to a quieter environment.

Second homes

In national parks and other areas in the UK wealthy urban residents may buy asecond home to use in their leisure time. This pushes up the price of homes in the area and also means fewer homes available for the local residents.

Land use

Forest clearance, mining and cash crops all put pressure on rural areas. This is especially seen in LEDCs. There are many effects as a result, one is soil erosionfrom the areas that used to be forests, or from the areas used for farming.

There are also pressures to use rural land to build on. In the UK large retail centres and new homes are sometimes built on greenfield sites.


Roads are built in rural areas to help the movement of people to and from urban areas. Roads are also built to gain access to mining sites and logging sites. In places like the Amazon rainforest in Brazil, this has put pressure on the ecosystem, and has allowed greater access by farmers into fragile areas.


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