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According to the UK’s National Ecosystem Assessment, 10.6% of England, 1.9% of Scotland, 3.6% of Northern Ireland and 4.1% of Wales are classified as urban, meaning that around 93% of the UK’s land area is classed as natural, eg farmland, woodlands, grasslands mountains and heaths. Around 20% of the population live in the countryside.
Not only is the countryside host to differing landscapes and ecological networks, it also consists of a disparate pattern of social and economic enterprises, with a range of issues from farming challenges, education and health care through to the management of National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Rural businesses face a host of interconnected opportunities while social issues include the provision of basic services such as shops, post offices, rural broadband and adapting to the needs of an ageing population.
There is in-migration, the preponderance of higher income groups pushing up rural house prices, and increasing social and cultural diversity, with, for example, eastern Europeans involved in many agricultural jobs. The countryside faces a range of pressures related to natural resources (eg fracking for oil and gas) and increasing leisure interests, which are creating problems for both biodiversity and landscapes. Some areas of countryside, notably the urban fringe, are under considerable pressure from house-building.
The statutory agencies with responsibilities for wildlife and the countryside are different for each of the countries in the UK, but one body has a UK remit for wildlife/nature conservation — the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC). The JNCC is the public body that advises the UK Government and devolved administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation. Originally established under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, JNCC was reconstituted by the Natural Environment and Rural Communities (NERC) Act 2006.
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