RURAL DEVELOPMENT REGULATION (EC) NO 1257/1999
RURAL DEVELOPMENT PLAN FOR SCOTLAND
CHAPTER 5: DESCRIPTION OF CURRENT SITUATION
5.1 Rural Scotland 1 is a significant area accounting for 89% of the Scottish landmass; 29% of the Scottish population and 27% of employment. It is also a diverse area - economically, socially and geographically - with considerable variations in well being; proximity to service centres; and in terms of population loss or growth. This chapter provides an overview of the economic, social and environmental context within which the Rural Development Regulation will operate. In line with the Rural Development Regulation's Implementation Regulation specific focus is given to the agriculture, forestry and environmental sectors.
5.2 Scotland is a country of some 30,414 square miles (78,772 square kilometres) including some 609 square miles of fresh water lochs and has a population of 5.1m. Forming the northern part of Great Britain, Scotland is bounded west and north by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the North Sea, while in the south the border with England runs 60 miles roughly along the lines of the Cheviot Hills.
5.3 Scotland has some 790 islands ranging from large rocks to land several hundred square miles in area. Of these, the largest and best know are the groups of Shetland and Orkney in the north-east; Lewis, Harris, Skye, Mull and Islay in the Hebrides - the string of islands which lies off the west coast of Scotland - and the islands of Bute and Arran in the Firth of Clyde. About 130 of the Scottish islands are inhabited.
5.4 The comparatively modest dimensions of mainland Scotland are revealed in the fact that the greatest distance from north to south is only 275 miles (440 kilometres). However, so rugged and indented is the coastline of Scotland that its aggregate length is estimated at 2,300 miles (3,680km). Yet few parts of the country are more than 40 miles (64 kilometres) from salt water. By British standards, Scotland is a mountainous country, having the highest peak in the United Kingdom (Ben Nevis 4,406 feet or 1,356 metres) as well as five other mountains of more than 4,000 feet. Such heights are, of course, modest by European standards but the Scottish mountains have a beauty and colour rarely matched elsewhere.
5.5 Despite its northern latitudes, the climate in Scotland is remarkably temperate; one of the main reasons being that it lies alongside the warming Gulf Stream from the South Atlantic. The average rainfall in Scotland ranges from 22 inches (560mm) to 40 inches (1,015mm) a year. There are marked variations within the country, the west, particularly the West Highlands, tending to have higher rainfall than the east.
5.6 The unitary authority definition of rural Scotland (map 2) represents 7 million hectares - 89% of the Scottish landmass. Much of this area is remote and peripheral. This definition is chosen for its simplicity and coherence with the way in which key socio-economic statistics are utilised. However, other definitions of 'rural' are in use, and Map 2 shows a broader definition of rural Scotland adopted by the Scottish National Rural Partnership. (All rural areas of Scotland will be eligible for support from RDR measures). Map 3 shows that significant parts of rural Scotland are outwith one hour's drive of a major service centre. This can lead to economic and social problems due to the distance from major shopping and employment centres as well as problems for rural businesses in terms of accessing markets and securing low cost inputs. It also contributes to the generally higher prices that exist within rural areas.
5.7 Some 79% (6.1 million hectares) of Scotland is given over to agriculture and 16% (1.2m hectares) to forestry. Once common grazing land is excluded 84% of the agricultural land is classified Less Favoured Area and 98% of that is classified as Seriously Disadvantaged. These classifications (set according to EC Directive) reflect the poor quality of land (in terms of factors such as soil quality, climate and peripherality) within Scotland. This can place significant limitations on the type of farm enterprises that can be undertaken. However, whilst of poor quality in respect of agricultural production, much of this land has high value in terms of environmental quality and biodiversity.
5.8 Despite accounting for 89% of the Scottish landmass only a third of the Scottish population are resident in rural Scotland. Table 1 shows the key population statistics for rural Scotland.
5.9 As a country Scotland has a sparse population - especially within the European context. Average EU population density is 1.1 people per hectare, almost double the Scottish average of 0.65, 5 times the rural Scotland average and over 10 times the Highlands and Islands average. This sparsity is even greater in some remote communities. Whilst population sparsity is an intrinsic characteristic of the rural environment, enhancing the appeal to urban dwellers and for some environmental objectives, it can lead to problems for rural communities in terms of accessing services. Many providers - especially those dealing with major infrastructure, eg railways and health authorities - will require a substantial critical mass of demand before it is cost effective for them to provide services. As such rural communities can often be quite isolated from access to mainstream services.
TABLE 1: RURAL SCOTLAND POPULATION
Population change (% ) 1991-99
Argyll & Bute
Highlands and Islands
Dumfries & Galloway
Perth & Kinross
Source: General Register Office for Scotland
5.10 Table 1 also shows that there have been some variations across rural Scotland in terms of population change. Between 1991 and 1999 the level of total Scottish population was stable whilst the rural Scotland population grew by just over 1%. This growth is probably due to factors such as increased commuting from rural residency to urban employment. Part of this may be due to improved transport facilities. It has also been helped by improved communications, which has often made working from home easier. As such the growth in rural population has largely been concentrated in those parts of rural Scotland - eg Aberdeenshire - close to major population centres. Recent research 2 suggests that this trend is likely to continue.
5.11 Despite the image of dormitory or ageing rural communities this study also showed that much (36%) of the population growth is coming from young people (ie 16-29) and that most of the growing population live and work in the area. Only a small proportion (8%) of migrants were shown to commute outside rural areas for work and only 8% of migrants were aged at, or over, retirement age. This kind of population growth is beneficial to the rural community as their uptake of local services and social activities has been shown to have a significant multiplier effect for job creation. These population changes contribute to the dynamism of rural communities and their ongoing adjustment.
5.12 In contrast the more remote rural areas - eg the Western Isles and Argyll & Bute - have seen population losses over the period. Much of this is the result of underlying economic problems that cause young people to leave rural areas in search of employment.