The Rural Drift

BY JIM WEBSTER

Because things were so wet over winter, the rain that we’ve had has just about been enough to keep us going, but I’ve noticed some of the sandy land is starting to burn off again. To be honest this is three months earlier than we could expect it. Still we’ve still time for torrential rain and flooding in July.

I saw a comment which sums the area up. Somebody was asking for advice on when to visit Cumbria, they had a choice of June or July and somebody else had answered, “Forget trying to predict the weather, either month could be hot and sunny or cold and wet.”

Yep, that’s Cumbria.

We’re starting to see hints of other changes on the horizon. Apparently, “Searches on Rightmove by Londoners for homes outside the capital were up to 51 per cent compared to 42 per cent this time last year.”

The number of home searches by people in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Liverpool, Sheffield, Glasgow and Bristol looking at property outside their cities also rose, as people in lockdown reassessed their lives.”

Now we don’t know whether these urges to move will last any longer than the urges to declutter, learn Sanskrit, or stop eating junk food. But it does strike me that the lockdown largely negates the advantages of living in a major city. Also, with so many people working from home, why not work from home somewhere worth living?

Why I’m so interested is that this isn’t a new phenomenon but part of a growing trend.

“According to the statistics, 73,000 people living in the capital chose to buy property elsewhere in 2019, which is up more than 10,000 from five years ago and around 32,000 from 10 years ago in 2009.”

And they’re not just moving to commutable towns and cities around London any more. Last year saw the highest number of Londoners move to the north of the country at 13%, up from just 1% who did so a decade ago. A further 15% moved to the Midlands.

“While the highest proportion (69%) did stick to the south when they said goodbye to the capital, this is a major fall from 92% back in 2009.”

So generally are we going to see more people moving into rural areas? Provided you’ve got decent broadband to access, then you can sell in London and buy elsewhere secure in the knowledge you can work adequately from there. Indeed I know a lot of people who have sold small properties in London and become cash buyers of far nicer and larger properties in the north. This has been true for decades. Provided you never intended to move back into London, it was a shrewd move. I remember an auctioneer telling me that one couple had decided that this was going to be their last move, sold in London, and ended up buying a farm off him as a cash buyer. The auctioneer arranged for a local farmer to rent the land off them. At that point, the chap who’d bought the farm looked at the cheque he was being paid for the rent and pondered early retirement.

There are problems. Do rural communities need an influx of new people with no real understanding of the community? Is it going to push rural house prices up even further? Whilst we might have people moving into rural areas intending to work at home, they might not be the wealthy incomers a previous generation witnessed.

Luckily in agriculture many of today’s lockdown issues are not live issues for us. If I phone a contractor to come and do something, I rather expect him to turn up in the yard with his digger. So far we’ve not found a use for somebody who ‘virtually’ mows our grass. I suspect that once more, agriculture is going to be stuck in the past as the future eddies and flows around us. We might social distance but that’s because he’s working from a different tractor cab, not a different continent.

Jim Webster farms at the bottom end of South Cumbria. Jim was encouraged to collect together into a book some blog posts he’d written because of their insight into Cumbrian farming and rural life (rain, sheep, quad-bikes and dogs) It’s available here.