Ok here's my first stab.
On people, in no particular order
1. 4 out of 10 UK adults under 35 dream of 'downshifting', according to research from the Prudential
2. While 75% of Brits live in urban and suburban areas, 54% say that they would rather live in the countryside or a village, and 72% think that they would be happier anywhere but a city, according to a Gallup survey reported in The Economist
3. This isn't a new trend: even in 1939, 61% of people wanted to move to rural areas – yet at that time, national migration ﬂows ran the other way (same Economist article)
4. So, young wealthy urban folk are on the move. Research has found that urban to rural migration outstrips North to South migration at a rate of 4:1; in one study, 48% of urban to rural migrants were under 40, and in another, 50% were aged 25-44. One study found that 41% of incomers earned over £25k a year, compared with 13% of locals, and 70% of incomers were economically active.
These figures are all reported in a report I wrote with Demos for the Countryside Agency back in 2004, called Beyond Digital Divides, and come from Mason, John, ‘Is there really a rural economy? Urban concerns crowd in on the countryside’ Financial Times, 18 September, 2004, and Findlay, A and Stockdale, E.(2003) Rural In-Migration: A Catalyst for Economic Regeneration, Draft report.
So are the migrants living the Good Life or shopping at Tescos? What do they want to be doing? Don't know. Do know this, however:
5. In 2006 the BBC reported that allotment waiting lists in Camden were ten years long. ("Forget the flat caps, allotments are becoming fashionable among inner-city eco-warriors.") In 2009 the Telegraph reported that Camden's waiting lists were now 40 years long, with many other parts of the country at the 10 year point, and a total of 100,000 Brits on waiting lists for allotments. It's the recession + Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall + Jamie Oliver that've done it, writes the journalist.
6. Everyone I speak to seems to share this yearning.
7. Last friday I went to an Alastair McIntosh talk down in Brighton. (In Soil and Soul , Alastair points out that we partly left the land in the first place because we wanted to, but a lot of the migration was driven by the sword.. Enclosures etc.).
It was friday evening. Train from London after a long day of work. (Four hour meeting in chairs, bodies slouched, energies kept up with tea and snacks, sunshine outside, walls around us. We should have had that meeting over a veg patch somewhere... But where?)
The city in my body. I sat. Alastair opened a slide of his home Island of Lewis and the woman behind me had exactly the same reaction as me in exactly the same moment, at the sight of all that wild green expanse; a sharp, instinctive inhalation, followed by a long slow out breath accompanied in my case at least by a relaxing of the body and a little wetting of the eyes.
This yearning is beyond ideas, for me. It is in my fibres, perhaps it is in that woman's fibers too, perhaps it is in all of our fibres.
Everyone I speak to seems to yearn for this kind of thing. It might be because I mainly speak to people who are more or less like me. It's also possible that it's because this is about something fundamental to the human animal.