Rural Scotland Key Facts 2021

Biennial compendium publication comparing and contrasting statistics on key policy topics such as People and Communities, Services and Lifestyle, Economy and Enterprise broken down by Remote Rural, Accessible Rural and the Rest of Scotland.

This document is part of a collection


Rural Scotland Key Facts compares and contrasts circumstances in remote and accessible rural areas to the rest of Scotland. The Scottish Government acknowledges that key areas of policy such as the economy, transport, education and health can have a particular impact on rural communities, and seeks to reflect this in mainstream policy development.

While a number of indicators included in this publication report data for 2020, only the indicator on residential property sales reflects the impact that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had on the country. For the other indicators reporting 2020 data, the data were either collected before the full impact of the pandemic started to be felt or for the median pay figures they were not impacted due to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The majority of indicators report data for 2019.

Rural Scotland Key Facts is a compendium publication and presents a collation of statistics from a range of surveys and administrative databases. A full list of these can be found in the Sources section at the end of this publication. This publication presents a snapshot of the latest statistics available at the time of publication.

The publication contains results from several statistical surveys, which are based on samples of households or the population. As such, small differences in results between years or between the geographic areas may not be statistically significant.

A summary of the publication is also published alongside the full publication.

The data used to create the figures in this publication, as well as the tables, are also available online in an accompanying spreadsheet.

A page turner version of the publication is also available.

Summary of the key messages

Rural Scotland is Important

The population of rural Scotland continues to grow at a faster rate than the rest of Scotland, driven by the increase in accessible rural areas, mainly due to inward migration. Rural Scotland accounts for 98% of the land mass of Scotland and 17% of the population are resident there.

Rural Scotland is a ‘Very Good’ Place to Live

A higher proportion of residents of rural Scotland, compared to the rest of Scotland, rate their neighbourhood as a ‘very good’ place to live. Fewer residents experience neighbourhood problems (e.g. litter, graffiti) and more residents feel they belong to their immediate neighbourhood. In addition, more people volunteer in the community. Crime is less prevalent than in the rest of Scotland and more people feel ‘very safe’ when home alone at night, particularly in remote rural areas. More people in rural Scotland visit the outdoors at least once a week and are ‘very satisfied’ with their nearest green or blue space. Life expectancy is higher in rural areas compared to the rest of Scotland.

Rural Scotland Faces Certain Challenges

In terms of travel and access to services, more people in rural areas are outwith a reasonable drive time to key services (e.g. GPs and shops) compared to the rest of Scotland and fewer people are satisfied with the quality of the public transport services delivered. Residents of rural Scotland spend more a month on fuel for cars, with around half of residents reporting to spend over £100 a month in 2019, compared to 39% in the rest of Scotland.

The proportion of households in remote rural areas which are classed as extreme fuel poor (households which spend more than 20% of its adjusted net income on household fuel) is around three times the proportion in accessible rural areas and in the rest of Scotland.

Across all areas of Scotland a similar proportion of households have home internet access. Over half of households in the rest of Scotland access the internet using superfast broadband. This drops to around a third in rural Scotland.

Rural Scotland – A Complex Picture

With regards to the economy and jobs, more residents of rural Scotland are in work with employment rates higher than in the rest of Scotland. Residence based estimates of pay indicate that rates are highest for accessible rural areas but lowest for remote rural areas. More residents in rural Scotland are self-employed and homeworking is more prevalent.

With respect to housing, the average property is more expensive in rural Scotland but there is a higher proportion of owner occupiers. More properties are houses or bungalows and there is a much smaller proportion of flats than in the rest of Scotland.

Use made of the statistics

This publication is widely used to paint a picture of life in rural Scotland and to understand the differences from the rest of Scotland in terms of issues such as demographics, lifestyle, services and the economy.

The statistics presented in Rural Scotland Key Facts are used within the Scottish Government for policy development and monitoring.

In addition to use made in the Scottish Government, the statistics are also used by local government, voluntary organisations, other public bodies and academic institutions to monitor targets and for research purposes.

Findings of previous consultation exercises on the Rural Scotland Key Facts publication, the aim of which were to gather information on users’ needs and wants from the publication and to seek suggestions for new content, are available on the Scottish Government website.

Definition of Rural Scotland

Rural Scotland is defined as settlements with a population of less than 3,000. A settlement is defined to be a group of high density postcodes whose combined population rounds to 500 people or more. They are separated by low density postcodes. A postcode is high density if at least one of the following applies:

  • it has more than 2.1 residential addresses per hectare;
  • it has more than 0.1 non-residential addresses per hectare; or
  • the estimate of the population per hectare exceeds five people.

By analysing drive times to larger settlements we can divide rural Scotland into:

Accessible rural: those with a less than 30 minute drive time to the nearest settlement with a population of 10,000 or more; and

Remote rural: those with a greater than 30 minute drive time to the nearest settlement with a population of 10,000 or more.

These definitions form part of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification. The map on the next page shows the full classification.

A high resolution version of the map can be found in the supporting files of the Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 2016 publication.

This publication combines the first four categories of the 6-fold classification into the Rest of Scotland figures. The rest of Scotland therefore includes large urban areas, other urban areas, accessible small towns and remote small towns.

Map of Rural Scotland

Scottish Government Urban Rural Classification 2016



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