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A ‘green and pleasant land’? Public attitudes to Farming and Countryside in Northern Ireland

With many farmers in Northern Ireland having stated they would be unable to survive economically without subsidies, findings just released from a Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey Module reveal 68 per cent of people in Northern Ireland believe farming in Northern Ireland should be subsidised to some degree.

The survey also shows that 45 per cent of respondents disagree that farmers are subsidised too much, while another 23 per cent agreed, 21 per cent neither agreed or disagreed and 13 per cent didn’t know.

Carried out by ARK or the Northern Ireland Social and Political Archive, a joint research project between Queen’s University and the University of Ulster, the survey on public attitudes towards the countryside in Northern Ireland, also reveals that 89 per cent of those surveyed perceive farms and farming families as keeping the countryside alive. They also have a positive view about rural living, consider it to provide a healthy environment and to be a good place to bring up children.

Other key points arising from the survey are:

- 67% think that Northern Ireland farmers produce better quality safe food than that produced elsewhere

- 91% disagreed with the statement that farming as a way of life should be allowed to die out

- 63% perceive there to be less crime in the countryside

- 83% of respondents view farms as adding to the beauty of the countryside

- 70% agreed that there is more community spirit in the countryside

- 72% perceive the countryside to be a better place to raise children

Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the findings will be presented today by Dr Sally Shortall from Queen’s University Belfast, at a seminar in NICVA, Duncairn Gardens, Belfast. Speaking about the survey, Dr Shortall said: “Given the current policy emphasis on subsidising farmers to produce goods of public benefit, the module aimed to identify public perceptions of farming.

“Almost 40 per cent of the EU budget is accounted for by the Common Agricultural Policy. The survey provides an analysis of knowledge of, and attitudes towards, the countryside, that will inform public and policy debates on rural life, particularly, the reform of the CAP.”

The survey also asked respondents for their opinion on the statement ‘There is more community spirit in the countryside’, with 70 per cent either agreeing or strongly agreeing. Commenting on these findings, Dr Shortall added: “While there is clearly a perception that there is more community spirit in the countryside as agreed by 70 per cent of our respondents, interestingly, a later Life and Times Survey Module on Democratic Participation, does not provide evidence to support this perception.

“That particular survey found that urban dwellers were more active in civic and social activities than rural dwellers, while rural dwellers were less likely to have taken part in a political campaign, discussed politics or political news with someone else or contacted the local council. They were also less likely to have done voluntary work, helped organise a charity event or taken part in a sponsored event”.

Full results of all the questions from the Life and Times Survey are available on the website on as is the report, A ‘green and pleasant land’? Public attitudes to the countryside in Northern Ireland, at

Lisa Mitchell | alfa
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