Pressures on the Environment from Rural Living

 

While urbanisation has potentially damaging effects on the environment, large cities can also be environmentally efficient. For example, through the availability of public transport services and reduced journey times to work, fewer GHGs are emitted. In rural areas however, most of the pressures on the environment come from the excessive growth of small villages and towns and a lack of adequate infrastructure to support them. Inadequate supplies of drinking water and the inability of wastewater plants to cope with increases in population creates health as well as environmental problems.

Single houses in the countryside have, for the most part, septic tank treatment systems for wastewater and this poses an increasing risk to groundwater and surface water quality. The provision of waste collection and other services are also much more expensive in dispersed communities.

Rural dwellers tend to have greater travel needs and much of this travel is done by private car. Increases in the volume of traffic causes air pollution and the loss of green space puts more pressure on the environment. That said,
in Census 2011, of the 417,094 ‘one-off’ dwellings located outside of designated settlements, 350,000 (84%) were located within 5 kilometres of a town. Just 1% of occupied ‘one-off’ houses did not fall within a 10 kilometres radius of any town in 2011, and the majority of these were built before 2001.

In recent years, significant rural housing developments have occurred, especially in the South, Southeast and rural areas surrounding Dublin. While building a spacious home in the countryside may make rural areas attractive for families wanting to escape the rush of city life, it also leads to irreversible pressure on land usage, which can lead to fragmentation of open landscape areas and the resulting loss of biodiversity.

Inappropriate farming practices can also put a lot of pressure on the environment. Overuse of pesticides and fertilisers can cause water pollution and damage marine ecosystems. Knocking down hedges to expand field sizes can lead to the destruction of habitats. Such bad farming practices can contribute to the imbalanced relationship we have with our natural environment.

The EPA reports that increases in population, concerns about global warming and the demand for biofuel crops have all contributed to the importance of sustainable land use practices.

As the decisions made today will affect both the urban and rural environment of tomorrow, the importance of planning (and abiding by the plan) cannot be overstated. Guidelines on developments and housing are available on the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government website, while Teagasc provides information on sustainable, environmentally friendly farming practices.


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