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Study notes

Characteristics of the rural-urban fringe

  • Levels: GCSE, AS, A Level
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB

What is the rural-urban fringe? Quite simply it’s the transition zone where urban and rural areas meet, mix and sometimes clash.

It's a manmade version of the "edge effect", which in the natural world is the juxtaposition of two contrasting environments or ecosystems.

As there are quite a few factors that characterise the fringe well, it can be considered a landscape type in its own right, with wide open spaces interspersed by urban uses.

Let’s take a look at its main characteristics:


Major roads and bypasses require large tracts of land. These often act as an artery from a city out to a rural area.

The area surrounding the M25 can be seen as a good example of a motorway carving through the rural-urban fringe, surrounded by new developments taking advantage of the motorway.

Residential developments

Motorways often bring with them the development of nearby towns that are linked to the needs of commuters.

Housing has encroached into the rural-urban fringe, and small villages have grown as more people move out of the cities to commute to work.

The area surrounding the M25 can be seen as a good example of a motorway carving through the rural-urban fringe, surrounded by new developments taking advantage of the motorway.

Recycling and landfill

Facilities such as recycling centres and landfill sites require large tracts of land near good transport links, both of which are characteristics of the rural-urban fringe.


Golf courses and leisure centres have also grown in the urban-fringe, taking advantage of the good transport links as well as the well populated nearby towns.

Business Parks / Industrial estates

With land in the rural-urban fringe being cheaper, many factories that used to be situated in the inner city have relocated to these areas in order to expand. They are also closer to transport links to allow for export and import of goods.

Out-of-town shopping

With large, open spaces and connections to the motorway network, the rural-urban fringe is often associated with big shopping centres that are out-of-town. Hypermarkets also tend to be built in this area.

A good example of a major shopping centre, which could be classified with the rural-urban fringe, is Bluewater in Kent on the outskirts of Dartford near the M25.


Farming does still happen in the rural-urban fringe, but farmers come under great pressure to sell their land for development. A farmer will make far more money from a sale if there is already planning permission for building to occur on the land.

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