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The rural–urban fringe, also known as the outskirts or the urban hinterland, can be described as the "landscape interface between town and country", or also as the transition zone where urban and rural uses mix and often clash. Alternatively, it can be viewed as a landscape type in its own right, one forged from an interaction of urban and rural land uses.
Its definition shifts depending on the global location, but typically in Europe, where urban areas are intensively managed to prevent urban sprawl and protect agricultural land the urban fringe will be characterised by certain land uses which have either purposely moved away from the urban area, or require much larger tracts of land. As examples:
- Roads, especially motorways and bypasses
- Waste transfer stations, recycling facilities and landfill sites
- Park and ride sites,
- Large hospitals,
- Power, water and sewerage facilities.
- Large out-of-town shopping facilities e.g. large supermarkets
Despite these 'urban' uses, the fringe remains largely open with the majority of the land agricultural, woodland or other rural use. However the quality of the countryside around urban areas tends to be low with severance between areas of open land and badly maintained woodlands and hedgerows.
In recent years there has been a growing interest in how the full environmental and social potential of the urban fringe can be unlocked. In England in 2005, the Countryside Agency (now part of Natural England) together with Groundwork, a community and environmental regeneration body, produced a vision for the 'countryside in and around towns' that sets out ten 'functions' for a multi-functional urban fringe. The realisation of this vision would provide a high quality environment right on the urban doorstep and provide the adjacent town or city with a host of 'ecosystem services'. It is estimated that within England the urban fringe covers as much as 20% of the land area. Such an extensive resource must be managed and used more intelligently and sustainably if the country as a whole is to develop and function sustainably.
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