Nobody Lives Here: United Kingdom

Georgia Corr
ART + marketing
Published in
3 min readMay 31, 2017

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Inspired by Nik’s thought provoking piece mapping the unpopulated areas of the United States, I wondered what would a similar map of the UK look like — an island that is renowned for an imbalance between landmass and population. Is there really unmanned space? Or are people living shoulder to shoulder? This comes at a time where the UK’s population is a heavily politicised topic, framing debates around border policies and immigration.

The following map illustrates population sparsity of the United Kingdom (Gibraltar is excluded) based on the most recent 2011 census, with a spatial resolution of 1km x 1km grids. There is a total of 114421 grids, and 1784 of these have no inhabitants. A single inhabitant qualifies the grid as occupied. Yellow shading represents an unoccupied grid and blue illustrates occupied.

The map tells a compelling story. On the whole, the UK’s landmass is consistently populated. However, it features large pockets of sporadic unoccupied areas.

These tend to be constrained to physically inaccessible and remote regions such as Snowdonia in north western Wales and the Scottish Highlands, causing the resultant populations to be sparse and intermittent in and around these areas.

Topography of Scottish Highlands and its effect on population scarcity.

Furthermore, the map also points to another interesting factor altering the occupation of each grid. The UK is unique in the number of national trust and heritage sites it has — a total of 29 sites and 200 parks. The South West Coast is home to 23 of these sites which are legally protected inhibiting these areas from being built on. These legal protections appear to have a conducive impact on the population sparsity of the area — where for instance Dartmoor National Park is almost absolutely unoccupied in contrast to highly populated surrounding areas at its periphery such as Plymouth and Newton Abbot. Given the frequency of these sites within the wider area, the map suggests that the sites are compounding the area’s populations into small cities and towns that with an increasing population is likely to contribute to artificial constriction of the supply and demand of the housing market within these areas.

Distribution of the national trust and heritage sites along England’s South Coast against population distribution

Overall, unlike the U.S it appears that every conceivable habitable bit of land in the UK, is in fact inhabited. This begs the question whether we are already at capacity, or if there's room to grow. Following on from this I would be interested in constructing a population-based cartogram of the UK to translate these occupied/unoccupied areas to population density divisions, to further illuminate the geographical dispersion of the UK’s population.

High resolution version: http://imgur.com/a/xuujX

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