Schoolchildren are becoming increasingly aware of rural issues and have a more positive impression of farming than they are often given credit for.

New research commissioned by FACE (Farming and Countryside Education) reveals that almost three-quarters of 11-16 year olds visit the countryside at least once a year – 20% do so once or more a week.

And at primary school level, almost 80% of 7-11 year olds have been on a farm at least once in the past three years. Of these, 95% found it an enjoyable experience.

Asked what characteristics a farmer had, 13% said they were hard working and 11% said they were kind. This compared with 4% who though farmers were grumpy and just 1% who said they were rich.

Farmers were also seen as the main custodians of the countryside – 60% of secondary school children said it was farmers who looked after the countryside.

The skills farmers needed included animal husbandry, business sense and team working abilities. But only 8% of 11-16 year olds thought they needed computer skills.

Director of FACE, Bill Graham, said there had been a “step change” in the attitudes of children about agriculture since similar research was carried out three years ago.

Although most children still had a stereo-typical view of farmers – gleaned from such things as Emmerdale and the Hovis adverts – their general impression was much more positive.

Rosemary Duff, director of Childwise – the company that did the research – said there was a lot more information getting into schools about food and farming. More children were involved in growing and cooking their own food.

This had helped nurture greater support for British and local food, and a greater awareness of health issues. For example 79% of 11-16 year olds now believed meat was an important part of a balanced diet.

“Children are not psyched out by what happens to animals (in abattoirs),” said Mr Graham. “It is much more matter of fact than you’d imagine.”

Despite this, there was still reluctance among school children to seek a career in the countryside – only one in five were interested. According to Mr Graham, the general view was that farming was only open to the children of farmers.