The countryside of Europe is undergoing many social, economic and environmental changes as a result of depopulation and agricultural land abandonment. This trend, driven in part by the wide disparity of income levels between rural and urban inhabitants, is particularly evident in the Central and Eastern European countries such as Latvia, which joined the EU in 2004 and in 2007. Research was undertaken in Latvia in 2003, the year before it joined the EU, to explore this trend, as manifested in the relationship of people to the countryside, using focus groups and a questionnaire survey. The results showed that, although Latvians retain a strong regard for their traditional countryside landscape, numerous socioeconomic barriers exist, especially the lack of services, which are some of the drivers of outmigration from the countryside to towns or to other countries. Unless these drivers are addressed in rural socioeconomic policy the remaining people, many of whom belong to the older generation, are likely to become increasingly marginalised while the countryside will continue to be abandoned and the cultural landscape will deteriorate further. © Journal compilation © 2009 European Society for Rural Sociology.