The UK attracts expats from all over the world with the majority choosing to live in big cities, especially London, but new research suggest that if you are looking for the best rural place to live then it is the Orkney Islands.

This archipelago off the north coast of Scotland has the best quality of life in Britain according to an annual survey from bank and lender the Halifax which examines key factors including employment, education, environment and social life.

In second place was Wynchavon in Worcestershire, in the Midlands of England, followed by the Derbyshire Dales and then Hambleton in Yorkshire and Purbeck in Dorset on the south coast of England.

The Orkney Islands scores strongly in employment rate, average earnings and average spend per pupil on education, as well as low anxiety levels, crime rates, and high scores in factors related to well-being and leisure. However, although there is an abundance of space, Orkneys has some of the smallest houses in Britain with an average of 4.5 habitable rooms per home.

The inhabitants of Wychavon in Worcestershire have the second best quality of life, scoring well on a number of measures including life expectancy, number of rooms in a home, central heating and broadband.

‘With one of the lowest population densities and traffic levels in Scotland, some of the most stunning scenery in the British Isles and the lowest levels of anxiety and highest life satisfaction ratings, the Orkneys offer a quality of life unmatched elsewhere in rural Britain,’ said Martin Ellis, Halifax economist.

He explained that overall in Britain there is more and more emphasis being placed on achieving a good work-life balance and in 2017 the survey includes a leisure category for the first time.

‘Rural areas in the South tend to receive higher ratings for weekly earnings, the weather, health, and life expectancy, while in the rural north areas score well on education in terms of grades and smaller class sizes, lower house prices in relation to earnings, and both lower traffic flows and population densities,’ he added.

Last year’s winner, South Oxfordshire, has dropped to tenth in the 2017 survey, but still scores strongly on earnings, employment rate and a low crime rate. This is mainly due to the inclusion of the two new categories, the number of pubs and the availability of health clubs and leisure centres.

In each category top for highest employment is the Shetland Islands, even further north than the Orkney Islands while the highest weekly earnings are in Waverley, Surrey, at £939 per week compared with a national average of £646.

The best qualified location is the Chilterns while the biggest homes are in Uttlesford in Essex and all homes in East Ayrshire in Scotland have central heating and the best access to broadband can be found in Harborough in Leicestershire.

The Western Isles and Highlands in Scotland share the top spot for the lowest population density, with just nine people per square kilometre, compared to a national average of 276. At the other end of the scale, the most populated rural area per square kilometre is Thanet on the east Kent coast.

The lowest traffic levels are found in the Western Isles with just 71 vehicles per square kilometre and the Orkney Islands have the lowest burglary levels and the happiest people adults are in the Western Isles pf Scotland and the Orkney Islands have the least anxious population.

The research also shows that the sunniest place is the Isle of Wight while the area with the lowest average rainfall in Maldon in Essex.