Geography of the United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, or UK, is in
Western Europe. It comprises the island of Great Britain( England, Scotlandand Wales) and the northeastern one-sixth of the island of Ireland( Northern Ireland), together with many smaller islands. The mainland areas lie between latitudes 49°N and 59°N (the Shetland Islandsreach to nearly 61°N), and longitudes 8°W to 2°E. The Royal Greenwich Observatory, in South East London, is the defining point of the Prime Meridian.
The UK lies between the North
Atlantic Oceanand the North Sea, and comes within 35 km (22 miles) of the northwest coast of France, from which it is separated by the English Channel. Northern Ireland shares a 360 km international land boundary with the Republic of Ireland. The Channel Tunnel("Chunnel") bored beneath the English Channel, now links the UK with France.
United Kingdomhas a total area of about 245,000 km², almost a quarter-of-a-million square kilometres.
physical geographyof the UK varies greatly. It includes the chalk cliffs of Kentand Dorset, the rolling hills and fields of southeast England, the granitecliffs of Cornwall, the mountains of Wales, the uplands of the Peak Districtand the Pennines, the lakes and mountains of Cumbria, the Scottish lowlands, highlands and islands, and the fields, lakes and mountains of Northern Ireland. The country can be roughly divided into highland and lowland along the Tees-Exe line.
geomorphologyof the UK was shaped by the combined forces of tectonicsand climate change, in particular glaciation.
The exact centre of the island of
Great Britainis disputed. Depending upon how it is calculated it can be either Haltwhistlein Northumberland, or Dunsop Bridgein Lancashire.
geologyof the United Kingdom is varied and diverse. This gives up to the wide variety of landscapes found across the UK. This variety, coupled with the early efforts of UK based scientists and geologists to understand it, has influenced the naming of many geological concepts, including many of the geological periods (for example, the Ordovicianperiod is named after the Ordovices, a people of early Britain; the Devonianperiod is named after the county of Devonin south-west England).
The oldest rocks in the UK are
gneisses which date from at least 2,700 Ma ("Ma" means "millions of years ago") in the ArchaeanPeriod, which are found in the far north west of Scotland and in the Hebrides, with a few small outcrops elsewhere. South of the gneisses are a complex mixture of rocks forming the North West Highlands and GrampianHighlands in Scotland. These are essentially the remains of folded sedimentary rock, deposited over the gneiss, from 1,000 Ma, with a notable 7 km thick layer of Torridon Sandstonebeing deposited about 800 Ma, as well as the debris deposited by an ice sheet670 Ma.
The remains of ancient volcanic islands underlie much of central England with small outcrops visible in many places. Around 600 Ma, the
Cadomian Orogeny(mountain building period) caused the English and Welsh landscape to be transformed into a mountainous region, along with much of north west Europe.
Skiddaw slatedeposits formed at around 500 Ma, during the OrdovicianPeriod. At about this time, around 425 Ma, north Wales(and south Mayo in Ireland) experienced volcanic activity. The remains of these volcanoes are still visible, for example Rhobell Fwar, dating from 510 Ma. Large quantities of volcanic lavaand ash known as the Borrowdale Volcanicscovered both Wales and the Lake District, still seen in the form of mountains such as Helvellynand Scafell Pike.
SilurianPeriod, between 425 and 400 Ma, the Caledonian fold mountains formed (the Caledonian Orogeny), covering much of what is now the UK to perhaps 8,000 feet (2,500 m) thick. Volcanic ashes and lavas deposited during this period are still found in the Mendip Hillsand in Pembrokeshire.
Volcanic deposits formed
Ben Nevisin the DevonianPeriod. Sea levels varied considerably, with the coastline advancing and retreating from north to south across England, and with the deposition of numerous sedimentary rock layers. The Old Red Sandstoneof Devongave the period its name, though deposits are found in many other places.
CarboniferousPeriod, around 360 Ma, the UK was lying at the equator, covered by the warm shallow waters of the Rheic Ocean, during which time the Carboniferous limestone was deposited, still found in areas such as the Mendip Hillsand the Pennines. The coal measureswere formed at this time, in river deltas, swamps and rain forests. Coal can be found in many areas of the UK, as far North as Sutherland and as far south as Kent, though it has largely been mined in the Midlands, northern England and Wales. Also formed were the Millstone Grits.
Permianand TriassicPeriods, much of the UK was beneath shallow seas, leading to the deposition of sedimentary rocks such as shale, limestone, gravel, and marl. The seas finally receded to leave a flat desert with salt pans.
At the beginning of the
JurassicPeriod, the UK was under-water again, leading to the deposition of sedimentary rocks which now underlie much of England from the Cleveland Hillsof Yorkshireto the Jurassic Coastin Dorset, including clays, sandstones, and the oolitic limestone of the Cotswold Hills. The burial of algaeand bacteria below the mud of the sea floor during this time resulted in the formation of North Sea oiland natural gas.
CretaceousPeriod, much of the UK was again below the sea and chalkand flints were deposited over much of Great Britain. These are now notably exposed at the White Cliffs of Dover, and form Salisbury Plain, the Chiltern Hills, the South Downsand other similar features.
The last volcanic rocks in the UK were formed in the early
TertiaryPeriod, between 63 and 52 Ma, with the major eruptions that formed the Antrim Plateau and the basaltic columns of the Giant's Causeway. Further sediments were deposited over southern England, including the London clay, while the English Channelconsisted of mud flats and river deposited sands.
The major changes during the last few million years, during the
QuaternaryPeriod, have been brought about by several recent ice ages, leaving a legacy of U-shaped valleys in highland areas, and fertile (if often stoney) soil in southern U.K.
Mountains and hills
The ten tallest
mountains in the UK are all found in Scotland. The highest peaks in each part of the UK are:
Ben Nevis( Aonach Mòr, 1,344 metres)
Snowdon( Cambrian Mountains, 1,085 metres)
Scafell Pike( Cumbrian Mountains, 977 metres)
Slieve Donard( Mourne Mountains, 852 metres)
The ranges of mountains and
hills in the UK include:
Cairngorms, Cheviot Hills, Scottish Highlands, Southern Uplands, Grampian Mountains
Brecon Beacons, Cambrian Mountains, Snowdonia, Black Mountains, Preseli Hills
Chilterns, Cotswolds, Dartmoor, Lincolnshire Wolds, Exmoor, Lake District, Malvern Hills, Mendip Hills, North Downs, Peak District, Pennines, Salisbury Plain, South Downs, Shropshire Hills, Yorkshire Wolds
Mourne Mountains, Antrim Plateau, Sperrin Mountains
The lowest point of the UK is in
the Fensof East Anglia, in England, parts of which lie up to 4 metres below sea level.
Rivers and lakes
List of lakes in the United Kingdom;
Rivers of the United Kingdom;
*Waterfalls of the United Kingdom.
The longest river in the UK is the
River Severn(220 mi, 354 km) which flows through both Wales and England.
The longest rivers in the UK by country are:
River Thames(215 mi, 346 km)
River Tay(117 mi, 188 km)
River Bann(76 mi, 122 km)
River Tywi(64 mi, 103 km)
The largest lakes in the UK by country are:
Lough Neagh(147.39 sq mi, 381.74 km²)
Loch Lomond(27.46 sq mi, 71.12 km²)
*England: Windermere (5.69 sq mi, 14.74 km²)
Lake Vyrnwy(3.18 sq mi, 8.24 km²)
The deepest lake in the UK is
Loch Morarwith a maximum depth of 309 metres ( Loch Nessis second at 228 metres deep). The deepest lake in England is Wastwaterwhich descends to 79 metres (258 feet).
Waterways in the United Kingdom, Canals of Great Britain, Reservoirs and dams in the United Kingdom
As a result of its industrial history, the United Kingdom has an extensive system of
canals, mostly built in the early years of the Industrial Revolution, before the rise of competition from the railways. The United Kingdom also has numerous dams and reservoirs to store water for drinking and industry. The generation of hydroelectric poweris rather limited, supplying less than 2% of British electricity mainly from the Scottish Highlands.
The UK has a coastline which measures about 12,429 km. The heavy indentation of the coastline helps to ensure that no location is more than 125 km from tidal waters.
The UK claims jurisdiction over the
continental shelf, as defined in continental shelf orders or in accordance with agreed upon boundaries, an exclusive fishing zone of 200 nmi (370 km), and territorial sea of 12 nmi (22 km).
Firth of Forth
Firth of Tay
The geology of the UK is such that there are many headlands along its coast, here are some of the most notable ones:
Old Harry Rocks
St Alban's Head
Isle of Wight
St. Catherine's Point
Rhins of Galloway
In total, it is estimated that the UK is made up of over 1000 small islands, some being natural and some being man-made
crannogs, which were built in past times using stone and wood and which were enlarged by natural waste building up over time.
*Islands of England
Isles of Scilly
Isle of Wight
Isle of Portland
*Islands of Scotland
*Islands of Northern Ireland
The climate of the UK varies, but is generally
temperate, though significantly warmer than some other locations at similar latitude, such as central Poland, due to the warming influence of the Gulf Stream. In general, the south is warmer and drier than the north.
The prevailing winds are southwesterly, from the
North Atlantic Current. More than 50% of the days are overcast. There are few natural hazards, although there can be strong winds and floods, especially in winter.
Average annual rainfall varies from over 3,000 mm (120
inches) in the Scottish Highlandsdown to 553 mm (21.8 inches) in Cambridge. The county of Essex is one of the driest in the UK, with an average annual rainfall of around 600 mm (24 inches), although it typically rains on over 100 days per year. In some years rainfall in Essex can be below 450 mm (18 inches), less than the average annual rainfall in Jerusalemand Beirut.
The highest temperature recorded in the UK was 38.5 °C (101.3 °F) at
Brogdale, near Faversham, in the county of Kent, on 10 August 2003. The lowest was -27.2 °C (-17.0 °F) recorded at Braemarin the Grampian Mountains, Scotland, on 11 February 1895 and 10 January 1982 and Altnaharra, also in Scotland, on 30 December 1995.
Demographics of the United Kingdom
Politics of the United Kingdom
The UK is governed as a whole by the
Parliament of the United Kingdom.
Of the four countries that make the UK,
Scotland, Walesand Northern Irelandhave devolved administrations and parliaments/assembly:
*Northern Ireland -
Northern Ireland Assembly
England, despite being the largest country in the UK, has no devolved system of government and is governed by UK government ministers and legislated for by the UK parliament. Within England, London has a devolved assembly but proposals for elected
Regional Assemblies in Englandwere rejected in the first referendum covering North East England. "See Government of England."
The UK (specifically, Northern Ireland) has an international land boundary with the
Republic of Irelandof 360 km. There is also a boundary between the jurisdiction of France and of the UK on the Channel Tunnel.
Each part of the UK is subdivided in further local governmental regions:
*England: Unitary Authorities,
county councils, district councils, parish councils
*Wales: Principal areas, communities
*Scotland: Council areas, communities
*Northern Ireland: Districts
Historically the UK was divided into counties or
shires: administrative areas through which all civilresponsibilities of the governmentwere passed. Each county or shire had a county townas its administrative centre and was divided into individual parishes that were defined along ecclesiasticboundaries.
Between 1889 (1890 in Scotland) and 1974, the political boundaries were based on the traditional counties, but due to changes in population centres, the traditional counties became impractical as local government areas in certain highly urbanised areas. The
Local Government Act 1972created a new system of administrative counties, designed to take account of the widely differing populations across different parts of the country.
In the 1990s further population growth led to more political changes on a local level. Unitary authorities were formed across the entire of Scotland and Wales, and in larger cities in England. Many unpopular administrative counties were also abolished at this time, leading to a mixture of two-tier and single-purpose authorities. Further reorganisations are planned if and when regional assemblies in England are revisited in the future.
The economic geography of the UK reflects not only its current position in the global economy, but its long history both as a trading nation and an imperial power.
The UK led the
industrial revolutionand its highly urban character is a legacy of this, with all its major cities being current or former centres of all forms of manufacturing. However, this in turn was built on its exploitation of natural resources, especially coaland iron ore.
The UK's primary industry was once dominated by the
coalindustry, heavily concentrated in the north, the Midlandsand south Wales. This is all but gone and the major primary industry is North Sea oil. Its activity is concentrated on the UK Continental Shelfto the north-east of Scotland.
At one time or another virtually every product that can be imagined has been made in the UK. In particular its heavy manufacturing drove the industrial revolution. A map of the major UK cities gives a good picture of where this activity occurred, in particular
Belfast, Birmingham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham.
Today there is no heavy manufacturing industry in which UK-based firms can be considered world leaders. However, the
Midlandsin particular remains a strong manufacturing centre.
More recently, high technology firms have concentrated largely along the
M4 motorway, partly because of access to Heathrow Airport, but also because of agglomeration economies.
Finance and services
Once, every great city had a
stock exchange. Now, the UK financial industry is concentrated overwhelmingly in the City of Londonand Canary Wharf, with back office and administrative operations often dispersed around the south of England. London is one of the world's great financial centres and is usually referred to as a world city.
The combined effect of changing economic fortune has created the so-called North-South divide, in which decaying industrial areas of the north of England contrast with the wealthy, finance and technology led southern economy.
This has led successive governments to develop
regional policyto try to rectify the imbalance.
This is not to say that the south is uniformly wealthy: some of the worst pockets of deprivation can be found in London.
Economy of the United Kingdom
Historically, much of the United Kingdom was
forested. Since prehistorictimes, man has deforested much of the United Kingdom. Agricultureis intensive, highly mechanised, and efficient by European standards, producing about 60% of food needs with only 1% of the labour force. It contributes around 2% of GDP. Around two thirds of production is devoted to livestock, one third to arable crops.
In 1993, it was estimated that
Arable land: 25 %
Permanent crops: 0 %
Permanent pastures: 46 %
Forests and Woodland: 12 %
*Other: 17 %
*Irrigated: 1,080 km²
The UK has a variety of natural resources including:
coal, petroleum, natural gas, limestone, chalk, gypsum, silica, rock salt, china clay, ironore, tin, silver, gold, lead.
arable land, wheat, barley, hill farms, sheep
The UK has large
coal, natural gas, and oil reserves; primary energy production accounts for 10% of GDP, one of the highest shares of any industrial nation. Due to the island location of the UK, the country has great potential for generating electricity from wave powerand tidal power, although these have not yet been exploited on a commercial basis.
The United Kingdom is reducing
greenhousegas emissions. It has met Kyoto Protocoltarget of a 12.5 % reduction from 1990 levels and intends to meet the legally binding target of a 20 % cut in emissions by 2010. By 2005, the government aims to reduce the amount of industrial and commercial waste disposed of in landfill sites to 85 % of 1998 levels and to recycle or compost at least 25 % of household waste, increasing to 33 % by 2015. Between 1998-99 and 1999-2000, household recycling increased from 8.8 % to 10.3 %.
The United Kingdom is a party to many international agreements, including:Air Pollution, Air Pollution-
Nitrogen Oxides, Air Pollution-Sulphur 94, Air Pollution-Volatile Organic Compounds, Antarctic-Environmental Protocol, Antarctic-Marine Living Resources, Antarctic Seals, Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Marine Dumping, Marine Life Conservation, Nuclear Test Ban, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlandsand Whaling.
The UK has signed, but not ratified, the international agreement on Air Pollution-Persistent Organic Pollutants.
British overseas territories
Conservation in the United Kingdom
Demographics of the United Kingdom
Extreme points of the United Kingdom
Geography of Scotland
Geography of England
Geography of Ireland
Geography of Wales
Geography of Europe
List of caves in the United Kingdom
List of places in the United Kingdom
List of conurbations in the United Kingdom
City status in the United Kingdom
Towns of the United Kingdom
Transport in the United Kingdom
* [https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uk.html CIA Factbook]
* [http://www.statistics.gov.uk/glance/default.asp UK Government Statistics]
* [http://www.metoffice.com/climate/uk/averages/index.html UK climate averages provided by the Meteorological Office]
* [http://www.ordnancesurvey.co.uk/oswebsite/freefun/geofacts/ Ordnance Survey geofacts page]
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