Britain’s overseas territories


The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was created by the Act of Union (that received Royal ascent on August 1, 1800 and came into effect January 1, 1801) and constitutes the greater part of the British Isles, a group of islands lying off the north-west coast of Europe.


The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (usually shortened to the United Kingdom or UK) is the political name of the country, which is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Several islands off the British coast are also part of the UK (# the Isle of Wight, the Orkneys, Hebrides and Shetlands, and the Isles of Scilly), although the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are not. However, all these islands do recognise the Queen.



The state, informally known as Britain, constitutes the greater part of the islands, described geographically as the British Isles. The largest island is Great Britain proper comprising England, Scotland and Wales. The second largest island, Ireland, is shared by Northern Ireland (or Ulster) and the Republic of Ireland (also known as Eire. It is politically independent and not part of the UK). These and over 5,500 smaller islands lie at different distances from the coasts and are included in the British administrative and political union.


GB is located between the latitudes of 50ºN, which cuts through the Lizard peninsula in south-west England and 61ºN, which stretches across the Shetlands off the north-east coast of Scotland. The prime meridian of 0 passes through the old observatory of Greenwich, London.


The total area of the country is 242,514 sq. km. Thus, GB is relatively small and compact when compared with many European countries, being, #, half the size of France or almost 20% smaller than Italy. GB is about 1,000 km long (from the southern coast of England, Lizard Point, Cornwall, to the extreme north of the Scottish mainland, Dunnet, near John O'Groats) and about 500 km across in its widest part.


The British Isles are separated from the continental Europe by the English Channel. The channel in its narrowest part (the Strait of Dover) is only 32 km wide and when the weather is fine one can easily see from the middle of the Channel the French coast. The widest part of the channel in the west is 220 km wide.


The eastern coast reaches the waters of the North Sea. The Atlantic Ocean washes the coast in the west and north-west. From Ireland GB is separated by the Irish Sea, the North Channel and St. George's Channel.


The British coastlines are deeply indented with numerous bays, inlets, and estuaries. Consequently, no part of the country is more than 120 km from some type of tidal water. However, tides along the coast and in inland rivers can cause frequent flooding in many parts, particularly on the English east coast. Besides, the islands are under constant attack from the surrounding sea. Every year, little bits of the east coast vanish into the North Sea. Sometimes the land slips away slowly, at other times it slips away very suddenly.


The seas around the coasts are not deep, often less than 90 m, because the greater part of the British Isles lies on the continental Shelf. To the north-west edge of the Shelf (to the west of Ireland) there is a sudden deepening of the sea floor from 180 m to about 900 m.



GB has a generally mild temperate climate, more or less the same as the climate of the northwestern part of Europe. The geographical position of the British Isles within 50º to 61º N is a basic factor in determining the main characteristics of the climate. Temperature depends not only on the angle at which the sun’s rays strike the earth’s surface, but also on the duration of daylight. The length of day in London ranges from 16 hours 35 min. on 21 June, to 7 hours 50 min. on 21 December. The Sun is never overhead as in the tropical area that's why the British climate is of the temperate nature.


Britain’s climate is dominated by the influence of the sea. The warm North Atlantic Current (Gulf Stream) heats the sea water and air as it travels from the Atlantic Ocean across the Shelf. This gives the British Isles a more temperate climate than would otherwise be the case. Edinburgh, # is 56º north of the equator, the same latitude as Moscow, yet its climate is much milder.


Thus, there are no extreme contrasts in temperature anywhere in Britain. In general, British temperature rarely goes above 32°C in the summer or below -10°C in the winter, though there are differences between those of the north and the south. #, the average monthly temperature in the northern Shetlands ranges from 3ºCelsius in winter to 11º in summer. The corresponding temperatures for the Isle of Wight off the southern coast of England are 5º and 16º. The temperature is also modified by altitude, so higher land is colder than the low-lying land. Consequently, much of Scotland, because of its height, is cooler in summer and colder in winter than most of England. Snow is a regular feature of the higher areas only and in low-lying parts there is no snow at all. The winters are in general a bit colder in the east of the country than they are in the west. While in summer the south is slightly warmer then the north.



The prevailing winds are south-westerly, they bring rain from the Atlantic to the hills and mountains of the west. This means that the western parts of Britain are wetter than the east, which is fairly sheltered. Contrary to the popular misconception the British weather is not particularly wet. London is drier than some continental cities such as Hamburg. Rain is fairly well distributed throughout the year, but on the average, February to March tend to be the driest months, September to January - the wettest. Drought conditions are rare.


The British climate has three dominant features: it's mild, humid and changeable. That means that winters are extremely mild, that the growing season is fairly long, and the cattle are kept out in the fields virtually the whole year round.


Though the British are fortunate to have warmer winters than other countries at the same latitude, the changeability of the weather is the main disadvantage. The weather in England has become proverbial (the English often say they have no climate but only weather, or they have three types of weather: rain in the morning, rain in the afternoon or rain in the evening). The unpredictable weather has become almost a national institution in its own right, and a topic of daily conversation among the British.

Physical relief

Britain is not a big country when compared with most Europe. But though the geographical features of this island are comparatively small, there is astonishing variety almost everywhere. Britain's physical relief can be roughly divided into two main regions - Highland Britain and Lowland Britain. The borderline between the two regions is roughly a line from the mouth of the river Exe in Devonshire, to the mouth of the Tyne on the north-east coast.


Highland Britain comprises the whole of Scotland (the hills and moors of southern Scotland as well as the mountains of the north); the Lake District, in the north-west of England; the broad central upland chain, known as the Pennines; almost the whole of Wales: and the south-west peninsula of England, coinciding with the counties of Devon and Cornwall. Lowland Britain comprises most of England, central lowlands of Scotland and some areas in south Wales.


Scotlandmay be divided physically into three main regions. The first is the North-West and the Central Highlands (Grampians). The highlands are divided by the Great Glen or Glen More, in which lies the world-famous Loch Ness. The Highlands contain the most ancient of the British geological formations and the majority of Britain's highest mountains - nearly 300 peaks over 900 m. The highest mountains are the Grampians, with Ben Nevis, at 1,343 m the tallest peak. The second region is the Central Lowlands that contain one-fifth of the land area but three quarters of the Scottish population, most of the industrial and commercial centres as well as fertile farmlands. The third is the Southern Uplands that mainly consists of ranges of rounded hills stretching towards the border with England (the Border Country) and is a largely agricultural and pastoral area with many rivers.


Walesis mainly a highland country. Two main mountain areas - the Brecon Beacons in the south, rising to 2,906 feet (886 metres), and Snowdonia in the northwest, reaching 3,560 feet (1,085 metres) at Snowdon (Yr Wyddfa), the highest mountain in Wales. The upland mass also contains the Cambrian Mountains. The lowland zones of Wales are restricted to the narrow coastal belts and to the lower parts of the river valleys in industrial south Wales. Two thirds of the Welsh population lives in and around chief centres such as the capital Cardiff, Swansea, Newport and Wrexham, located in the lowland east and south-east Wales.


England consists largely of flat lowland countryside. But lower hill ranges also stretch over much of the country, most important of these are: the North Yorkshire Moors, the limestone Cotswolds, the chalk North Downs and South Downs, and the Chiltern Hills. The east of the country is particularly low and flat. Some areas lie below sea level among them the Norfolk Broads, the Suffolk Marshes. England's upland areas include such major hilly regions as the broad central upland belt of the Pennines - the 890 km long backbone of Britain reaching the Peak District in the south; the north-western mountain region of the Lake District with the highest point in Britain - Scafell Pike (978 m) and the Cumbrian Mountains; the Cheviot Hills between England and Scotland; and the Yorkshire dales, running to the east coast of Yorkshire.


Northern Ireland (or Ulster, as it is smtms called) is situated in the north-west of the island of Ireland. Since the partition of the country in 1921, it has a 488-km border with the Republic of Ireland. In the centre there is a fertile plain surrounded by the mountains: in the north-west - the Sperrin Mountains, in the north-east - the Mountains of Antrim, in the south-east - Mourne Mountains with the highest peak, Slieve Donard, which is 853 m high, and in the north the country can boast of a rocky coastline with interesting geological formations such as the Giant's Causeway.


Rivers and lakes are numerous but they are short, and since the west coast is mountainous, most of them flow eastward. Because of the humid climate, the water level is always high. Their easy navigability made them important as part of the inland transport network in the 19th century for the transportation of bulk products such as coal, iron ore and steel. Although rivers are not now used much for navigation, their estuaries are making excellent ports. At present, many towns and cities, including London, draw all or part of their water supply from these rivers since they seldom freeze in the winter.


The largest river wholly in England is theThames (with Churn) — 346 km. It originates in the Cotswolds and first flows eastward, turning south through the Chiltern Hills and then through London to the North Sea. The Severn (354 km) is considered longer than the Thames.


Other important rivers are in northern England: theTyne, the Wear and the Tees, which all originate in the eastern Pennines and flow to the North Sea. The Mersey (112 km) in north-western England flows into the Irish Sea. The Trent(-Humber) (297 km) from the southern Pennines flows eastward, the Great (or Bedford) Ouse (230 km), originating in the Cotswolds, flows north-east into the Wash. The Bristol Avon (about 120 km) also rises in the Cotswolds, but flows south-west and at the ocean port of Bristol enters the Severn estuary called Avonmouth.


There are several Avons in England. The best known is the Shakespeare Avon on the banks of which Shakespeare's native town is situated. The word 'avon' is Celtic and means 'water'.


Scotland's chief river is the Tay(-Tummel) (188 km) long. The largest river in Scotland, it flows north-east through Loch Tay and then into theFirth of Tay, which empties into the North Sea. TheForth (about 183 km) is a river in south Scotland and flows into theFirth of Forth. TheClyde (170 km) in southern Scotland flows past Glasgow and expands into theFirth of Clyde.

TheShannon is the largest river of Ireland, but it flows through the Republic of Ireland. In Northern Ireland proper, there are few rivers worth mentioning: theLagan in the estuary of which Belfast is situated; theFoyle — famous for its eel fisheries; theUpper Bann and theLower Bann, which are particularly good for salmon fishing.


The chief river of Wales is theWye, the others are the Clwyd and theConwy in the north, theDwyryd, Mawddach and Teifi in the west, and the Taff in the south.


The Welsh living in Englandare often called by the nickname 'Tuffy'. Some say the name comes from the river Taff, which runs through the capital Cardiff, others think it comes from Dafydd, the Welsh form of David.

The British lakes are generally rather small and remote. Having no outlets, they afford limited economic possibilities as navigable waterways, though are attractive as areas for relaxation due to their special charm, beauty and peace. The long and narrow lakes of Scotland — usually called lochs - lie snugly among the steep slopes of the Highlands. Among sixteen major lakes of Scotland Loch Lomond is the largest, and Loch Ness is the most famous. The deepest lake is Loch Morar in the Highlands of Scotland, 310 meters deep.


Still, the largest lake of the United Kingdom is to be found at the centre of Northern Ireland - Lough Neagh with the water mirror of some 382 sq km.


The largest lake of Wales — Lake Bala is only 10 sq km. The scenicLake District — a number of lakes in beautiful mountain scenery — on the north-west side of the Pennine system, also enjoys world fame, attracting many tourists. The lakes that occupy many of its ice-deepened valleys show a wonderful variety of character. The largest of them areWindermere, Ullswater, Derwentwater and Conistonwater.


Major islands

The Orkney Islands is a sizeable group of islands lying to the north of Scotland. The islands are rich in Scandinavian remains and are popular with tourists. The population (about 20 thousands) is engaged in dairy and poultry farming.



The Hebridesis a series of islands off the north-west coast of Scotland. They consist of two groups, the Outer Hebrides, that Scots sometimes call simply the Western Isles, and the Inner Hebrides. One of these islands called Iona is famous for a very beautiful abbey built by St.Columba. Another large island, Skye, has magnificent mountains and Highland cattle. People go there to climb. The main industries are farming, especially sheep, and the making of a cloth called tweed. This is made of wool light in weight but very warm. It is used to make coats for men and women. Many of the islanders speak Gaelic, the native Scottish tongue.


The Shetland Islands are situated further north, 70 miles north of the Orkneys, as far north as St. Petersburg, and are famous for the long summer twilight, which is a reminder of the northerly latitude. The largest island is Mainland and the most northerly is Unst. This has a reputation for two famous products — «lace-work» shawls and ponies, or «shelties». Shetland ponies are popular for children because of their small size. For many centuries, Scandinavia ruled the islands. This link is clear in the many Norse archaeological sites and place-names. From the 1970s, the Shetlands have become an increasingly important center of the North Oil industry. Besides, the population (18 thousands) is actively engaged in herring fishing.


The Isle of Anglesey lies off the coast of North Wales. The station with the longest name in Britain is located here. It is Welsh.


The Isles of Scilly are a group of about 140 small islands and islets off Cornwall, England, about 25 miles from Land's End. These are Britain's warmest islands. Many semitropical plants and flowers such as fuchsias, geraniums, aloes and cactuses grow here. Early vegetables and spring flowers are grown here in the fields with tall hedges and walls to protect them from Atlantic winds in all weathers. There are several lighthouses here, the best known being the Bishop Rock Lighthouse, the most westerly lighthouse in England, built with extreme difficulty in 1858.


The Isle of Wight lies off the southern coast of England across a stretch of water called the Solent (is in the English Channel) and is reachable by ferry from Portsmouth or Southampton. It’s diamond-shaped, 40 km from west to east and about 80 from north to south. The island is a county of England and is a favourite place for about two million holidaymakers a year. Queen Victoria lived there after Prince Albert died. So did the poets Swinburne and Tennyson. The famous Needles that are three white chalk cliffs about 100 feet high rise off the western promontory. An annual sailing and yachting regatta at Cowers known as Cowers Week is regarded as one of the most important sporting and social events of the year. The best known among the many races is the Britannia Cup. Parkhurst, one of the three prisons on the island, is used to house some of Britain's most dangerous criminals.


The Falklands are a group of small islands in the South Atlantic close to Argentina, with a population of 1,200 British citizens. They have been British territories since 1892. Disputes about who owns the islands date back to the 18th century. Argentina has long claimed that the islands they call the Malvinas belong to them. They occupied the islands in April 1982. The Falklands war lasted until July 1982 when British forces won them back. The Falklands War had an enormous impact on Britain and is still controversial. Some people saw it as a restoration of Britain's old imperial power. Others saw the war as a political mistake turned into apiece of propaganda.


The Isle of Man is the island (571 sq. km) situated in the middle of the Irish Sea and is famous for motorcycle races and Manx cats (cats without tails or with very short ones). The Isle of Man is also famous for Manx sheep, a handsome four-horned breed, of which only one small flock is left. Shaefell (2,034 ft), its highest mountain, has a little mountain railway up it. The island is administered by its own Manx Parliament and has a population of about 50 thousands, engaged in farming, fishing and tourist trade.


The Channel Islands are found off the south-east coast of England in the Channel. The two largest islands are Jersey and Guernsey. They have been part of Britain since the Norman Conquest in 1066. Jersey and Guernsey have liberal tax laws and many rich people live there. The islands are popular with British tourists in the summer.


The Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and the Channel Islands off the French coast are not part of the United Kingdom, although they are members of the Commonwealth. The Channel Islands were part of the Dutchy of Normandy in the 10th and 11th centuries and remained subject to the English crown after the loss of mainland Normandy to the French in 1204. The Isle of Man was under the nominal sovereignty of Norway until 1266, and came under the direct administration of the British Crown in 1765, when it was bought for £70,000. They are self-governing Crown Dependencies possessing their own administrative structures, legal systems, and legislatures. The parliament of the Isle of Man, the Tynwald, was established more than 1,000 years ago and is the oldest legislature in continuous existence in the world. It also has the distinction of having three chambers: the Legislative Council, the House of Keys and the Tynwald Court. The Channel Islands' parliament is called the 'States' in the main three islands of Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney, and the 'Court of Chief Pleas' in the smaller island of Sark. However, the British government as a royal representative is responsible for their defence and international relations and can interfere if good administration is not maintained.

Britain’s overseas territories

Britain’s 14 Overseas Territories, spread throughout the globe, are diverse communities. They range from the tiny island of Pitcairn with its 54 inhabitants, set in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, to Bermuda, which has a population of 60,000 and is one of the world’s major financial centres. UK Overseas Territories have a combined population of around 197,000. Most have considerable self-government and their own legislatures. Governors appointed by The Queen are responsible for external affairs, internal security, defence and international financial services. Most domestic matters are delegated to locally elected governments and legislatures. The UK aims to provide the OTs with security and political stability, ensure efficient and honest government, and support their economic and social advancement. Since 21 May 2002, when new citizenship provisions under the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 took effect, all existing OT citizens automatically became British citizens.


1. Anguilla Full Name:AnguillaArea: 90 sq kmPopulation: 11,560 (2001 estimate) Capital City: The Valley Languages: English Religion(s): Christianity Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$) Location: Anguilla is the most northerly of the Leeward Islands in the eastern Caribbean.
2. Bermuda Full Name:Bermuda Area: 53.3 sq km (21 sq miles) Population:62,059 (2000) Capital City: Hamilton Languages: English. There is also a significant Portuguese-speaking community. Religion(s): Mainly Christian although many faiths are represented. The most popular denominations are Anglican and African Methodist Episcopalian (AME). Currency: Bermuda Dollar (parity with US Dollar) Location: The islands and islets of Bermuda (32 degrees 18'N and 64 degrees 46'W) lie along the southern rim of the summit of a submarine volcanic mountain in the Western Atlantic. Bermuda, a group of about 138 islands and islets, lies 570 miles east of the coast of North Carolina.
3. British Antarctic Territory Full Name: British Antarctic TerritoryArea: 1,709,400 sq. km (666,000 sq. miles) Population: No indigenous population. The United Kingdom’s presence in the Territory is provided by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which maintains two permanently manned scientific stations (at Halley and Rothera) and two summer-only stations (at Fossil Bluff on Alexander Island and Signy in the South Orkney Islands). Currency: Sterling Location:The BAT comprises that sector of the Antarctic south of latitude 60 degrees South, between longitudes 20 degrees West and 80 degrees West.
4. British Indian Ocean Territory Full Name: British Indian Ocean Territory Area: 54,400 sq km Population: Military. No indigenous inhabitants. Approximately 3,000 native inhabitants, known as the Chagosians or Ilois, were evacuated to Mauritius before construction of UK-US military facilities. In 1995, there were approximately 1,700 UK and US military personnel and 1,500 civilian contractors living on the island (July 2000 estimate.) Capital City: Diego Garcia Languages: English Currency: UK£ & US$ Location:The BIOT lies about 1770 km east of Mahe (the main island of the Seychelles).
5. British Virgin Islands Full Name: British Virgin Islands Area: 153 sq km (59 sq miles) Population: 20,986 (2002) Capital City: Road Town (Tortola) Languages: English Religion(s): Mainly Christian Currency: US Dollar The British Virgin Islands are adjacent to the US Virgin Islands (USVI) and 60 miles east of Puerto Rico.
6. Cayman Islands Full Name:Cayman Islands Area: 260 sq km (100 sq miles) Population: 42,000 (approx) Capital City: George Town (Grand Cayman) Languages: English Religion(s): Mainly Christian Currency: Caymanian Dollar The three Cayman Islands are situated 268km (180 miles) northwest of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea and 150 miles south of Cuba.
7. Falkland Islands Full Name: Falkland Islands Area: 2,173 sq km (4,700 sq mi) Population: 2,379 (2001 Census) Capital City: Stanley Languages: English Religion(s): Christian, with Catholic, Anglican and United Reformed Churches in Stanley. Other Christian churches are also represented. Currency: Falkland Island Pound (at par with sterling) The Falkland Islands are an archipelago of around 700 islands in the South Atlantic, the largest being East Falkland and West Falkland. They are situated about 770 km (480 miles) north-east of Cape Horn and 480 km (300 miles) from the nearest point on the South American mainland.
8. Gibraltar Full Name: Gibraltar Area: 6.5 sq km Population: 28,231 (2001 census) Capital City: Gibraltar Languages: English Religion(s): Catholic, Protestant, Islam, Hindu Currency: Gibraltar Pound The peninsula that is Gibraltar is in southwest Europe, bordering the Strait of Gibraltar on the southern coast of Spain. The Strait of Gibraltar links the Mediterranean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean.
9. Montserrat Full Name:Montserrat Area: 102 square km (39 square miles) Population: 4,500 (estimate) Capital City: Plymouth (now destroyed by the volcano) Languages: English Religion: Christianity Currency: Eastern Caribbean Dollar (EC$) Montserrat is one of the Leeward Islands in the Eastern Caribbean, lying 27 miles southwest of Antigua and 40 miles northwest of Guadeloupe.
10. Pitcairn Henderson Ducie & Oeno Islands Full Name: Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands Area: 4.5 sq km (2 sq m) Population: 44 Capital City: Adamstown (Administrative Centre) People: Descended from the mutineers from the HMS Bounty and their Tahitian companions Languages: English and Pitkern. The latter is a mixture of English and Tahitian and became an official language in 1997. Religion(s): Seventh Day Adventist Currency: New Zealand Dollar Pitcairn Island is a small volcanic island situated in the South Pacific Ocean at latitude 25 04 south and longitude 130 06 west. It is roughly 2170km (1350 miles) east south-east of Tahiti; 5310km (3300 miles) east north-east of its administrative headquarters in Auckland, New Zealand and just over 6600km (4100 miles) from Panama.
11. St Helena Full Name: Saint Helena Area: 122 sq km Population: 4000 Capital city: Jamestown Languages: English Religion: Mainly Christian, some Bahai. Currency: St Helena Pound on par with UK Pound This remote island in the South Atlantic is about 1200 miles from the South West coast of Africa.
12. South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Full Name:South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Area: Some 170km long, varying in width from 2 to 40 km Population: No indigenous population Capital City: King Edward Point (Administrative Centre) People: Not applicable (N/A)Languages: English Religion(s): N/A Currency: Pound Sterling South Georgia is an isolated, mountainous sub-Antarctic island about 1390km south east of the Falkland Islands and about 2,150km east of Tierra del Fuego.
13. Tristan da Cunha   Full Name: Tristan da CunhaStatus: Dependency of St Helena Area: 98 sq km Population: 275 Capital City: Edinburgh Of The Seven Seas Languages: English Religion: Christian Currency: Pound Sterling Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited island in the world lying 2778 kilometres west of Cape Town.
14. Turks & Caicos Islands Full Name:Turks and Caicos Islands Area: 430 sq km (193 sq miles) Population: 20,200 (2001 census estimate) Capital City: Cockburn Town on Grand Turk Languages: English, some Creole spoken Religion(s): Many Christian churches are represented Currency: US Dollar The Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) form the south-eastern extremity of the Bahamas chain and lie 90 miles north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic and 575 miles south-east of Miami (a 75 minute flight from Miami).


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