Britain forms the greater part of the British Isles, which lie off the
north-west coast of mainland Europe. The full name is the United Kingdom of
Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Great Britain comprises England, Scotland
and Wales. With a total area of about 242,000 sq km, Britain is just under 1000
km long and some 500 km across in the widest part. London is the capital. Other
major cities include Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Cardiff and
Belfast. There are some 58 million people. Population density is highest in
England and lowest in Scotland.
Structure: a basic highland/lowland division - NW/SE.
Mountain regions include: the Scottish Highlands - Ben Nevis 1343m ; the Lake District - Scafell 978 m; North Wales - Snowdon 1085 m; the Pennines - a limestone "backbone" in N. England; the Jurassic limestone escarpments, esp. the Cotswolds; the chalk escarpments, esp. the Chilterns, the North and South Downs;
NB: the Weald, the Fens (N. of Cambridge), the Broads (E. of Norwich).
Climate: the climate is changeable through the seasonal cycle. Generally, the winter months from December to February are the coldest, with the shortest hours of daylight. The temperature rises through the spring months of March to May, and is highest throughout the summer months from June to August. Temperatures rarely exceed 32°C (90° F) or fall below -10°C (14° F ). London is the hottest place. The weather is mainly influenced by depressions moving eastwards across the Atlantic. The average annual rainfall is more than 1,600 mm (over 60 inches) in the highland areas of the west and north but less than 800 mm (30 inches) over the more fertile lowlands of the south and east.
Britain's lowest air temperatures -27°C was recorded at Braemar in Scotland in February 1895, whilst the highest, 37.1°C, was registered at Cheltenham south-west England, in August 1990.
Wildlife: the most widespread wild vegetation in Britain are the heather, grasses, gorse and bracken of the moorland countryside in the,highland regions. In lowland Britain, with the exception of a few patches of heath and forest, farmland mainly covers the area. Common trees include oak, beech, ash and, in Scotland, pine and birch. Wild animal life comprises mainly species of smaller mammals ( such as badgers, foxes and rodents), birds (over . 400 species of which have been recorded, either breeding or migrating) and insects. There are about 30 kinds of freshwater fish. Reptiles and amphibians are few. Common and gray seals may be seen off parts of the coast.
For many years Britain has had policies and laws to protect its natural environment - e.g., designating National Parks and areas of outstanding natural beauty.
People: Britain absorbed a range of foreign cultures and traditions during the early centuries - Roman, Viking and Norman among them. In more recent times people from overseas have continued to settle in Britain, either to escape political or religious persecution, or in search of economic opportunities. Ethnic minorities now comprise about 5. 5 % of the population. All citizens enjoy the same rights and privileges. Racial discrimination is unlawful under the Race Relations Act 1976.
Languages: English is the official language, although the Welsh language has equal validity in Wales.
Cornish is now extinct (last speaker died around 1800);
Welsh spoken by 25% of total population of Wales but in some rural areas by 75%: still very much alive with radio and TV programmes, newspapers and festivals (Eisteddfod). Gaelic is only spoken in rural N.W.Scotland: in contrast to Welsh, it is rapidly declining with fewer than 50,000 speakers. Local place names in all these areas are based on the appropriate language, however. Irish Gaelic (Erse) is rather artificially imposed within the education system. It is the natural speech of only small numbers along the West coast.
Land use and agriculture: Although Britain is an industrial nation, most of the country is under cultivation and around 10 per cent of the land is covered by legally protected National Parks. Agriculture, which meets nearly 60% of Britain's food needs, accounts for 77% of land use. Woodland and urban development account for 10% each. Mountainous and other areas make up the remaining 10%. About 66% of agricultural land is under crops and grass, the rest being used for grazing farm animals. There are about 240,000 farms with an average size of 70 hectares (170 acres). Over half of farms are devoted to dairy products or beef cattle or sheep. These are reared chiefly in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and northern and south - western England. Pig farming occurs principally in eastern and northern England. Output of poultry meat has increased by over a third since 1980.
Arable crops include cereals, higher-yielding wheat, barley, and oilseed rape. Potatoes and vegetables are cultivated in eastern England and Scotland. Sugar beet provides over half of Britain's requirements. Field vegetables are grown throughout the country and glasshouses are used for cultivating tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet peppers, lettuces and flowers.
Manufacturing: Many major industrial processes and products were pioneered in Britain. Today, almost all manufacturing is by private businesses.
The largest industries are machinery and transport equipment, chemicals, motor vehicles and aerospace, electronic and electrical engineering, steel, mechanical engineering and metal goods, food and drink, and textiles. The chemical industry is the third largest in Western Europe and is Britain's biggest export earner. ICI accounts for a major part of production, making basic industrial chemicals, synthetic fibres, fertilisers, pesticides, plastics, paint, pharmaceuticals.
British computer companies cater for business, science and the domestic user. Telecommunications is an important sector. чф has led in the production of optical fibre communications systems. Britain leads in the manufacture of navigational aids for ships and aircraft, thermal imagining systems and signalling equipment. British firms are in the forefront of technical advances in radar, another British invention. Other companies make electronic medical equipment originally developed in Britain, such as ultrasound scanners. Britain's aerospace industry is the second largest in the Western world, after that of the United States. British Aerospace, Short Brothers and Rolls-Royce are the biggest of some 300 companies designing and constructing airframes, aero-engines, guided weapons, space satellites and aerospace equipment. Britain has the largest energy resources of any country in the European Union. It is a major world producer of oil and natural gas. Around 25% of its electricity supply is provided by nuclear power stations. Britain also encourages the exploitation of renewable sources of energy, like solar and wind power.
Transport and Communications: People in Britain travel on average almost 200 km a week. The well developed transport infrastructure has been further improved by the new Channel Tunnel, linking Britain's 16, 500 km rail network to that of the European mainland.
The total road network is about 588,000 km. Nearly 25 million vehicles are licensed for use on the roads. There are about 80 important seaports. Thirteen airports handle over 1 million passengers a year each. чф runs one of the world's largest telecommunications network.
Finance: a decimal currency system was introduced in Britain on the 15th February 1971. The unit of currency is the pound sterling ₤, divided into 100 pence.
The Bank of England - established in 1694, acts as banker to the Government, holding its main accounts and managing Britain's reserves of gold and foreign exchange and arranging government borrowing.
The London Stock Exchange is one of the world's largest markets for government and company securities.Tourism is one of Britain's fastest growing industries, employing 1.5 million people. Some 18 million overseas visitors came to Britain in 1990. The hotel and catering trades employed 1.25 million people in 1991. Restaurants offer virtually every cuisine in the world.