THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND (UK) is situated in northwest Europe and comprises England, Wales, Scotland, and the six counties of Northern Ireland. The latter is a historical and political entity rather than a geographical one.
Also belonging to the United Kingdom are several hundred islands, many of them off the Scottish coast, and some are large and inhabited. In contrast, others are little more than rocky outcrops battered by stormy seas.
The UK is primarily a highly urbanised industrial and commercial country.
England is bounded in the north by Scotland and to the west by the Irish Sea. The English Channel and the North Sea separate it from mainland Europe. It is a country of rolling, green hills and rich farmland but with large, industrialized cities. The most densely populated parts of England cover Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Birmingham, West Midlands, and Greater London.
England is divided from Scotland in the north by a boundary that runs from the Solway Firth in the west to the River Tweed in the east. In parts of England, intensive agricultural and urban developments have posed a threat to wildlife, and some species are now quite rare. Principal industries include motor vehicles, electronics and electrical engineering, textiles and clothing, aircraft, and consumer goods. Tourism is also an important industry.
The small kingdom of Wales, which includes the island of Anglesey, is mostly a country of mountains, uplands, and moorlands. The Cambrian Mountains, which extend from north to south, form the land’s backbone, but others are the Snowdon range in the northwest and the Brecon Beacons in the southeast. The upland region of Blaenau Morganwy in the south was dissected by a series of steep-sided glaciated valleys, such as the Rhondda and Taff, where coal was discovered in the 19th century.
Several reasonably large rivers flow through Wales, including the Dee and the Wye. Most of Wales is relatively sparsely populated, and there are significant areas of National Park, so animals and birds in these areas can thrive relatively free from human interference. Nearly two-thirds of the population live in the south, where industry developed around the coalfields. South Wales’s coalfields were once the most critical coalfields globally, but coal mining has declined dramatically, and the light industry is now much more critical. Tourism is one of Wales’s main sectors thanks to the beautiful scenery of its National Parks and some flourishing resorts around the coast.
Scotland is largely a country of mountains, rolling hills, and lochs and is renowned for its scenery’s beauty. It can be divided into three distinct topographical regions – the Southern Uplands, the Central Lowlands, and the Highlands. The Highlands occupy about half the total land area, yet this is the most sparsely populated region. The Scottish coastline is deeply indented, and there are hundreds of offshore islands. The largest island groups are the Western Isles, consisting of the Outer Hebrides and the Inner Hebrides off the west coast, and the Orkney and Shetland Islands in the far north. Another feature of the Scottish landscape is its numerous lochs, of which Loch Lomond and Loch Ness are the two most famous. The Central Lowlands are the industrial heartland of the country and its most densely populated area. It is here that the capital, Edinburgh, and the largest city, Glasgow, are situated.
Ireland is a large island located to the west of the British mainland divided politically into two different unequal parts. These are Northern Ireland, Ulster, or the Six Counties, an integral part of the United Kingdom since 1920, and the Republic of Ireland or Eire, which comprises the majority of the country and has been independent since that date.
Northern Ireland is situated in the northeastern part of the island. The central part of this area is low-lying and contains the largest lake in the British Isles, Lough Neagh. A second marshy area in the southwest contains two other sizeable lakes, Lower and Upper Lough Erne. There are three upland areas – the mountains of Antrim in the northeast, the Mourne Mountains in the southeast, in which the region’s highest peak, Slieve Donard (852 meters or 2,796 feet), is located, and the Sperrin Mountains in the northwest.
Only 2 percent of the workforce is employed in agriculture. Although production is high thanks to modern machinery and scientific methods, the UK still has to import one-third of its food. Major crops include barley, potatoes, sugar beet, and wheat, while livestock raised includes sheep, cattle, pigs, and poultry.
Fishing is also an important industry. The UK has to import most of the materials it needs for its endeavors as it lacks natural resources apart from coal, iron ore, oil, and natural gas. Many of the older industries, such as coal, textiles, and heavy engineering industries, have declined significantly in recent years. In contrast, service industries play an increasingly large part in the UK’s economy, as does tourism.
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The United Kingdom has four primary regions: England (130,373 square kilometers/ 50,337 square miles), Wales (20,767 square kilometers/8,018 square miles), and Scotland (78,775 square kilometers/30,415 square miles), all on the island of Great Britain; and Northern Ireland (14,120 square kilometers/ 5,452 square miles), on the island of Ireland. Each has a distinctive topography. England and Wales occupy the southern half of Great Britain.
England is composed mostly of rolling hills. The highest elevations are found in the north. In the northwest, a region known as the Lake District includes several small lakes, and the terrain reaches higher heights in a range known as the Cumbrian Mountains. In the north-central part, there are limestone hills known as the Pennine Chain. In the southwest, a peninsula with low plateaus and granite outcroppings makes up the West Country region.
Wales is a rugged region with extensive tracts of the high plateau. The Cambrian Mountains cover almost the entire area and include Wales’s highest point, Mount Snowdon (1,085 meters/3,560 feet). There are also narrow coastal plains in the south and west and small lowland areas in the north.
Scotland, which occupies the northern half of Great Britain, is primarily mountainous. Its Highlands contain the highest peaks in the United Kingdom. South of the Highlands is the Central Lowlands, containing the Tay, Forth, and Clyde Rivers valleys. Beyond this is the Southern Uplands, with moorland cut by many valleys and rivers.
Northern Ireland consists mostly of low-lying plateaus and hills.
The United Kingdom is surrounded by water. The Atlantic Ocean borders the British Isles on the north and northwest and the North Sea on the east. The Irish Sea lies between the islands of Great Britain and Ireland. South of Ireland and west of the southernmost tip of Great Britain is the Celtic Sea. Northwest of Great Britain is the Sea of the Hebrides. Beyond that sea and its islands are the open waters of the North Atlantic Ocean.
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