Britain includes Great Britain (comprising England, Scotland and
Wales) and Northern Ireland, and lies off the northwest coast of
mainland Europe. It is 500 Km wide and nearly 1,000 km long. Its
closest continental neighbors France and Belgium. It lies between
latitudes 50ş North and 60ş North. London, the capital is close to the
same of latitude as Berlin, Vancouver and Warsaw. Great Britain is the
largest island in Europe and the eight largest in the world. It is
about the same size as Honshu the biggest of the island that make up
Japan, and about twice size of Iceland of Cuba.
Although it is as closer to the North Pole as eastern Siberia or
Hudson Bay Britain has a warmer climate. While the British climate is
very changeable, temperatures rarely fall below -10ş or go above 32ş.
Rainfall is fairly well distributed throughout the year. The wettest
parts are the mountainous areas of the West Coast. Britain is a
densely populated and industrialized nation, but much of the country
is cultivated and around 10% of the land is covered by legally
protected National Parks.
English is the official language, but many people know more than one
language. Around 20% of the people Wales speak Welsh and children
learn it in schools. About 80,000 people in Scotland speak Gaelic. For
centuries people from overseas have settled in Britain to escape
persecution or in search of a better standard of living. They have
brought with them their languages, cultures and religions. The most
widely spoken minority languages today are from the Asian
sub-continent but other languages include Italian, Spanish, Greek,
Turkish and Chinese. Ethnic minority communities make up about 5 % of
the total population.
Population growth in Western Europe is generally low. There were
781,000 live births in Britain in 1992, or 13,5 live births per 1,000
population. The death rate is slightly lower at 11 per 1,000. The
population is therefore fairly stable. The proportion of elderly
people has been increasing as a result of better standards of living
and health care. The percentage of young people on the population has
been falling. At present only 20% of people in Britain are under the
age of 16.
Although Britain is quite small in terms of land area, it has a large
population of nearly 58 million, which ranks 17^th in the world. With
an average of 239 people per sq. km, Britain has the highest
population density in Europe. Most people in Britain live in towns or
cities. England has 370 people per sq. km; Scotland has 66 Wales 139
and Northern Ireland 118. London is the 17 Th most heavily populated
city in the world, but still much smaller than Mexico City.
HISTORY AND POLITICS
Roman rule of England and Wales lasted from AD 43 to around AD 409.
Over the next 600 years there were invasions and settlements by
peoples from northern Europe. The last successful invasion was by the
Normans in 1066. In 1172 the King of England made himself Lord of
Ireland. The uniting of England with Wales and with Scotland led on to
the union of Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. In 1921 Ireland was
partitioned, Northern Ireland remains within Britain.
Britain is a parliamentary democracy. Herb Majesty Queen Elizabeth II,
who succeeded to the throne in 1952, is Head of State, with a largely
ceremonial role. The House of Commons and House of
Lords, with the monarch, comprise. The Prime Minister heads the
Government and appoints ministers. The Commons has 651 elected
Members, each representing a local constituency or area Elections, in
which citizens over 18 may vote by secret ballot, are held at lest
every five years.
In Britain oil is the main source of power and Britain is now the
ninth largest producer of crude oil in the world. Manufacturing
industries once employed the greatest number of people. There are
still a number of large companies in the vehicle, aerospace, chemical
and electronics manufacturing industries. But the average company is
fairly small with 80% employing fewer than 2 people. Today it is the
service industries like baking, insurance, advertising, computer
software, and tourism.
From the air Britain still looks like an agricultural country. Towns
and cities cover only about 10% of the land; about 5% is forest and
10% is rough moorland. Much of the rest of the land is cultivated.
Britain has one of the most efficient agricultural industries in
Europe. On the eastern side of Britain farmers grow arable crops such
as wheat and cereals. In the wet grasslands of the west they keep
cattle and sheep.
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