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Land and Resources, Geographical Components and Borders

area of Northern Ireland, British Cabinet, legislative assemblies, Outer Hebrides, dependent territories

The United Kingdom is bordered on the south by the English Channel, which separates it from the continent of Europe. It is bordered on the east by the North Sea, and on the west by the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The United Kingdom’s only land border with another nation is between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

England is the largest, most populous, and wealthiest division of the United Kingdom. It makes up 130,410 sq km (50,352 sq mi) of the United Kingdom’s total 244,110 sq km (94,251 sq mi). The area of Scotland is 78,790 sq km (30,420 sq mi), the area of Wales is 20,760 sq km (8,020 sq mi), and the area of Northern Ireland is 14,160 sq km (5,470 sq mi). This means that England makes up 53.4 percent of the area of the United Kingdom, Scotland 32.3 percent, Wales 8.5 percent, and Northern Ireland 5.8 percent.

The United Kingdom contains a number of small islands. These include the Isle of Wight, which lies off of England’s southern coast; Anglesey, off the northwest coast of Wales; the Isles of Scilly in the English Channel; the Hebrides archipelago to the west of Scotland, consisting of the Inner and the Outer Hebrides; the Orkney Islands to the northeast of Scotland; and the Shetland Islands farther out into the North Sea from Scotland.

Several dependencies and dependent territories are associated with the United Kingdom. The dependencies, located close to Britain, are the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea and the Channel Islands off the northern coast of France. These dependencies, while not technically part of the United Kingdom, maintain a special relationship with it. The Channel Islands were once part of the Duchy of Normandy and retain much of their original French culture. The Isle of Man, controlled by Norway during the Middle Ages, came under English rule in the 14th century. Both dependencies are largely self-governing and have their own legislative assemblies and systems of law. Britain is responsible for their international relations and defense.

Britain’s dependent territories are scattered throughout the world and are the remains of the former British Empire. They are generally small in area and without many resources. Once considered colonies, they have opted to remain under British control for a variety of reasons. Today Britain assists the territories economically, with the understanding that they may become independent when they wish. Most are locally self-governing, although the queen appoints a governor for each territory who is responsible for external affairs and internal security, including the police and public service. The ultimate responsibility for their government rests with the foreign and commonwealth secretary, a minister in the British Cabinet. The United Kingdom has experienced difficulties with some of its territories—Argentina has made claims to the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) and Spain has made claims to Gibraltar. China’s claim to the former dependent territory of Hong Kong was satisfied in July 1997 when Britain’s lease ran out and China assumed control of the area.

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