The United Kingdom is made up of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It has a long history as a major player in international affairs and fulfils an important role in the EU, UN and Nato.
OFFICIAL NAME: United Kingdom of Great Britain
and Northern Ireland
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Constitutional monarchy with parliamentary government
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: English
HEAD OF STATE: Queen Elizabeth II
HEAD OF GOVERNMENT:Prime Minister: David Cameron
MONEY: Pound sterling
AREA: 93,635 square miles (242,514 square kilometers)
MAJOR RIVERS: Thames, Severn, Tyne
The United Kingdom, also called the U.K., consists of a group of islands off the northwest coast of Europe. It is a unique country made up of four nations: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. England, Wales, and Scotland also make up Great Britain.
Much of the north and west of the U.K. is covered in high ground, knife-edged mountain ridges separated by deep valleys. This terrain was shaped in the last Ice Age, when thick glaciers covered the land.
In the south of England, the countryside is mostly rolling hills.
In northwest England and the Scottish Highlands are dozens of lakes, called lochs. These were left behind when the Ice Age glaciers melted. They tend to be long and narrow, and some are very deep. Legends say that a giant monster called Nessie lives in Loch Ness in Scotland.
About 5,000 years ago, the center of the United Kingdom was covered with thick forests. Thousands of years ago, these woodlands were cleared by ancient farmers, and today only about 10 percent of the land is forest.
The United Kingdom’s complex geology gives rise to a wide variety of landscapes and a range of habitats for its animal and plant life. But it is a very crowded country, and there are not many truly wild places left. The most successful wildlife species are those that can live alongside people.
Great Britain’s rugged mountains, like the Scottish Highlands, offer habitat that is relatively untouched by humans. The country’s 7,700 miles (12,429 kilometers) of shoreline, ranging from tall cliffs to beaches to marshes, also provide homes for wildlife such as seabirds and seals.
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
The British are the creation of waves of invaders and migrants, including Celts, Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans. In the 1950s and 1960s, people from former colonies in the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia came to the United Kingdom to work.
Sports and literature are among the United Kingdom’s cultural claims to fame. Soccer, rugby, cricket, boxing, and golf were all invented in Britain. And the U.K. has produced many great writers, including William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, and Robert Burns. J.K. Rowling, the writer of the Harry Potter books, is British.
Head of state: Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II became queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1952 upon the death of her father, George VI.
In September 2015, she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, surpassing the record of her great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria.
She is also head of state of 16 independent countries including Canada and Australia.
As a constitutional monarch, her role in the legislative process is largely ceremonial.
Prime minister: David Cameron
David Cameron became prime minister at the head of a coalition government in May 2010, returning his centre-right Conservative Party to power after 13 years of rule by the centre-left Labour Party.
The Conservatives went on to win a surprise outright victory in the May 2015 general election, allowing Mr Cameron to form the first majority Conservative government since 1992.
Some key dates in British history:
1914 – Outbreak of World War I. UK enters hostilities against Germany.
1918 – War ends in November with armistice. The number of UK war dead runs to several hundred thousand.
1921 – UK agrees to the foundation of the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remains part of the UK.
1924 – First UK government led by the Labour party under Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald.
1939 – Germany invades Poland. UK declares war on Germany.
1940 – Winston Churchill becomes prime minister.
1944 – Allied troops invade France from Britain on D-Day (6th June) and begin to fight their way towards Germany.
1945 – Germany surrenders. Labour leader Clement Atlee is elected prime minister to replace Winston Churchill. The new Labour government introduces the welfare state.
1945 – The UK becomes a permanent member of the UN Security Council.
1948 – National Health Service is established.
1949 – The UK becomes a founder member of Nato.
1953 – Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.
1960s – Decolonisation of former British-controlled territories gathers pace.
1969 – British troops sent to quell unrest in Northern Ireland.
1973 – The UK joins the European Economic Community.1979 – Conservative Margaret Thatcher begins move towards deregulation of economy.