British Isles


  1. Regional Characteristics
    • Relative Location
    • Physical Environment
    • Population Distribution
    • Language
    • Religion
    • Agriculture
    • Resources
    • Industry
    • Technological Development
  2. Demographic Analysis based on Population Data Sheet
    • Population Growth
    • Under 15 / Over 65
    • Infant Mortality
    • Percent Urban
    • GNI PPP
  3. Countries
    • United Kingdom
    • Republic of Ireland
  4. References
  5. Review Questions

Regional Characteristics

The British Isles sit between the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Mainland Europe. At the closest point they are only 21 miles from the mainland.  The United Kingdom also referred to as Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland are the two major islands that are surrounded by other tiny islands. Ireland is the smaller island to the west of the larger island, Britain. Unlike much of the Europe mainland the borders in the British Isles’ have not changed much, if any, since the 1600’s when the King of Scotland and the King of England made a union among the states. The conquest of Ireland by the Anglo-Scottish was finalized around this time.

The typical climate of this region is maritime climate. It may experience all kinds of weather in one day. The western area receives much more rainfall than the eastern portion. Temperatures are cooler on the western side and warmer on the eastern side. The British Isles are low towards the coast lines and the borders, but they do have some mountainous areas. Ben Nevi is the highest mountain in the region. It is about 1,344M in altitude.  It is located in the western portion of the Grampian Mountains. Other mountain ranges of the region are Cuillin, Monadhliath, Cairngorm, Pennies, and Snowdonia. A popular hilly region is the Cheviots. The main river that runs through here is the Thames River. It runs through southern England and London. It also flows through Oxford and Windsor.

Population is heavy in the Southern part of England. Here is the major city of London. One-third of the total population lives within this metropolitan area. Many live here because of all of the conveniences of the financial, communications, and entertainment business. There is a smaller population of people living in Northern England. Many immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and South Asia settled here. Birmingham is in the middle of the North and it is the country’s second largest city. In the Wales region there are about 3 million people and in Northern Ireland there are about 1.8 million people. Scotland has more than 5 million people within its borders. Ireland now has 4.4 million people, but it is still rebounding from when it used to have 8.2 million. In the 1840’s their main crop, potatoes, was attacked by a disease called potato blight. The potatoes turn black and rot. The massive amounts of rainfall contributed to the problem, the combination causing disease and death to spread among the people and a extremely decreased harvest. Many people left the country during this time as well for fear of disease or death.

English, the main language, is a Germanic Language. It is the second most-spoken Germanic language. The Celtic Languages, not surprisingly, were spoken by Celts. The majority of Celts used to be located in the British Isles. Today the language has faded, but in some parts, such as Wales, Welsh, which is one of the surviving Celtic Languages, is still spoken. It is mainly spoken by minorities.

One struggle between the islands of these countries has been religion. The whole area has been Christian, but there has been tension and disagreement on the branches and practices of each sect. In the early sixteenth century the Protestant Revolt occurred and separated the religious status in the area still. The Republic of Ireland is strongly Catholic while the rest of the area is mainly Protestant. Northern Ireland, which is part of the mainland of the United Kingdom, is split. Today, they are about fifty-four percent Protestant and forty-two percent Roman Catholic. In Ireland you will find large cathedrals, monasteries, and monuments to Christian saints. In the rest of the region where it is Protestant you with find much more subtle hints of religion.

Agriculture is hard to come by in the United Kingdom because it is very urbanized, but Ireland still has 40% of its people in rural areas, many of them farming. It is notorious for its potato farming. Fish is a big export from the North Sea area. Wheat is found in some northern places on the main island.

The North Sea has major reserves of oil and natural gas shared, with Norway, but it is still a major source of income for Great Britain. In Wales there are high-quality coal reserves. This business is declining slowly however. In Scotland there are coalfields and regions of iron ore deposits.

London, which is in the south, is the financial, communications, engineering, and energy industrial place. This one city contains much of the area’s industry. Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool are other larger industry cities. Scotland is also a world-renowned shipbuilding industry. This really took off during the Industrial Revolution. Ireland is booming more than the rest of the region. Construction is happening everywhere. It is becoming more urbanized day by day. Tourism also benefits much of the area around here.

Southern England is the center of technology. Here the giant London area is located. Another area is in Scotland in the city of Glasgow. Here they are offsetting the decline in industry with a technology center. In Dublin Ireland you would find computers being manufactured. From this production of annual surpluses, Dublin became known as the Celtic Tiger. Besides these few technology hotspots, there are not too many places that have been taking off or increasing in the technological field.

Demographic Analysis based on Population Data Sheet


United Kingdom


2007 Population (millions)



Projected Population by 2025 (millions)



Projected Population by 2050 (millions)



Projected Population Change (2007-2050) (%)



Natural Rate of Increase (%)



Births per 1,000 population



Deaths per 1,000 population



Net Migration Rate per 1,000 Population



Percent of Population of Age <15



Percent of Population of Age 65+



Infant Mortality Rate



Percent Urban



Resource: 2007 World Population Data Sheet

In 2007, according to the World Population Data Sheet, Ireland and the United Kingdom both have increasing rates of growth. The United Kingdom, had 61 million people and they are expected to increase to 69.2 million by the year 2050. Ireland had 4.4 million people and by 2050 they are prediction to have 5.1 million. The United Kingdom has a large population for its small amount of area. The population is very concentrated in the south. It is projected to have a 13% increase by the year 2050 in population. Comparing this figure with the mainland countries of Europe puts it at the top of projected population change. Many of the mainland countries are looking to have a drop in population. Ireland is also set to increase its population 16% by 2050 as well. Both of the countries will increase while the others increase. Another factor is that both countries have a positive natural rate of increase. This contributes automatically to rising population.

The United Kingdom has 16% of their people under the age of fifteen and 17% of the people are over the age of sixty-five. The majority of their population is in the middle age somewhere. This is a good sign for the country. It shows signs of a highly-developed country. Some characteristics of a HDC country are advanced medical facilities, extensive trade contacts, and a high level of urbanization. Ireland is also in the HDC category, but the majority of their population does not live as long; 20% of their population is under fifteen and only 11% is over age sixty-five

Infant mortality rates are lower than countries in Africa, but the United Kingdom still has a fairly high rate. Their rate is at 4.9 deaths. This may seem small due to their amount of population. Ireland has a rate that is half of that. They are at 2.4 deaths. Again when you tie in the population this may seem high because of how small their population is compared to the United Kingdom. Mainland England has higher infant mortality rates some ranging up to thirteen or fourteen per 1,000.

The United Kingdom has large cities, the main one being London, that people flock to and live near. This causes a huge amount of the population to be urban. Ninety percent of the people living on the main island of the British Isles, the United Kingdom, are urban. In Ireland the percentage is much lower. Over half of their population, however, is still urban. They have sixty percent of their population living in city areas. This country is a big farming country, especially potatoes.

Both the United Kingdom and Ireland are Highly Developed Countries (HDC) according to their GNI PPP per Capita figure. They both have industrialized areas even though they have both had problems in the past. Ireland lost much of its population and the United Kingdom is decreasing in its industry from its natural Industrial Revolution. Ireland is holding steady at $35,540 in US dollars. The United Kingdom is a few dollars higher at $35, 690. Both countries can sustain themselves through their agriculture and industry with a little importing of goods.

British Isle Countries

The United Kingdom is the largest island in the British Isles. It includes the regions of Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland. In history it is one of the largest colonial powers. Currently the United Nations, Group of Eight, and European Union are all units it is involved in. Overall this area is Protestant, but has battled with Catholicism. The major cities are London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool. It boomed during the Industrial Revolution, but is slowing down in more recent years. Sixty-one million people live in this country with seven million alone in London. It is known as the financial, communications, engineering, and energy industry place. The UK holds several smaller mountains and hilly areas. The Queen of England essentially looks over all of the United Kingdom. She is their political figurehead, but is also the head of the state in their present government. They have a Parliamentary system which is seated in London. Also in the England area there are two famous markings; the Prime Meridian and the Greenwich Observatory.

The second major country, Republic of Ireland, is very different from its larger neighbor. It has only 4.4 million people and is mainly Roman Catholic. Ireland is in the top ten countries with the highest GNI per capita figure. It also is a member of the European Union. St. Patrick’s Day and the Luck of the Irish run through the major city, Dublin, and the country like fire in March. At one point the country was under the control of the United Kingdom, but on December 29, 1937 it broke free all of its counties besides the six that make up Northern Ireland. Ireland is a Republic and has a parliamentary government system. Many of the country’s people are involved in agriculture. The main crop is potatoes. People are changing to be more modern and industrialized as the years continue to pass. Ten percent of the country is covered with forest, much of it in the famous Killarney National Park. Ireland also was home to some of Hollywood’s most famous actors: Richard Harris, Colin Farrell, Peter O’Toole, and Daniel Day Lewis.


Blij, H.J., Muller, Peter O. (2006) Geography: Realms, Regions, and Concepts. New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Bradshaw, Michael J. (2006) Contemporary World Regional Geography: Global Connections, Local Voices. New York, NY. McGraw-Hill.

Gabler, Robert E. Essentials of Physical Geography (4th Edition). Brace College Publishers.

Ireland.” Wikipedia. 26 March 2008. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 March 2008. < >.

Rowntree, Lester…[et al.].—3rd edition. Diversity Amid Globalization: World Regions, Environment, Development. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Pearson Prentice Hall.

United Kingdom.” Wikipedia. 26 March 2008.Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 28 March 2008. <>.

World Population Data Sheet (2007). Washington D.C: Population Reference Bureau.

Review Questions

  1. The British Isles are part of what Koeppen Classification Climate?
    1. Desert  B. Continental  C. Maritime  D. Tropical
  2. The population of Ireland in 1841 and today is:
    1. 6.4 million, 18.2 million  B. 8.2 million, 4.4 million  C. 4.4 million, 4.4 million  D. 1.5 million, 3.5 million
  3. The European Community country with the highest percentage of workers engaged in primary activities (mainly agriculture) is:
    1. The Netherlands  B. Germany  C. Ireland  D. United Kingdom  E. None of the above
  4.  The main language spoken in the United Kingdom is:
    1. Welsh  B. German C. British  D. English
  5. Fjords were created by:
    1. Rivers  B. Volcanic activity  C. Coastal erosion  D. Glaciers
  6. The British Isles are in which category:
    1. HDC  B. MDC  C. LDC  D. None of the Above
  7. The percentage of the United Kingdom that is urban:
    1. 40  B. 60  C. 70  D. 90
  8. Ireland was formally part of which country?
    1. Germany  B. United Kingdom  C. France  D. Netherlands
  9. Which of the following is not a portion of the United Kingdom?
    1. Republic of Ireland  B. England  C. Scotland  D. Wales
  10. United Kingdom’s main religion is:
    1. Islam  B. Roman Catholic  C. Jewish  D. Protestant
  11. What is the major industrial city in the United Kingdom?
    1. London  B. Paris  C. Birmingham  D. Liverpool
  12. Which country is expected to have a 13% increase in population by the year 2050?
    1. Ireland  B. England  C. United Kingdom  D. Norway
  13. Fjords provide deep and well-protected ports but:
    1. Limited level land  B. Little fresh water  C. Little warmth  D. Severe air pollution problems
  14. Where is the population heaviest?
    1. Southern England  B. Wales  C. Ireland  D. Northern England
  15. Which country is overwhelmingly Catholic?
    1. Norway  B. Denmark  C. Ireland  D. Sweden

Submitted by Timothy Wegner on November 6,1996. Updated by Jennifer Hall on March 6, 1997. Edited by Karen Oyler on October 12, 2003. Resubmitted by Haleigh Zyzda on April 11, 2008.