The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign state in Europe. Lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland, the country includes the island of Great Britain (a term also applied loosely to refer to the whole country), the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands.
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The UK has an area of 243,610 square kilometres (94,060 sq mi), making it the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world and the 11th-largest in Europe. The United Kingdom is the 22nd-most populous country in the world, with an estimated 64.1 million inhabitants (2016). It is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system of governance, and its capital city, London, is an important global city and financial centre with the second-largest urban area in Europe.
The UK consists of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The latter three have devolved administrations, each with varying powers, based in their capitals, Edinburgh, Cardiff, and Belfast.
The UK has fourteen overseas territories which are the remnants of the British Empire which, at its height in the 1920s, encompassed almost a quarter of the world’s land mass and was the largest empire in history. British influence can be observed in the language, culture, and legal systems of many of its former colonies.
Ethical Travel Issues and advice
Tourism is one of the UK’s biggest industries. It helps to create wealth and jobs throughout the country and is seen as an avenue to bring new life to run-down communities. In 2010 the UK tourism industry generates about £115 billion for the economy each year and supports over 2.6 million jobs (2010 figures).
The British government has recently launched two campaigns – Visit England and Visit Britain – to assist the UK tourism industry reach its full potential. It is estimated that both campaigns will bring 4.6 million extra visitors to Britain, £2.2 billion more spending into the economy and over 60,000 new jobs between 2011 and 2015. The UK government have also made £1.7 million funding available to ‘People 1st’ to provide 500 new apprenticeship places in the tourism industry and help create 15,000 jobs.
The United Kingdom provides an incredibly diverse destination – no matter if you are chasing the fast-paced cities of London and Edinburgh, the expansive natural parks of the lakes district and Snowdonia, or the sleepy sea-side towns sweeping the coast – there is something for everyone. However, keep in mind that the population swing towards city regions is placing a strain on the traditional rural villages and local economies. The majority of the UK is extremely well connected by rail and road – so why not get out of the major cities and go exploring the people of Britain.
Experience a cosy meal in front of an open fire at a family pub, enjoy fish and chips on the beach, or go for a wander through the stunning national parks. When travelling though such rural areas, make an attempt to support local economies by staying at independent accommodation providers (and not chain hotels where possible!), ask for a local recommendation on the best spots to eat (instead of fast-food chains) and when buying gifts or souvenirs make sure it has been locally produced (not mass produced and imported).
The British Isles has experienced various political unions in its history. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland was formed in 1922 (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland), however there have been various events of unrest since then; including the establishment of the republic of Ireland (1949), a Scottish referendum (2014) and also the ongoing discussion of EU membership. The people of each member state of the United Kingdom are very proud of their own country & culture, and it is recommended that Tourists understand the unique differences of each country. For example, the Welsh are famous for their Rugby and expansive national parks. Scotland is known for the rugged coastlines and haggis. England is famous for its southern beaches and the capital; London and Northern Ireland for the HMS Titanic and hurling.
The UK is blessed with numerous habitats – such as woodlands, meadows, wetlands, and heath – and is home to a variety of wildlife. The UK has several zoo’s, farm parks, animal sanctuaries and like many countries, the quality of these facilities do vary. Farm parks – attractions where farms have opened their doors to the public and display animals – are growing in popularity, but conditions in some farms aren’t as good as they could be. When considering a visit keep the welfare of the animals as a key priority.
Recently the use of wild animals in circuses has been a very contentious political issue in the UK. The Government has now indicated that a ban will be put in place before the next general election, however, for the time being, wild animals are still being used. Tourists should avoid circuses that make use of wild animals as it is impossible to transport, train and house these animals in a humane manner.
A ‘pilot’ cull of badgers went ahead during the summer 2013 in specific areas of England. The cull is part of a government strategy aimed at reducing incidences of bovine TB in cattle. If successful, there are plans to roll it out on a much wider scale. Many wildlife organisations, including Care for the Wild, oppose the plan. Scientists, who led a previous cull which killed thousands of badgers over 10 years, concluded that culling was not an effective method of tackling TB.
London is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations. However, due to its dense population and reliance on diesel fuel for transport, air quality in central London is extremely poor. A 2015 report conducted by ‘Clean Air in London’ explained that some of London’s busiest roads, such as Oxford Street (which is typically a major tourist shopping destination) exceeds safe levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2). The report claimed that the EU and UK regulations limited NO2 levels so they must not exceed 200 micrograms per cubic metre for more than 18 hours in an entire year. At the beginning of 2015; Oxford Street had already reached 19 hours in excess of the limit by January 4. According to ‘Clean Air In London’, during 2014 Oxford Street clocked up 1,361 hours where the NO2 levels were exceeded.
Whilst central London implemented a ‘congestion charge’ in 2003, it is clear that further policy is required to improve the air quality of London’s busiest roads. The Congestion charge costs 11.50gbp per vehical per day, with revenue raised invested in improving public transport. The London Mayor has proposed a Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), however it has yet to be implemented in 2015. According to ‘Clean air in London’; Leading scientists say that many roads in central London will tend to have the highest NO2 concentrations in the world.
The Thames River meanders through central London. The Thames is a tidal river and at low tide you will see the exposed sand and piers/jettys from years gone by. The reduction of the industrial activity in central London has allowed the water quality of the river is improve – however, it is not recommended to drink or swim in the river.
Air Travel & Carbon offsets:
The UK hosts numerous international airports; such as Heathrow (London, England), Edinburgh (Scotland), Cardiff (Wales) and Birmingham (England). Today, most leading airlines flying to the UK offer an option of Carbon offsetting a seat on their flight – Carbon offsetting flights provides tourists a service to mitigate their environmental impact from air travel. Carbon offsets come in various forms – the words leading environmentally conscious airlines will have clear explanations of their offsetting project/partners on their website. For more information here.
The British Isles have variable weather that changes from day to day between different regions. British weather has somewhat of a reputation of being ‘grey and cold’, however the UK has different regional climates and which can range from 30c at the peak of summer and below freezing during winter, Typically:
- The north – cool summers, mild winters, heavy rain all year
- The South – warm summers, mild winters, light rain all year, especially summer
Below are some facts regarding daylight hours & rainfall in the UK:
- Sunshine hours are greatest along the south coast of England (average of 1,750 hours of sunshine per year) and are least in mountainous areas.
- Daylight hours – Scotland has shorter winter days and longer summer days than the rest of the UK, because it is further north. In north Scotland there are four more hours of daylight in midsummer than in London.
- Rainfall On average it rains one in three days in the UK. However, rainfall varies greatly from region to region. It is generally wetter in the west than the east and wetter in the highlands than the lowlands.
- The wettest place is Snowdonia in Wales (average annual totals exceeding 3,000 mm of rain a year), followed by the Highlands of Scotland, the Lake District, the Pennines and the moors of South West England.
- In most places in the UK it will rain twice as much in winter months as in summer months. Although in central and South East England, and parts of South East Scotland, July and August are often the wettest months of the year.
- Average temperatures in UK are warmer at lower latitudes and colder at higher latitudes. Average yearly temperatures at low altitude vary from 7°C in Shetland, in northern Scotland, to 11°C on the south-west coast of England.
- The coldest months are January and February and the warmest are July and August. In summer Scotland will be about 3°C cooler than England.
- The average daily maximum temperature at Glasgow in July is 19°C compared with 22°C in London
Energy and Climate change:
The UK energy profile paints an interesting picture. The UK consumes less energy today than it did in 1970, and this despite an extra 6.5 million people living there. This reduction in Energy consumption is put down to two factors; more efficient production and the rise of the less energy-intensive service sector (at the expense of industry). Households use 12% less, while industry uses a massive 60% less. This is largely offset by a 50% rise in energy use in the transport sector – due to the huge rise in the number of cars on the road (more than 27 million today) and the increase in the number of flights.
Today, Coal and natural gas still play a major roll in base load energy production in the UK. Moving forward, the Department of environment and climate change (DECC) expect coal and gas-fired power stations to be fitted with carbon capture and storage (CCS) – designed to siphon off CO2 and bury it underground – to start producing electricity in 2017. However, there are currently no large-scale, fully operational CCS stations in the UK. The DECC believes renewables – such as wind and solar – will take an ever greater share over the next 20 years. By 2030, it expects renewables to be by far the biggest source of energy used in electricity generation, making up about 40% of the overall mix. In the late 2020s, nuclear is also set to contribute more as the UK’s new generation of nuclear power stations comes online.
In 2010, the government promised that the UK Export Finance (UKEF), a small government department, would “become champions for British companies that develop and export innovative green technologies around the world instead of supporting investment in dirty fossil fuel energy production”. However, in early 2015 it was publicized that the department has given financial support worth just £3.6m to green energy projects around the world. By comparison, UKEF allocated £1.13bn to help fossil fuel energy operations in the same period, 314 times more. The challenge of transitioning away from fossil fuels and towards a greater mix of renewables remains to be a key discussion point in the UK.
Ecology & Geography:
From an ecological point of view, the largest mammal found in the UK is the red deer, while its smallest is the pygmy shrew. Foxes and rabbits are often seen in the countryside, and sometimes even a badger, hedgehog or weasel can be spotted. The country shelters over 200 native bird species including several varieties of puffins. It is also a temporary home to many migrating birds, making it a paradise for birdwatchers. Seasonally, dolphins and seals can be found along the shores and coastlines.
The coldest (and highest) place in the UK is Ben Nevis in Northern Scotland- altitude 1,344m – where the average temperature is less than 0°C. The Lake District National Park at 2,292 square kilometres (885 sq mi) is the largest National Park in the UK. In 2014, Rhossili Bay in the Gower, Wales, was named the best beach in the UK in the TripAdvisor awards – and also rated the 9th most amazing in the world.
Clear introductions are very important in the UK. It is helpful to give both first name and last name, even in an informal setting, as it provides more information. Speak clearly and don’t mumble; you don’t want people to be left embarrassed, forced into ‘I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your name’ excuses.
When you are introduced in formal settings, the traditional response is ‘How do you do’ (this is a salutation not a question, and requires no response – just say ‘How do you do’ back). With younger people and in more informal settings you may prefer: ‘Hello’ or ‘Hi’ (but resist adding: ‘Pleased to meet you.’)
Modern manners usually recommend maintaining eye contact. Jobseekers are taught to engage in positive eye contact with their interviewers; children are exhorted to look someone in the eye if they speak to them.
The UK is incredibly spoilt for choice when it comes to food. With an array of multicultural influences, you commonly have the option of an indian curry, japanese sushi, american burger or an english sandwich all in one street. Below is an outline of the most common UK meals:
A traditional English breakfast (also known as a cooked breakfast or a fry-up) is a cooked meal that may contain food such as sausages, bacon, kippers (herring – a type of fish – which has been covered in salt and smoked), black pudding, scrambled or fried or poached egg, mushrooms, fried tomatoes, baked beans, hash browns and toast.
A continental breakfast is a small meal and is not cooked; for example, a bread roll or croissant with cheese or ham and a cup of coffee. The most common drinks at this time of day are orange juice or a cup of breakfast tea.
A typical breakfast at home includes a selection of toast (with butter and jam/margarine), fruit (melon, grapefruit or a fruit cocktail) and cereal or porridge (a mixture of oats, hot milk and sugar).
Usually ranges from a sandwich (also known as a butty or sarnie), a warming bowl of soup and bread (common in winter), or a social pub lunch (sheppards pie, fish and chips, etc).
A Sunday roast is a traditional meal eaten by a family on Sunday. This can include roast beef with roast potatoes, parsnips, peas, Brussels sprouts, green beans, Yorkshire pudding, bread sauce and gravy. Mint sauce or redcurrant jelly is often eaten with lamb, apple sauce with pork, and horseradish sauce (a type of mustard) with beef, cranberry sauce with turkey. Stuffing may be eaten with chicken or turkey.
Locally sourced food is increasingly celebrated and England alone boasts over 100 Michelin starred restaurants.
It is estimated that over 95% of the British population are monolingual English speakers. However, keep in mind that there are many different accents that vary by region. There are various minority Celtic languages, and speakers of these are invariably bilingual English speakers. In Scotland 1.4% speak Scottish Gaelic as well as English; in Northern Ireland 6.6% of the population are bilingual in Irish Gaelic and English; in Wales, 21% also speak Welsh. Welsh is the only Celtic language that enjoys official status.
There are also large numbers of community languages, brought into the country and sustained by recent immigrant communities, which account for more than 5.5% of the population. The largest group (spoken by 2.7% of the total UK population) are South Asian languages such as Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati. Other community languages include Cantonese, Italian, Polish, Greek and Turkish. 45% of the total ethnic minority population lives in London, but community languages are spoken throughout the United Kingdom.
According to the 2011 UK Census, among those who stated a religious affiliation, Christians remained the largest group – 33.2 million, representing 59% of residents. This compares with 37.3 million (72%) in 2001. The second-most common category was “No religion”, comprising more than a quarter of the population (25.1%; 14.1 million), up from 7.7 million (14.8%) in 2001. The third-most popular category was Muslim, with numbers rising from 1.5 million (3%) to 2.7 million (4.8%) over the 10 years.