The United Kingdom

The United Kingdom – most people in our country do not know the correct name!


  1. Look at this packaging, what does it tell people about life in Wales? Note down at least five things.
  2. Are they a good description of the Wales where you live?


map flags

In 2014 just about the biggest news event was the referendum in Scotland; on whether it would leave the United Kingdom. In 2015 the biggest news event will probably be the general election in May.

In this edition of Geography in the News we are going to investigate "What is the United Kingdom?". In the next edition we will investigate the general election in more detail.

We often call our country the United Kingdom, U.K., Britain or Great Britain, however officially it is called The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The United Kingdom part of the name dates back to the year 1801; union began with Acts of Union of 1536 and 1543 between Wales and England. In 1707 the parliaments of Scotland and England & Wales passed the Act of Union and we became the Kingdom of Great Britain. In 1801 the Acts of Union between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland formed The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. In 1922 most of Ireland became an independent country (only Northern Ireland did not) and we became The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The United Kingdom is made up of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England (sometimes called the home countries or home nations), however around the world there are other places which are not part of The United Kingdom but that the United Kingdom has sovereignty over; there are three Crown dependencies and fourteen British Overseas Territories.

The Crown dependencies are self-governing possessions of the Crown. They are the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey (which includes islands of Sark & Alderney which also have their own elected version of a parliament/assembly) and the Isle of Man. Even though they are not independent countries, they each have their own version of a parliament/assembly and pass their own laws.

The 14 British Overseas Territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory; the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha; the Turks and Caicos Islands; the Pitcairn Islands; South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and Sovereign Base Areas on Cyprus. Most of these are parts of the British Empire which chose not to become independent though some are part of negotiated treaties with another country.



The map shows the extent of the British Empire, most of the countries of the British Empire became independent countries after the end of second world war. Many became republics, some chose to keep the British Monarch (currently Queen Elizabeth 2nd) as Head of State and some chose to retain a monarchy but with a different monarch. Many of these countries joined The Commonwealth of Nations which today has 53 member states, most were part of the British Empire or have a strong connection to an existing member that was. As well as cultural activities such as the Commonwealth Games, member states try to work together to further the economic development of each member and promote values such as democracy and freedom.

The Physical Geography of The United Kingdom


This is a satellite image taken by NASA of the United Kingdom, from it we can see a lot of physical geography; physical geography is the natural stuff that would be there even if human beings were not here. However it is important to remember that human beings may change the physical geography.

With your friends try to point out the following places on the image using only your existing knowledge (give yourself a score – then try to find them in an atlas (book or online):

The Four Home Countries:

  • Wales
  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland
  • England

Around The Coastline


  • Isle of Anglesey (biggest in Wales)
  • Isle of Wight (biggest in England)
  • Lewis with Harris (biggest in U.K.)
  • Isle of Man


  • Bristol Channel/Severn Estuary
  • Cardigan Bay
  • Thames Estuary
  • The Wash
  • Firth of Forth

Other Major Coastal Locations

  • Gower Peninsula (peninsula = area of land surround by water on three sides)
  • LLŷn Peninsula
  • Cape Wrath
  • John o’ Groats
  • Land’s End
  • Dunnet Head
  • Orkney Islands

The Biggest Lake

  • Lough Neagh



The satellite image also gives a lot of information on relief; relief is the about the shape of the land, how high it is or how flat or steep it is. Compare the satellite image with this relief map.

Again try to identify the following areas first from any you already know (give yourself a score) and then use an atlas or go online:

  • Snowdonia
  • Brecon Beacons
  • Cambrian Mountains
  • Cairngorms
  • Scottish Highlands
  • Southern Uplands
  • Grampian Mountains
  • Lake District
  • Pennines
  • Dartmoor
  • Mourne Mountains
  • The Fens

The lowest area in the U.K. is The Fens area of East Anglia which is 4 metres below sea level.

Try to find out the height in metres of the following highest mountains in each of the home countries.






Height (metres)


Ben Nevis

Find This Out



Find This Out


Scafell Pike

Find This Out

Northern Ireland

Slieve Donard

Find This Out


Rivers are another important part of physical geography.  Try to complete the table below by finding out the length of these rivers in km.



Height (metres)


Ben Nevis

Find This Out



Find This Out


Scafell Pike

Find This Out

Northern Ireland

Slieve Donard

Find This Out


The area is usually how much space there is on a flat surface. The table below gives this information for each of the home countries. When thinking about area, relief also needs to be looked at; the old joke that ‘if Wales were flattened out it would be bigger than England’  is NOT true but it makes us realise that in a country with so many hills and mountains, things are a bit more complicated than just measuring the areas of Wales and England, and making decisions based just on that. This will be explored further in the Wales article.




130,427 km2


78,772 km2


20,778 km2

Northern Ireland

13,843 km2

Total Area

Work This Out

Why is all of this important?

The physical geography affects your life or more importantly the quality of life. Most people have the ‘Chocolate Box’ idea about life, meaning the beautiful picture of mountains or sea that we might see on a box of chocolates or other sweets, especially the ones on sale to tourists. But life is not like this, mountains, rivers, coastal inlets, islands and the ends of remote peninsulas like the Llŷn Peninsula, Gower Peninsula or most of Pembrokeshire all make it much further and more expensive to travel or provide services like health care, social care, refuse (rubbish) collection/disposal and education. Wales is just about made up of all of these; even the main road into South Wales where most of the people live, crosses the Bristol Channel/Severn Estuary by two bridges, and every car, van or lorry bringing people, goods or taking things in and out of Wales for every factory, farm or dairy in the southern third of our country has to pay a heavy toll (price) just to cross that bridge.

On average it is much more expensive to live in Wales than to live in England!

Key Aspects of the Human Geography of The United Kingdom

Human geography are the things that we find that humans are responsible for; major things like population (the number of people in a place or area), where people live (settlement/settlements), where people work or make money, how people get from one place to another (transport) and how we get our energy such as electricity or petrol. The list could be much bigger looking at everything from health to crime and even sports such as football.

Demography of the United Kingdom

Demography is the study of population, every ten years the United Kingdom carries out a census which is a detailed study of all the people in the country. The last census was carried out in 2011 and the next one will be in 2021; every household/home or place of residence is issued with a detail book of questions about everyone who lives there. The census is the main source of information on demography in the United Kingdom as well as on many other factors that affect the people living here. This information is used in many aspects of decision making; something that you will be asked to do later.

Population in the United Kingdom









Northern Ireland


Total Population

Work This Out

The population of the United Kingdom is increasing at the moment and it is predicted that it will increase by around 10 million people over the next 20 years. Planning for such a large increase is a reason why the human geography study of demography is so important to decision makers.


Settlement in geography means a place where people live; it could be a city, town, village or hamlet. In geography we may describe a place as urban (refers to areas which are mainly buildings like towns or cities) or rural (places which are mainly countryside with perhaps a few villages or smaller towns).

In the 2011 census, which is carried out and analysed by the United Kingdom government, the term urban area was replaced by the term built-up areas - these can be found in the table. Most of the largest ones are conurbations (conurbation is the name that we give to areas where different towns and cities have grown together or merged). For the census to class a town or city as being part of a larger urban area there must be less than a space of 200 metres between them without any buildings. Using this definition, this means that Penarth, Caerphilly & Pontypridd are actually part of the Cardiff Built-up area.





Greater London* Built-up area



Greater Manchester Built-up area



West Midlands (around Birmingham) Built-up area



West Yorkshire (around Leeds) Built-up area






Liverpool Built-up area



South Hampshire (around Southampton) Built-up area



Tyneside (around Newcastle) Built-up area



Nottingham Built-up area



Sheffield Built-up area



Bristol Built-up area









Cardiff* Built-up area



Newport Built-up area



Swansea Built-up area



Wrexham (not ranked)


* indicates a capital city of a home nation

Question - Discuss and Decide

The Census showed that overall 81.5% of the people living in England and Wales combined were in urban areas however this figure was only 67% for Wales. This means that around 15% more people in Wales live in rural areas compared to England. 

Question - Discuss and Decide

It is much more expensive to provide services such as health and education in a rural area than in an urban area. Very simply, it costs more per person to provide for people in Wales than it does to provide for people in England. Large urban areas are the cheapest, so London often outperforms other areas in terms of things like education, largely because it is cheaper to provide services, so more money is available compared to Wales to make these services better.


Transport is a major part of human geography, think about the following information; according to www.distancebetween.com it is 132 miles from Cardiff to London in a straight line. It is 139 miles from Cardiff to Holyhead which is our main port for trade with Ireland and Northern Ireland. At 5pm on a Tuesday night Google maps estimated this journey to take 2 hours and 59 minutes to travel from Cardiff to London by car. At the same time it estimated the journey between Cardiff and Holyhead to take 4 hours and 41 minutes by car.

Question – Discuss and Decide after looking again at the relief map.

The simple answer is the high relief in Wales; Wales has so many mountains and to get from Cardiff to Holyhead isn't straightforward.

Question – Discuss and Decide after looking again at the relief map.

The route from Cardiff to Holyhead goes through the Brecon Beacons, the Cambrian Mountains and finally Snowdonia. It is very expensive to build roads through mountain areas so the journey is along older, smaller roads winding around hills and mountains, or taking a detour to go up a river valley to find flatter land. 



Work and employment is a very big part of human geography. In Wales we face a number of challenges which increase the needs of the people living here. Until approximately 30 years ago many jobs in Wales involved coal mining, steel production and heavy engineering.

Compared to the rest of the U.K. Wales had, and still has, much lower numbers of people employed in services and far more people involved in manufacturing or in primary activities, obtaining resources such as coal directly from the planet.

Look at the graphic of changes in Employment since the census of 1841. 

How do you think this will affect Wales Compared to England?



These jobs could affect the health of workers in terrible ways; partly due to many people over the age of 55 having increased health problems, and in some areas, levels of disability are far higher than U.K. averages.


Many of these jobs such as coal mining and steel making were found in locations controlled by the presence of certain raw materials such as coal and iron oreMany of our towns grew up around these old jobs; as the jobs closed down our towns were just in the wrong places for most of the newer types of jobs. The result of this is that people may either have had to travel long distances each day to work, or worse, be trapped in a place where there are very few well-paying jobs or in some places any jobs at all.


Decision Making Exercise

First try to read the rest of the linked resources and attempt to complete the student resource sheet.

The Welsh Government has decided to produce a guide for voters in Wales to understand the big battles in this year’s general election.

Fair Funding

As a geographer decide (give detailed reasons why you chose your option and did not choose the others) and advise the Welsh Government whether the United Kingdom government in London should allocate money for Wales as one of the following:

  • More money to Wales so that it comes into line with Scotland and the people of Wales receive the same amount of money per person as if Wales were a region of England based on their needs.
  • Less money to Wales so that it is the same per person as in England where needs are much lower.
  • Things should stay the same.

EU Referendum

As a geographer decide (give detailed reasons why you chose your option and did not choose the others) and:

  • Advise on the likely impacts in Wales if the United Kingdom should leave the European Union.
  • Advise on the likely impacts in Wales if the United Kingdom should stay in the European Union.

Parliamentary Reform

As a geographer decide (give detailed reasons why you chose your option and did not choose the others) and:

  • Advise on the likely impacts in Wales if the United Kingdom Parliament should have just English Votes for English Matters.

Advise on the likely impacts in Wales if the number United Kingdom Parliament MP’s should drop from 40 out of 650 to just 18 out of 650.

The resource is designed to be used as whole class resource from the front of the classroom on the projector/interactive whiteboard. The various graphics should be supported by teacher exposition based on the text which will not be readable in permitted time to the vast majority of pupils, following this it is ideal that the students have access to the online resource in order to work on the activity sheet (designed to be printed on A3 size paper). Ideally these activities will be supported by the use of a network room, tablets/laptops or students own phones if permitted. However the activities are also designed to be used in a typical one hour lesson with the teacher input using the resource from the front of the classroom alongside the resource sheet. Students can then be set a homework task to study the three articles in advance of the following lesson.

The resource and accompanying sheet is designed to support the LNF framework while giving students key geographical knowledge (elements of the cultural literacy as put forward by E.D. Hirsch and driving much of the current ideological change in English curriculum) about places in order to make an informed decision on a very important real life and big current news issue – fair funding for Wales.

Either in class or at home read and complete the activities in the online resource article and in the linked articles in this edition of Geography in the News. Attempt to complete all of the activities in the resource sheet.

What you will learn:

  • You will increase your knowledge about different places
  • You will increase your understanding of how these differences in places affect human beings and human geography
  • You will have you the opportunity to learn or practice important literacy and numeracy skills.
  • You will learn and gain experience in decision making

You will learn new geographical terms highlighted in purple these should be learned and added to a glossary. A glossary is a list of words and their meanings. You could have one in the back of your geography exercise book, if you have a planner it is probably a good place to keep a glossary, or you may keep a separate glossary or word book. A good glossary helps you build your vocabulary and your literacy.


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