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Great Britain is an island lying to the northwest of Continental Europe. It is the ninth largest island in the world, and the largest European island. With a population of about 59.6 million people in mid-2008, it is the third most populated island on Earth. Great Britain is surrounded by over 1000 smaller islands and islets. The island of Irelandmarker lies to its west.

All of the island is territory of the sovereign state the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker, and most of the United Kingdom's territory is in Great Britain. The term "Great Britain" is sometimes used inaccurately to refer to the United Kingdom as a whole. Most of Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker, and Walesmarker are on the island, as are their respective capital cities, Londonmarker, Edinburghmarker, and Cardiffmarker.

The Kingdom of Great Britain resulted from the political union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland on 1 May, 1707 under Queen Anne. It existed until 1801 when the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker and the Kingdom of Ireland were united. This resulted in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker. This in turn became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker in 1922 with the secession of the Irish Free State.

Political definition

Great Britain is the largest island of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker. Politically, Great Britain also refers to Englandmarker, Scotlandmarker and Walesmarker in combination, and therefore also includes a number of outlying islands such as the Isle of Wightmarker, Angleseymarker, the Isles of Scillymarker, the Hebridesmarker, and the island groups of Orkneymarker and Shetlandmarker. It does not include the Isle of Manmarker and the Channel Islands which are not part of the United Kingdom, instead being self-governing dependent territories of that state with their own legislative and taxation systems.

The union of the kingdoms of England and Scotland began with the 1603 Union of Crowns, a personal union under James VI of Scotland, I of England. The political union that joined the two countries happened in 1707, with the Acts of Union merging the parliaments of each nation, and forming the Kingdom of Great Britainmarker, which covered the entire island.

In 1801, an Act of Union between Great Britain and Irelandmarker created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker (UK). This in turn became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker in 1922, following the partition of Ireland and the creation of the Irish Free State.

Geographical definition

Great Britain lies to the northwest of Continental Europe and east of Irelandmarker. It is separated from the continent by the North Seamarker and by the English Channelmarker, which narrows to at the Straits of Dovermarker. It stretches over about ten degrees of latitude on its longer, north-south axis, and occupies an area of 209,331 km² (80,823 square miles). Geographically, the island is marked by low, rolling countryside in the east and south, while hills and mountains predominate in the western and northern regions. It is surrounded by over 1,000 smaller islands and islets.

It is the third most populous island after Javamarker and Honshūmarker.

The English Channelmarker is thought to have been created between 450,000 and 180,000 years ago by two catastrophic glacial lake outburst floods caused by the breaching of the Weald-Artois Anticline, a ridge which held back a large proglacial lake, now submerged under the North Sea. Around 10,000 years ago, during the Devensian glaciation with its lower sea level, Great Britain was not an island, but an upland region of northwestern Europe, lying partially underneath the Eurasian ice sheet. The sea level was about lower than today, and the bed of the North Sea was dry and acted as a land bridge to Europe, now known as Doggerland. It is generally thought that as sea levels gradually rose after the end of the last glacial period of the current ice age, Doggerland became submerged beneath the North Sea, cutting off what was previously the British peninsula from the European mainland by around 6500BC. An alternative hypothesis is that much of the land was inundated about the same time by a tsunami, caused by a submarine landslide off the coast of Norwaymarker known as the Storegga Slidemarker.


The island was first inhabited by people who had crossed over the land bridge from the European mainland. Traces of early humans have been found in Great Britain from some 700,000 years ago and modern humans from about 30,000 years ago. Until about 10,000 years ago, Great Britain was joined to Irelandmarker, and as recently as 8,000 years ago it was joined to the continent by a strip of low marsh to what is now Denmarkmarker and the Netherlandsmarker. In Cheddar Gorgemarker near Bristolmarker, the remains of animal species native to mainland Europe such as antelopes, brown bears, and wild horses have been found alongside a human skeleton, 'Cheddar Man', dated to about 7150 B.C. Thus, animals and humans must have moved between mainland Europe and Great Britain via a crossing. Great Britain became an island at the end of the Pleistocene ice age when sea levels rose due to isostatic depression of the crust and the melting of glaciers.

Its Iron Age inhabitants are known as the Britons, a group speaking a Celtic language. The Romans conquered most of the island (up to Hadrian's Wallmarker, in northern Englandmarker) and this became the Ancient Roman province of Britannia. For 500 years after the Roman Empire fell, the Britons of the south and east of the island were assimilated or displaced by invading Germanic tribes (Angles, Saxons, and Jutes, often referred to collectively as Anglo-Saxons). At about the same time Gaelic-speaking Scots invaded from Ireland, absorbing both the Picts and Britons of northern Britain, and in the 9th Century the Kingdom of Scotlandmarker was formed. The south-east of Scotland was colonised by the Angles and formed, until 1018, a part of the Kingdom of Northumbriamarker. Ultimately, the population of south-east Britain came to be referred to, after the Angles, as the English people.

Germanic speakers referred to Britons as Welsh. This term eventually came to be applied exclusively to the inhabitants of what is now Walesmarker, but it also survives in names such as Wallace, and in the second syllable of Cornwallmarker. Cymry, a name the Britons used to describe themselves, is similarly restricted in modern Welsh to people from Wales, but also survives in English in the place name of Cumbriamarker. The Britons living in the areas now known as Wales and Cornwall, were not assimilated by the Germanic tribes, a fact reflected in the survival of Celtic languages in these areas into modern times. At the time of the Germanic invasion of Southern Britain, many Britons emigrated to the area now known as Brittany, where Breton, a Celtic language closely related to Welsh and Cornish and descended from the language of the emigrants, is still spoken. In the ninth century, a series of Danish assaults on northern English kingdoms led to them coming under Danish control (an area known as the Danelawmarker). In the tenth century, however, all the English kingdoms were unified under one ruler as the kingdom of Englandmarker. In 1066, England was conquered by the Normans, who introduced a French ruling élite that was eventually assimilated. Wales came under Anglo-Norman control in 1282, and was officially annexed to England in the sixteenth century.

On 20 October 1604 King James (who had succeeded separately to the two thrones of England and Scotland) proclaimed himself as 'King of Great Brittaine, France and Ireland', a title that continued to be used by many of his successors. However, England and Scotland each remained legally in existence as separate countries with their own parliaments until 1707, when an Act of Union joined both parliaments. That act used two different terms to describe the new all-island nation, a 'United Kingdom' and the 'Kingdom of Great Britain'. However, the former term is regarded by many as having been a description of the union rather than its formal name at that stage. Most reference books therefore, describe the all-island kingdom that existed between 1707 and 1800 as the "Kingdom of Great Britain".

In 1801, under a new Act of Union, this kingdom merged with the Kingdom of Ireland, over which the monarch of Great Britain had ruled. The new kingdom was called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Irelandmarker. In 1922, 26 of Ireland's 32 counties attained dominion status within the British Empire, forming a separate Irish Free State. The remaining truncated kingdom is named the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker.



The oldest mentions of terms related to the formal name of Britain was made by Aristotle (c. 384–322 BC), in his text On the Universe, Vol. III. To quote his works, “ the ocean however, are two islands, and those very large, called Bretannic, Albion and Ierna....”The archipelago has been referred to by a single name for over two thousand years, the term British Isles derives from terms used by classical geographers to describe the island group. Pliny the Elder (c. 23–79 AD) in his Natural History (iv.xvi.102) records of Great Britain: “It was itself named Albion, while all the islands about which we shall soon briefly speak were called the Britanniae.”

The earliest known name of Great Britain is Albion (Ἀλβίων) or insula Albionum, from either the Latin albus meaning white (referring to the white cliffs of Dovermarker, the first view of Britain from the continent) or the "island of the Albiones", first mentioned in the Massaliote Periplus and by Pytheas.

The name Britain descends from the Latin name for Britain, Brittania or Brittānia, the land of the Britons. Old French Bretaigne (whence also Modern French Bretagne) and Middle English Bretayne, авBreteyne. The French form replaced the Old English Breoton, Breoten, Bryten, Breten (also Breoton-lond, Breten-lond). Brittania was used by the Romans from the 1st century BC for the British Islesmarker taken together. It is derived from the travel writings of the ancient Greek Pytheas around 320 BC, which described various islands in the North Atlantic as far North as Thule (probably Icelandmarker).

The peoples of these islands of Prettanike were called the Πρεττανοι, Priteni or Pretani.Priteni is the source of the Welsh language term Prydain, Britain, which has the same source as the Goidelic term Cruithne used to refer to the early Brythonic speaking inhabitants of Ireland. The latter were later called Picts or Caledonians by the Romans.

Derivation of "Great"

After the Old English period, Britain was used as a historical term only.Geoffrey of Monmouth in his pseudohistorical Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136) refers to the island of Great Britain as Britannia major ("Greater Britain"), to distinguish it from Britannia minor ("Lesser Britain"), the continental region which approximates to modern Brittany. The term "Great Britain" was first used officially in 1474, in the instrument drawing up the proposal for a marriage between Cecily the daughter of Edward IV of England, and James the son of James III of Scotland, which described it as "this Nobill Isle, callit Gret Britanee." It was used again in 1604, when King James VI and I, in a deliberate attempt to impose a term which would unite his double inheritance of the kingdoms of Scotland and England, proclaimed his assumption of the throne in the style "King of Great Britain, France, and Ireland ..."

Use of the term Great Britain

"Great Britain" refers to the majority of the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Irelandmarker" (UK). It refers to the largest island only, or to England, Scotland and Wales as a unit (though these three countries also include many smaller islands). It does not include Northern Ireland.

In 1975 the government affirmed that the term Britain, not Great Britain, could be used as a shortened form of the United Kingdom. British refers, however, to all citizens of the United Kingdom—including Welsh, Scottish, English, and Northern Irish.

The abbreviations GB and GBR are used in some international codes as a synonym for the United Kingdom. Examples include: Universal Postal Union, international sports teams, NATOmarker, the International Organization for Standardization country codes ISO 3166-2 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-3, and international licence plate codes, among others.

On the Internet, .uk is used as a country code top-level domain for the United Kingdom. A .gb top-level domain was also used to a limited extent in the past, but this is now effectively obsolete because the domain name registrar will not take new registrations.



Animal diversity is modest, as a result of factors including the island's small land area, the relatively recent age of the habitats developed since the last Ice Age and the island's physical separation from continental Europe, and the effects of seasonal variability. Great Britain has also gone through industrialisation and increasing urbanisation, which have contributed towards the overall loss of species. A DEFRAmarker study from 2006 suggested that 100 species have become extinct in the UK during the 20th century, about 100 times the background extinction rate. However, some species, such as the brown rat, red fox, and introduced grey squirrel, are well adapted to urban areas.

Rodents make up 40% of the total number of mammal species in Great Britain. These include squirrels, mice, voles, rats and the recently reintroduced European beaver. There is also an abundance of rabbits, hares, hedgehogs, shrews, moles and several species of bat. Carnivorous mammals include the fox, badger, otter, weasel, stoat and elusive wildcat. Various species of seal, whale and dolphin are found on or around British shores and coastlines. The largest land-based wild animals today are deer. The red deer is the largest species, with roe deer and fallow deer also prominent; the latter was introduced by the Normans. Habitat loss has affected many species. Extinct large mammals include the brown bear, grey wolf and wild boar; the latter has had a limited reintroduction in recent times.

There is a wealth of birdlife in Britain, 583 species in total, of which 258 breed on the island or remain during winter. Because of its mild winters for its latitude, Great Britain hosts important numbers of many wintering species, particularly ducks, geese and swans. Other well known bird species include the golden eagle, grey heron, kingfisher, pigeon, sparrow, pheasant, partridge, and various species of crow, finch, gull, auk, grouse, owl and falcon. There are six species of reptile on the island; three snakes and three lizards including the legless slow worm. One snake, the adder, is venomous but rarely deadly. Amphibians present are frogs, toads and newts.


In a similar sense to fauna, and for similar reasons, the flora of Great Britain is impoverished compared to that of continental Europe. Great Britain's flora comprises 3354 vascular plant species in total, of which 2297 are native and 1057 have been introduced into the island. The island has a wide variety of trees, including native species of birch, beech, ash, hawthorn, elm, oak, yew, pine, cherry and apple. Other trees have been naturalised, introduced especially from other parts of Europe (particularly Norwaymarker) and North America. Introduced trees include several varieties of pine, chestnut, maple, spruce, sycamore and fir, as well as cherry plum and pear trees. The tallest species are the Douglas firs; two specimens have been recorded measuring 65 meters or 212 feet. The Fortingall Yewmarker in Perthshiremarker is the oldest tree in Europe.

There are at least 1500 different species of wildflower in Britain, Some 107 species are particularly rare or vulnerable and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is illegal to uproot any wildflowers without the landowner's permission.A vote in 2002 nominated various wildflowers to represent specific counties. These include red poppies, bluebells, daisies, daffodils, rosemary, gorse, iris, ivy, mint, orchids, brambles, thistles, buttercups, primrose, thyme, tulips, violets, cowslip, heather and many more. There are also many species of algae, lichens, fungi and mosses across the island.


Capital cities

Capitals of countries of the United Kingdom in Great Britain:

Other major cities

Cities with a population of over 300,000 in Great Britain (not including the capital cities listed above):

Birminghammarker, Glasgowmarker, Liverpoolmarker, Leedsmarker, Sheffieldmarker, Bristolmarker, Nottinghammarker, Manchestermarker, Leicestermarker and Coventrymarker.

See also




External links

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