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South West England is one of the regions of England. It is the largest such region in terms of area, covering including Bristolmarker, Gloucestershiremarker, Somersetmarker, Dorsetmarker, Wiltshiremarker, Devonmarker, Cornwallmarker and the Isles of Scillymarker. It has a population of almost five million, and includes the area often known as the West Country, and much of Wessexmarker. The size of the region is shown by the fact that the northern part of Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campdenmarker, is as close to the Scottish border as it is to the tip of Cornwall. The largest city is Bristolmarker, and other major urban centres include Plymouthmarker, Swindonmarker, Bournemouthmarker, Gloucestermarker, and Exetermarker.

Traditionally, the South West of England has been well known for producing Cheddar cheese, which originated in the Somersetmarker village of Cheddarmarker, for Devonmarker cream teas, and for cider. It is now probably equally well known as the home of the Eden Projectmarker, Aardman Animations, the Glastonbury festivalmarker, the Bristol International Balloon Fiestamarker, trip hop music and also Cornwall's famous seafood restaurants and surfing beaches. Two National Parks and four World Heritage Sites, including Stonehengemarker, fall within the region's boundaries. Key data and facts about the region are produced by the South West Observatory.


Geology and landscape

Most of the South West occupies a peninsula between the English Channelmarker and Bristol Channelmarker. It has of coastline—the longest of any region of England—much of which is now protected from further substantial development because of its environmental importance, which contributes to the region’s attractiveness to tourists and residents.

Geologically the region is divided into the largely igneous and metamorphic west and sedimentary east, the dividing line slightly to the west of the River Exe. Cornwall and West Devon's landscape is of rocky coastline and high moorland, notably at Bodmin Moormarker and Dartmoormarker National Park. These are due to the granite and slate that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhaysmarker, at , on Dartmoormarker. In North Devon the slates of the west and limestones of the east meet at Exmoormarker National Park. The variety of rocks of similar ages seen here have led to the county's name being lent to that of the Devonian period.

The east of the region is characterised by wide, flat clay vales and chalk and limestone downland. The vales, with good irrigation, are home to the region's dairy agriculture. The Blackmore Vale was Thomas Hardy's "Vale of the Little Dairies"; another, the Somerset Levels was created by reclaiming wetlands. The Southern England Chalk Formation extends into the region, creating a series of high, sparsely populated and archaeologically rich downs, most famously Salisbury Plainmarker, but also Cranborne Chasemarker, the Dorset Downsmarker and the Purbeck Hillsmarker. These downs are the principal area of arable agriculture in the region. Limestone is also found in the region, at the Cotswoldsmarker, Quantock Hillsmarker and Mendip Hillsmarker, where they support sheep farming. All of the principal rock types can be seen on the Jurassic Coastmarker of Dorset and East Devon, where they document the entire Mesozoic era from west to east.


The climate of South West England is classed as oceanic (Cfb) according to the Köppen climate classification. The oceanic climate typically experiences cool winters with warmer summers and precipitation all year round, with more experienced in winter. Annual rainfall is about and up to on higher ground. Summer maxima averages range from to and winter minimum averages range from to across the south-west. It is the second windiest area of the United Kingdom, the majority of winds coming from the south-west and north-east. Government organisations predict the region to rise in temperature and become the hottest region in the United Kingdom.

Inland areas of low altitude experience the least amount of precipitation. They experience the highest summer maxima temperatures, but winter minima are colder than the coast. Snowfalls are more frequent in comparison to the coast, but less so in comparison to higher ground. It experiences the lowest wind speeds and sunshine total in between that of the coast and the moors. The climate of inland areas is more noticeable the further north-east into the region.

In comparison to inland areas, the coast experiences high minimum temperatures, especially in winter, and it experiences slightly lower maximum temperatures during the summer. Rainfall is the lowest at the coast and snowfall is rarer than the rest of the region. Coastal areas are the windiest parts of the peninsula and they receive the most sunshine. The general coastal climate is more typical the further south-west into the region.

Areas of moorland inland such as: Bodmin moormarker, Dartmoormarker and Exmoormarker experience lower temperatures and more precipitation than the rest of the south west (approximately twice as much rainfall as lowland areas), because of their high altitude. Both of these factors also cause it to experience the highest levels of snowfall and the lowest levels of sunshine. Exposed areas of the moors are windier than lowlands and can be almost as windy as the coast.


The South West region is largely rural, with small towns and villages; a higher proportion of people live in such areas than in any other English region. The largest cities and towns are Bristolmarker, Plymouthmarker, Bournemouthmarker and Poolemarker (collectively the South East Dorset conurbationmarker), Swindonmarker, Gloucestermarker, Cheltenhammarker, Torbaymarker, Exetermarker, Bathmarker, Weston-super-Maremarker, Salisburymarker, Tauntonmarker and Weymouthmarker. The population of the South West is about five million.


The region lies on several main line railways. The Great Western Main Line runs from London to Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzancemarker in the far west of Cornwall. The South Western Main Line runs from London and Southampton to Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth in Dorset. The West of England Main Line runs from London to Exeter via south Wiltshire, north Dorset and south Somerset. The Wessex Main Line runs from Bristol to Salisbury and on to Southampton. The Heart of Wessex Line runs from Bristolmarker in the north of the region to Weymouth on the south Dorsetmarker coast via Westburymarker, Castle Carymarker and Yeovilmarker, with most services starting at Gloucestermarker.

Three major roads enter the region from the east. The M4 motorway from London to South Wales via Bristol is the busiest. The A303 cuts through the centre of the region from Salisbury to Honitonmarker, where it merges with the A30 to continue past Exeter to the west of Cornwall. The A31, an extension of the M27, serves Poole and Bournemouth and the Dorset coast. The M5 runs from the West Midlands through Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset to Exeter. The A38 serves as a western extension to Plymouth. There are three other smaller motorways in the region, all in the Bristol area.

Transport policy

As part of the transport planning system the Regional Assembly is under statutory requirement to produce a Regional Transport Strategy to provide long term planning for transport in the region. This involves region wide transport schemes such as those carried out by the Highways Agency and Network Rail.

Within the region the local transport authorities carry out transport planning through the use of a Local Transport Plan which outlines their strategies, policies and implementation programme. The most recent LTP is that for the period 2006-11. In the South West region the following transport authorities have published their LTP online: Bournemouthmarker U.A., Cornwallmarker U.A., Devonmarker, Dorsetmarker, Gloucestershiremarker, Plymouthmarker U.A., Somersetmarker, Swindonmarker U. A., Torbaymarker U. A. and Wiltshire unitary authority. The transport authorities of Bath and North East Somerset U. A., Bristolmarker U. A., North Somerset U. A. and South Gloucestershire U. A. publish a single Joint Local Transport Plan as part of the West of England Partnership.


In many histories of the region the South West is taken to cover only Devon and Cornwall. The remaining counties are often taken to be part of Wessex.
Stonehenge in Wiltshire, one of the UK's most famous landmarks.


There is some evidence of human occupation of southern England before the last ice age, such as Kent's Cavern in Devon, but largely in the south east. The British mainland was connected to the continent during the ice age and humans may have repeatedly migrated into and out of the region as the climate fluctuated. There is evidence of human habitation in the caves at Cheddar Gorgemarker 10,000–11,000 years BC, during a partial thaw in the ice age. The landscape at this time was tundra. Britain's oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man, lived at Cheddar Gorge around 7150 BC (the Upper Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age), shortly after the end of the ice age, however it is unclear whether the region was continually inhabited during the previous 4,000 years, or if humans returned to the gorge after a final cold spell. The earliest scientifically dated cemetery in Britainmarker was found at Aveline's Holemarker in the Mendip Hillsmarker. The human bone fragments it contained, from about 21 different individuals, are thought to be between roughly 10,200 and 10,400 years old.During this time the tundra gave way to birch forests and grassland and evidence for human settlement appears at Salisbury Plainmarker, Wiltshire and Hengistbury Headmarker,Dorset.

The region was heavily populated during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods. Many monuments, barrows and trackways exist. Coin evidence shows that the region was split between the Durotriges, Dobunni and Dumnonii.

Roman period

During the Roman era, the east of the region, particularly in the Cotswolds and eastern Somerset, was heavily Romanised but was much less so in Devon and Cornwall, though Exeter was the regional capital. Villas, farms and temples relating to the period exist in the region, including the remains at Bath.


After the Romans left at the start of the fifth century AD, the region split into several British kingdoms, including Dumnonia, centred around the old tribal territory of the Dumnonii. The upper Thames area soon came under Anglo-Saxon control but the remainder of the region was British controlled until the 6th century. The Anglo-Saxons then gained control of the Cotswold area but most of Somerset, Dorset and Devon (as well as Cornwall) remained in British hands until the late 7th century. Although King Alfred had lands in Cornwall, it continued to have a British king. It is generally considered that Cornwallmarker came fully under the dominion of the English Crown in the time of Athelstan's rule, i.e. 924-939. In the absence of any specific documentation to record this event, supporters of Cornwall's "English status" presume that it was made a part of England as a result. However, within a mere five years of Athelstan's death, King Edmund issued a charter, in AD 944, styling himself "King of the English and ruler of this province of the Britons". Thus we can see that then the "province" was a territorial possession, which has long claimed a special relationship to the English Crown.

During the latter part of the pre-Norman period, the eastern seaboard of modern day England became increasingly under the sway of the Norse. Eventually England became ruled by Norse monarchs, and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms fell one by one, with Wessexmarker being conquered in 1013 by King Sweyn Forkbeard. Notably, while Sweyn's realms, which included Denmarkmarker and Norwaymarker in the north, and modern day English areas such as Merciamarker (an Anglian kingdom of the current Midlandsmarker), much of which, along with northern England, fell under the "Danelawmarker". But while Sweyn ruled Wessex, along with his other realms, from 1013 onwards, followed by his son Canute the Great, Cornwall was not part of his realm of Wessex. A map by the American historian called the "The Dominions of Canute" (pictured just above) show that Cornwall, like Wales and Scotland, was neither part of Sweyn Forkbeard's nor Canute's Danish empire. Neither Sweyn Forkbeard nor Canute properly conquered or controlled Scotland, Wales or Cornwall; these modern day Celtic nations were both "client nations" who had to pay a yearly tribute or danegeld to both Sweyn and Canute, but, provided they did so, Scotland, Wales and Cornwall could keep their autonomy from the Danes. Ultimately, the Danes' control of Wessex was lost in 1042 with the death of both of Canute's sons (Edward the Confessor retook Wessex for the Saxons) but nevertheless this important piece of history, that Cornwall was not part of the Danes' empire, is critical and shows that both the Saxons and the Danes had very little political input into Cornwall during the pre-Norman conquest era.

Middle Ages

After the Norman Conquest the region was controlled by various Norman lords and later by local lords of the manor. The period saw the growth of towns in the region but they remained comparatively small. Wealth grew from sheep farming in the east of the region while tin mining was important in Devon and Cornwall. The organisation of the region was based on the various shires, which remained largely unchanged throughout the period. During the reign of Elizabeth I there was a "Council of the West".

The British language probably was little spoken outside Cornwall during this period, and retreated westward until it was no longer a first language by the 18th century.

Modern history

The boundaries of the South West Region are essentially the same as those devised by central government in the 1930s for civil defence administration, and subsequently used for various statistical analyses. The region is also identical (subject to minor boundary adjustments) to that used in the 17th century Rule of the Major-Generals under Cromwell. (For further information, see Historical and alternative regions of England).

By the 1960s, the South West Region (including Dorset, which for some previous purposes had been included in a Southern region), was widely recognised for government administration and statistics. The boundaries were carried forward into the 1990s, when regional administrations were formally established as Government Office Regions. A regional assembly and regional development agency were added in 1999.

However, except as an administrative tool, the South West does not have a historically based unity, which has led many to criticise it as an artificial construct. The large area of the region, stretching as it does from the Isles of Scillymarker to Gloucestershiremarker, encompasses diverse areas who have no more in common with each other than with other areas of England. The region has several TV stations and newspapers covering different areas, and - unlike almost all other English regions - has no acknowledged single regional "capital". The people of the region generally do not feel a 'South West' regional identity, often preferring a county (or Duchy) based affiliation.


Key population data for
South West England
Total population 4,928,434
Foreign born 9.4%
White 97.7%
Asian 0.7%
Black 0.4%
Christian 74.0%
Muslim 0.5%
Hindu 0.2%
No religion 16.8%
Over 75 years old 9.3%
Unemployed 2.6%
According to the 2001 census the population of the South West region was 4,928,434. It had grown in the last 20 years by 12.5% from 4,381,400 in mid-1981, making it the fastest growing region in England. Teignbridgemarker in Devonmarker had the largest population gain with 26.3% and Devon as whole grew by 17.6%. Population falls occurred in Bristolmarker and Plymouthmarker.For top-tier authorities, Torbay has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the region, with Exeter the highest rate for council districts. For top-tier authorities, North Somerset (closely followed by Bath & NE Somerset) has the lowest rate, with Cotswoldmarker having the lowest rate for council districts.

Economy and industry

Since the decline of mining, Cornwall's economy has been reliant on agriculture and tourism
The most economically productive areas within the region are Bristol, the M4 corridormarker and south east Dorset which are all areas with the best links to London. Bristol alone accounts for a quarter of the region's economy, with the surrounding areas of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire accounting for a further quarter.

Bristol's economy has been built on maritime trade including the import of tobacco and the slave trade). Since the early 20th century, however, aeronautics have taken over as the basis of Bristol's economy, with companies including Airbus UK, Rolls-Royce (military division) and BAE Systemsmarker (former Bristol Aeroplane Company then BAC) manufacturing in Filtonmarker. Defence Equipment and Supportmarker is in Abbey Wood. More recently defence, telecommunications, information technology and electronics have been important industries in Bristol, Swindon and elsewhere. VOSA, the Soil Association, Clerical Medical, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Bristol Water, and the Bristol and West Bank are in Bristol; Orange United Kingdom and the Environment Agency are based at Aztec West (South Gloucestershire); Indesit makes tumble dryer in Yatemarker; and HP have a large site and Infineon Technologies UK are at Stoke Giffordmarker. Knorr-Bremse UK make air brake in Kingswoodmarker. The South West Observatory's Economy Module provides a detailed analysis of the region's economy.

The electricity for the area formerly looked after by SWEB, is now looked after by Western Power Distribution, owned by the American company, PPL.

The region's Gross value added (GVA) breaks down as 69.9% service industry, 28.1% production industry and 2.0% agriculture. This is a slightly higher proportion in production, and lower proportion in services, than the UK average. Agriculture, though in decline, is important in many parts of the region. Dairy farming is especially important in Dorset and Devon, and the region has 1.76 million cattle, second to only one other UK region, and of grassland, more than any other region. Only 5.6% of the region's agriculture is arable.

Tourism is important in the region, and in 2003 the tourist sector contributed £4,928 million to the region's economy.In 2001 the GVA of the hotel industry was £2,200 million, and the region had 13,800 hotels with 250,000 bed spaces.

There are very large differences in prosperity between the eastern parts of the region and the west. While Bristol is the second most affluent large city in England after London, some parts of Cornwall and Devon have among the lowest average incomes in the UK.

Vegetable crop south of Ludgvan
Cornwall in particular relies on tourism. The county has the lowest GVA per head of any county or unitary authority in the country, contributes only 6.5% of the region's economy and receives EU Objective One funding. Around five million people visit the county each year. Cornwall's poor economic performance is partly caused by its remoteness and poor transport links, and by the decline of its traditional industries, such as mining, agriculture and fishing.


The UKRD Group is in Redruthmarker and Ginsters is in Callington, Cornwallmarker.


The Met Office is in Exetermarker as is Connaught plc, and Pennon Group, the water company. Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company UK (chewing gum) and HMNB Devonportmarker (the largest naval base in western Europe) are in Plymouth. Britannia Royal Naval Collegemarker is at Dartmouthmarker. All Ambrosia products are made in Liftonmarker.


Unisys Insurance Services are headquartered in Bournemouth and Merlin Entertainments (who own Sea Life Centres) is in Poolemarker as well as Lush, the cosmetics company. Ryvita is made in Parkstonemarker. Hall & Woodhouse brewery is in Blandford Forummarker (home of the Royal Corps of Signals).


Endsleigh Insurance, Kraft Foods UK, UCAS, Kohler Mira UK (showers), Messier-Dowty UK and GCHQmarker (also in Oakleymarker) are in Cheltenham. The Cheltenham & Gloucester bank is in Gloucester. The Colt Car Company UK (who own Mitsubishi) are in Cirencestermarker. The Stroud & Swindon Building Society and Ecotricity are in Stroudmarker. GSK makes Lucozade and Ribena at Colefordmarker in the Forest of Deanmarker.


The Royal Marines have a large basemarker near Tauntonmarker with their training centremarker at Lympstonemarker. Screwfixmarker is in Yeovil and Clarks shoes is in Streetmarker, although most of its shoes are made in the Far East. Leisure Connection is in Shepton Malletmarker, home of Blackthorn Cider and the Gaymer Cider Company. Wessex Water, and Rotork are in Bathmarker. Westland Helicopters (now AgustaWestland) is in Yeovilmarker and Weston-super-Maremarker. Yeo Valley Organic is in Blagdonmarker. Numatic International Limited makes idiosyncratic vacuum cleaners in Chardmarker.


The Early Learning Centre and a large factory of Honda are in South Marstonmarker. Nearby, Castrol, Triumph International UK, the Nationwide Building Society, Research Councils UK and five research council, Intel Europemarker, the British Computer Society, the National Trust (responsible for the area of the UK except Scotland), W H Smith and RWE npower, are in Swindon. Dyson is in Malmesburymarker. Virgin Mobile is in Trowbridge, as is Danone UK (owner of Actimel) and their Cow & Gate subsidiary (run by Numico). Salisbury Cathedralmarker in Salisburymarker attracts many tourists. Nearby, Dstl is at Porton Downmarker. Ovaltine and Options are made by Twinings in Pewseymarker. Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems UK (former Westinghouse) make railway air brakes in Bowerhill just south of Melkshammarker and nearby is the headquarters of Avon Rubber. Cooper Tire & Rubber Company also make Avon Tyres in the same town. Chippenhammarker has the HQ of Wincanton plc, the large logistics company, and Invensys Rail Group (former Westinghouse Rail Systems) who make rail signalling equipment. In the centre of the county are many military establishments, notably MoD Boscombe Downmarker, the training base on Salisbury Plainmarker, and the army bases around Tidworthmarker, Larkhillmarker (home of the Royal School of Artillery) and Warminstermarker (home of the Infantry).


The region covers much of the historical area of Wessexmarker (omitting only Hampshire and Berkshire), and all of the Celtic Kingdom of Dumnonia which comprised Cornwall, Devon, and parts of Somerset and Dorset. In terms of local government, it was divided after 1974 into Avon, Cornwallmarker, Devonmarker, Dorsetmarker, Gloucestershiremarker, Somersetmarker, and Wiltshiremarker. Avon has since been abolished, and several mainly urban areas have become unitary authorities.

Local government

The official region consists of the following geographic counties and local government areas:

Map Ceremonial county Shire county / unitary Districts
Somersetmarker 1. Bath and North East Somerset UA
2. North Somerset UA
11. Somerset CC South Somerset, Taunton Deane, West Somerset, Sedgemoor, Mendip
3. Bristolmarker UA
Gloucestershiremarker 4. South Gloucestershire UA
5. Gloucestershire CC Gloucestermarker, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham, Cotswold, Stroud, Forest of Deanmarker
Wiltshiremarker 6. Swindon UA
7. Wiltshire UA
Dorsetmarker 8. Dorset CC Weymouth and Portland, West Dorset, North Dorset, Purbeck, East Dorset, Christchurch
9. Poolemarker UA
10. Bournemouthmarker UA
Devonmarker 12. Devon CC Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon, North Devon, Torridge, West Devon, South Hams, Teignbridge
13. Torbaymarker UA
14. Plymouthmarker UA
Cornwallmarker Isles of Scillymarker sui generis UA
15. Cornwall UA

UA = unitary authorityCC = county council

South West Regional Assembly

Although referendums had been planned on whether elected assemblies should be set up in some of the regions, none was planned in the South West. The South West Regional Assembly (SWRA) was the regional assembly for the South West region, established in 1999. It was based in Exetermarker and Tauntonmarker. The SWRA was a partnership of councillors from all local authorities in the region and representatives of various sectors with a role in the region's economic, social and environmental well-being. There was much opposition to the formation of the SWRA with critics saying it was an unelected unrepresentative and unaccountable "quango", and the area covered is an artificially imposed region and not natural. It was stated that by having the Isles of Scilly and Cornwall in the west being in the same region as Gloucestershire in the east, geographically it would be the same for example as linking London with Yorkshire. The Regional Assembly was wound up in May 2009, and its functions taken on by the Strategic Leaders' Board (SLB) of South West Councils.

There is some controversy over the status of Cornwall. Some consider it to be a nation in its own right. The British Government's position is that Cornwall is a county of England and is far too small to become a region, having around one fifth of the population of the smallest existing English region. However, many other countries such as Canadamarker and the United Statesmarker, have provinces and states of diverse sizes, and independent states like Icelandmarker exist which have a smaller population than Cornwall.


The South West is mixed politically. In the UK Parliament, the Conservatives hold 22 seats, the Liberal Democrats 16 and Labour 12.

South West England is one of the constituencies used for elections to the European Parliamentmarker. From the 2004 election onwards, Gibraltarmarker has been included within the constituency for the purpose of elections to the European parliament only. As of the 2009 European Parliament election, it is represented by three Conservative, two UKIP and one Liberal Democrat Member of European Parliament .


Somersetmarker, the former area of Avon, Swindonmarker and Cornwallmarker have comprehensive schools. The other counties have some selective schools. Gloucestershiremarker has six, Wiltshiremarker has two (both in Salisburymarker), Poolemarker has two, Bournemouthmarker has two, Devonmarker has one, Plymouthmarker has two and Torbaymarker has three. In the Top Ten schools in the South West, by A level results, all ten are selective schools.

At GCSE in 2008, Bath and North East Somerset performs the best, closely followed by Gloucestershire and Poole, then Dorsetmarker and Wiltshire (both equal). Also above the UK average are North Somerset, Devon, Bournemouth, South Gloucestershire and Torbay, in descending order. The South West performs well at GCSE, with the only exception being the City of Bristol which is very low performing, and to a smaller extent, Swindon.

At A level in 2008, Bournemouth performs the best, and does so consistently every year, ahead of all the other areas including most of England. Gloucestershire again performs well, being next best, closely followed by Poole and then Wiltshire. These areas are the only ones in the South-West above the England average, and all four have some selective schools. Somerset and North Somerset do much better than the other areas, but under the England average. At A level, the South West is not quite as well performing as other areas. Dorset does not perform much lower at A level than GCSE on average, but Bristol performs much better at A level than GCSE. Swindon performs the worst, although Plymouth has had that position in recent years.

Local media

Local media include:


  1. South West Regional Assembly, Draft Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West, para.1.1.1
  2. South West Regional Assembly, Draft Regional Spatial Strategy for the South West, paras.1.1.3 and 7.2.1
  3. For example, The South West to 1000 AD - M Todd, Historical Atlas of the South West England - Kain and Ravenhill
  4. Wessex to 1000 AD
  5. Economy Module
  6. Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, 2004. " Competitive European Cities: Where do the Core Cities stand? Urban Research Summary 13." Page 12 (PDF).
  7. Office for National Statistics, 2003. " Top 5 and Bottom 5 GVA per head of population."
  8. DEFRA, n.d. " Objective 1 and 2 areas in England."
  9. Cornwall Tourist Board, 2003. Tourism in Cornwall.
  10. Strategic Leaders' Board

External links

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