Coastline of the United Kingdom
The coastline of the United Kingdom is formed by a variety of natural features including islands, bays, headlands and peninsulas. It consists of the coastline of the island of Great Britain and the north-east coast of the island of Ireland, as well as a large number of much smaller islands. Much of the coastline is accessible and quite varied in geography and habitats. Large stretches have been designated areas of natural beauty, notably the Jurassic Coast and the Heritage Coast.
The mapping authority for the United Kingdom, the Ordnance Survey, records the coastline of the main island, Great Britain, as 11,072.76 miles rounding to 11,073 miles (17,820 km). The British Cartographic Society points out that "The true answer is: it depends!". If the larger islands are added the coastline, as measured by the standard method at Mean High Water Mark, rises to about 19,491 miles (31,368 km). According to the CIA Factbook, the length of the UK coastline is around 12,429 km or 7,723 miles, although no details are provided about how this figure was calculated. On the basis of EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive boundaries, the UK coastline can be divided into the eastern, 'Greater North Sea' section, which using 1km2 box counts and including islands is 4,994 km, and a western 'Celtic Seas' coastline, which using the same measurement approach and including Northern Ireland is 14,201 km.
Furthermore, the measurement of any coastline is subject to variation depending upon the scale of map used. It is a meaningless statistic without knowing the scale of the map being used and the accuracy of the measurement. A larger map scale and smaller unit of measure will result in more detail being revealed and measured and thus a greater length. And because the resultant length increases exponentially faster than the increase of scale of measurement, there is no such thing as "an approximate answer" to this question. This is referred to as the coastline paradox. A coastline is fractal-like — which means that it has self-similar properties, similar at every scale — therefore the closer the observer looks, the more detail is revealed, leading to a greater overall length.
The United Kingdom's coastline is more broken than coastlines of many other countries. It has a fractal or Hausdorff dimension or 'wiggliness' of 1.25, which is comparatively high; the Australian coastline for example has a fractal dimension of 1.13, and that of South Africa is very smooth at 1.02.
As a result of this shape and the number of islands, the coastline of the UK is longer than that of similar sized countries. For example, the coastline of Italy is around 9,226 km in length, France 7,330 km and Spain 7,268 km. Greece, which has a large number of islands similar to the UK, has a coastline of around 15,147 km. This means the UK has a relatively high coast/area ratio.
Nowhere in the UK is more than 113 kilometres (70 mi) from the coast. It is estimated that around 3 million people (out of 60 million) live on the coast of the UK. The place furthest from the coast is Coton in the Elms in Derbyshire, which is equidistant from Fosdyke Wash in Lincolnshire; White Sands between Neston in Cheshire and Flint, Flintshire in Wales; and Westbury-on-Severn Gloucestershire.
There are over 1,000 islands within the UK; about 130 are permanently inhabited according to the 2001 Census. Of the remaining islands, some are used for farming and are occupied occasionally, some are nature reserves with restricted access and some are little more than sea-swept rocks. The main occupied islands and island groups in the UK are as follows:
The Channel Islands (including Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark) and the Isle of Man are not part of the UK; they are self-governing Crown dependencies therefore their coastlines are not coastlines of the United Kingdom.
Peninsulas around the UK coast include:
- Loch Fyne
- Loch Long
- Loch Linnhe
- Loch Torridon, Carron, Etive, Creran, Eriboll, Seaforth and about a hundred others
- Belfast Lough
- Bristol Channel
- Blackwater Estuary
- Cardigan Bay
- Dee Estuary
- Firth of Clyde
- Firth of Forth
- Firth of Tay
- Humber Estuary
- Lough Foyle
- Luce Bay
- Lyme Bay
- Mersey Estuary
- Moray Firth
- Morecambe Bay
- Solway Firth
- Strangford Lough
- Swansea Bay
- Thames Estuary
- The Solent
- River Tamar
- The Wash
- Coastline of the North Sea
- Geography of Great Britain
- Geography of Ireland § Coastline
- Land's End to John o' Groats
- List of headlands of the United Kingdom
- List of places on the British coastline
- List of places on the Jurassic Coast
- List of spits of the United Kingdom
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- Shelberg, Moellering and Lam (1982)
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