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The United Kingdom: a little geography. Una risorsa didattica di civiltà inglese

red - Viene proposta di seguito una risorsa didattica, rielaborata dalla prof.ssa Susanna Carra, che descrive la geografia del Regno Unito. La risorsa può essere utilizzata per strutturare una lezione di civiltà inglese nella scuola secondaria di secondo grado.

The UK: a little geography

Capital and main port: London 

Towns and cities: Birmingham, Glasgow. Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Edinburgh, Bradford, Bristol, Belfast, Newcastle upon Tyne, Cardiff; ports Grimsby, Southampton, Liverpool. During the Industrial Revolution the country became rapidly urbanized, and today more than 70% of the total population is concentrated in cities occupying 10% of the total land area. The United Kingdom is the third most densely populated nation in Europe (after the Netherlands and Belgium). The most densely populated part of the United Kingdom is England, with 354 persons per sq. km (917 per sq. mi); Scotland has a density of 63 per sq. km (163 per sq. mi); Wales, 135 per sq. km (349 per sq. mi); and Northern Ireland, 112 per sq. km (290 per sq. mi). About 32% of the total population is concentrated in the Greater London area and seven other conurbations (continuously built-up urban areas)-Glasgow City district, Tyne and Wear (based on the central cities of Newcastle Upon Tyne and Sunderland), Merseyside (Liverpool and environs), Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire (based on Leeds and Bradford), South Yorkshire (based on Sheffield), and the West Midlands (Birmingham and the Black Country). Another substantial portion of the population is urbanized in smaller towns with more than 50,000 inhabitants, including the environs of Belfast and Cardiff. The most sparsely populated areas are the Highlands of Scotland, the upland areas of Wales, and the Pennines.

Population (1993 est) 58,000,000 (81.5% English, 9.6% Scottish, 1.9% Welsh, 2.4% Irish, 1.8% Ulster); growth rate 0.1% p.a.

About 83% of the total population live in England, 9% in Scotland, 5% in Wales, and 3% in Northern Ireland. More than 2% are, or are descended from, non-Caucasian immigrants who came to the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s from the British West Indies, Pakistan, India, and other Commonwealth or former Commonwealth countries.

Physical: rolling landscape, increasingly mountainous towards the N, with Grampian Mountains in Scotland, Pennines in N England, Cambrian Mountains in Wales; rivers include Thames, Severn, and Spey. Despite its small size, variety of scene is the main characteristic of the United Kingdom.

Unlike England, the topography of Wales and Scotland is dominated more by mountains and uplands than by lowlands. The highest mountain in Wales is Snowdon, which rises to 1,085 m (3,560 ft) in the north-west. There are a lot of mountains in Northern Ireland too.

Resources: The United Kingdom has long been rich in energy resources but deficient in food and industrial raw materials. Extensive coal deposits occur around the eastern and western edges of the Pennines, in South Wales, in the western Midlands (Birmingham area), and in the Scottish Central Lowland.  Easily accessible coal seams are, however largely exhausted.  Fortunately for the energy-hungry British economy, large deposits of petroleum and natural gas under the North Sea came into commercial production in 1975; by the end of the 1980s the United Kingdom is expected to be self-sufficient in petroleum.

Other mineral deposits are of small importance. They include tin, mined in small amounts in Cornwall; low-grade iron ores m the Jurassic rocks of Lincolnshire and Northamptonshire in the eastern Midlands, used in steel mills at Scunthorpe and Corby; kaolinite (china clay), mined in parts of Cornwall; and sands and gravels, quarried for road-building materials. Of the total land area about 30% is used for crops and 50% for pasture; agricultural productivity has been greatly improved since World War II, and only half of all food needs are now imported, compared with two-thirds before the war.

Economic activity: In the 14th and 15th centuries, England developed a flourishing wool trade with the Continent and a cottage-based textile industry in sheep raising areas of the Cotswolds, Pennines, East Anglia (Norwich area), and the south-west. In the 18th century the invention of power-driven textile machinery revolutionized this earlier industry, and spinning and weaving operations moved out of the home and into factories. Early factories were powered by running water, and the abundance of this waterpower (and of soft water for the wool-washing processes) concentrated the early textile industry in the Pennines. Steam engines, fuelled by coal, replaced water power after the 1780s, and the coalfields developed as major industrial centres. Lancashire (west Pennines) developed as a cotton textile centre; Yorkshire (east Pennines), as the centre of woollen manufactures; Birmingham and the Black Country (West Midlands) as a centre for the manufacture of machinery and precision equipment; and the Glasgow area, as a shipbuilding and metallurgical centre. By 1851 the United Kingdom was the world's leading industrial nation. It lost this industrial pre-eminence after the 1920s as other nations began to industrialize. It experimented with nationalization of steel and other key industries in the 1940s and, despite widespread opposition, joined the EEC in 1973.

Manufacturing: Workers directly engaged in manufacturing number approximately 6 million, or about 23% of the total labor force. Of these, about 29% are engaged in the metallurgical and engineering industries, about 5% in chemical industries, about 10% in food processing and 6% in textile manufacturing. About 10% work in vehicle manufacture, and 8% work in the paper, printing, and publishing industries. Increasing efficiency of production and elimination of uneconomic plants continue to reduce the numbers working in manufacturing. The main centres of industry are on the coalfields of northern England and Scotland, in the western Midlands, and around the major ports, including London.

Mining: Only about 1.5% of the labor force is engaged in mining. Petroleum is the principal mineral produced, with production rapidly approaching the self-sufficiency level of 2 million barrels a day in the early 1980s and proven reserves under the North Sea estimated at 14.8 billion barrels in 1982. Natural gas is produced in association with petroleum. Coal is also mined, but employment in the coal industry has dropped from more than 1 million in 1913 to about 275,000 today, mainly because of loss of export markets, increasing use of petroleum and other fuels, and exhaustion of easily worked coal seams in the coalfields. Coal production has also declined by about half from a peak of about 291 million metric tons (321 million U.S. tons) in 1913 to 130 million metric tons (143 million U.S. tons) in 1980. Sands and gravels are of considerable economic significance; iron ores, tin, and kaolinite (china clay) are of lesser importance.

Agriculture: Approximately three-quarters of all the land area of England and Wales is used for farming, excluding moorlands used for grazing; in Scotland less than one-fourth of the total area is farmed. The main crops are wheat, barley, oats, peas, beans, vegetables, sugar beets, and green fodder crops; most are grown in the east and south of England, on the east coast of Scotland, and on the Lancashire and Cheshire plains. Livestock farming, mainly for beef and dairy products prevails in lowland areas elsewhere, with sheep farming predominant on higher ground. Truck farming (called market gardening in the United Kingdom) is important near London and other large cities and on the south coast. Flowers and early potatoes are a speciality in mild and sheltered areas of Cornwall and the Scilly Islands. Less than 2% of the total labour force is engaged in agriculture, and the number of people working the land has declined steadily since 1945 in the face of increased mechanisation and greater agricultural efficiency.

Trade: About half of all exports consist of machinery and transport equipment (including road vehicles and data-processing equipment), non-metallic minerals, iron and steel, and professional and scientific instruments. Other leading exports include chemical products and petroleum and petroleum products. The country's major imports include machinery and transport equipment, petroleum and other raw materials, paper, food and live animals, and textiles. Britain's main trading partners are countries of the European Community and the United-States.

Exports: Cereals, rape, sugar, beef, potatoes, meat products, poultry, dairy products, electronic telecommunications equipment, engineering equipment and scientific instruments, oil and gas, petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, film and television programmes, aircraft. Tourism is important.

Religions: Church of England (established church); other Protestant denominations, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Sikh.

The Anglican Church of England and the Presbyterian Church of Scotland are established national churches, but neither is subsidised by the state. Wales has no established church, nor has Northern Ireland, which is approximately two-thirds Protestant and one-third Roman Catholic. The Church of England has the nominal, if not the practical, support of about 60% of the English; about 40% of all Scots support the Church of Scotland. Roman Catholicism is heavily represented in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and other large industrial cities with large numbers of Irish and continental European immigrant workers. Methodist, Baptist, and United Reform (Presbyterian and Congregational) churches are found almost everywhere in England and Wales; in Scotland the Episcopal (Anglican) church has small numbers of adherents in most towns and a few villages. Other Christian groups include the Society of Friends (Quakers) and the Salvation Army. About 350,000 Jews live mainly in the United Kingdom, mainly in the London area. In addition, recent immigrants have established Islamic mosques and Hindu and Sikh temples in some of the major cities.

Languages: English, Welsh, Gaelic

The official language is English. Other languages include the Celtic languages Welsh, the national language of Wales, and Scottish Gaelic, so named to distinguish it from Irish Gaelic, the national language of Ireland. According to the 1971 census, Welsh was spoken by 542,000 people, or about 20% of the total Welsh population, down from 715,000 in 1951. Most Welsh speakers are concentrated in the rural northern and western counties of Wales, where they constitute about 75% of the total population; all but 3,000 are also recorded as English speaking. Welsh nationalism has been strongly linked with encouraging the wider use of Welsh, and since the Welsh Language Act of 1967, the language has enjoyed parity with English in governmental and legal matters throughout Wales. Scottish Gaelic was spoken by 88,753 people in 1971, down from 95,500 in 1951; it is used primarily in the western Highlands and on the islands. The Scottish nationalist movement is less concerned with promoting Gaelic as a national language for Scotland than with improving economic and social conditions by diverting a greater share of North Sea oil profits to Scotland in the future. Cornish once used in the south-western peninsula, and Manx, used on the isle of Man, are virtually extinct.

Media: Four companies control more than 85% of national newspaper circulation (1994). 

Literacy: 99%

Political parties: Until the late seventeenth century, there were no political parties in England. Then in the 1680s Parliament split over the right of the Catholic James II to remain on the throne of England and in general over the “divine right of kings”. Two parties were formed: Whigs and Tories. The latter later became the Conservative Party, while the Whigs, became the Liberals. For a long time the Conservative and Liberal parties alternated with one another in governing England. Then in 1900 the Labour Party was formed, and soon contest began essentially to be between it and the Conservative Party.

Parties at present: Conservative and Unionist Party, right of centre; Labor Party, moderate left of centre; Social and Liberal Democrats, centre-left; Scottish National Party (SNP), Scottish nationalist; Plaid Cymru (Welsh Nationalist Party), Welsh nationalist; Official Ulster Unionist Party (OUP), Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster People's Unionist Party (UPUP), all Northern Ireland right of centre, in favour of remaining part of United Kingdom; Social Democratic Labor Party (SDLP), Northern Ireland, moderate left of centre; Sinn Fein, Northern Ireland, socialist, pro-united Ireland; Green Party, ecological.

North and South

In Italy, often people have a complex about being from the South, and often their accent is parodied. In England, instead, this is the situation of the people of the North. The most "advanced" part is considered to be the South. However, there is a widespread feeling that Northerners are "warmer" and more expansive.

The West Country

This term refers essentially to the counties of Devon and Cornwall, though it may also include Somerset. The people of this area are also often victims of linguistic parody, because, since this is an outlying area, the pronunciation is conservative (it shows a certain similarity to American, which is a conservative pronunciation). The West Country is largely rural. It is famous for its milk and cream.

The Home Counties

These are the counties nearest to London: Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Berkshire, Surrey, and formerly Middlesex.   They are considered the "poshest" area of England.

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