The British Isles are a group of islands off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland and over six thousand smaller isles.Situated in the North Atlantic, the islands have a total area of approximately 315,159 km2, and a combined population of just under 70 million. Two sovereign states are located on the islands: the Republic of Ireland (which covers roughly five-sixths of the island of Ireland) and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The British Isles also include three Crown Dependencies: the Isle of Man and, by tradition, the Bailiwick of Jersey and the Bailiwick of Guernsey in the Channel Islands, although the latter are not physically a part of the archipelago.
The oldest rocks in the group are in the north west of Scotland, Ireland and North Wales and are 2,700 million years old. During the Silurian period the north-western regions collidedwith the south-east, which had been part of a separate continental landmass. The topography of the islands is modest in scale by global standards. Ben Nevis rises to an elevation of only 1,344 metres (4,409 ft), and Lough Neagh, which is notably larger than other lakes on the isles, covers 390 square kilometres (151 sq mi). The climate is temperate marine, with mild winters and warm summers. The North Atlantic Drift brings significant moisture and raises temperatures 11 °C (20 °F) above the global average for the latitude. This led to a landscape which was long dominated by temperate rainforest, although human activity has since cleared the vast majority of forest cover. The region was re-inhabited after the last glacial period of Quaternary glaciation, by 12,000 BC, when Great Britain was still part of a peninsula of the European continent. Ireland, which became an island by 12,000 BC, was not inhabited until after 8000 BC. Great Britain became an island by 5600 BC.
Hiberni (Ireland), Pictish (northern Britain) and Britons (southern Britain) tribes, all speaking Insular Celtic, inhabited the islands at the beginning of the 1st millennium AD. Much of Brittonic-controlled Britain was conquered by the Roman Empire from AD 43. The first Anglo-Saxons arrived as Roman power waned in the 5th century and eventually dominated the bulk of what is now England. Viking invasions began in the 9th century, followed by more permanent settlements and political change—particularly in England. The subsequent Norman conquest of England in 1066 and the later Angevin partial conquest of Ireland from 1169 led to the imposition of a new Norman ruling elite across much of Britain and parts of Ireland. By the Late Middle Ages, Great Britain was separated into the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, while control in Ireland fluxed between Gaelic kingdoms, Hiberno-Norman lords and the English-dominated Lordship of Ireland, soon restricted only to The Pale. The 1603 Union of the Crowns, Acts of Union 1707 and Acts of Union 1800 attempted to consolidate Britain and Ireland into a single political unit, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, with the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands remaining as Crown Dependencies. The expansion of the British Empire and migrations following the Irish Famine and Highland Clearances resulted in the distribution of the islands’ population and culture throughout the world and a rapid de-population of Ireland in the second half of the 19th century. Most of Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom after the Irish War of Independenceand the subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty (1919–1922), with six counties remaining in the UK as Northern Ireland.
The term British Isles is controversial in Ireland, where there are objections to its usage due to the association of the word British with Ireland. The Government of Ireland does not recognise or use the term and its embassy in London discourages its use. As a result, Britain and Ireland is used as an alternative description, and Atlantic Archipelago has had limited use among a minority in academia, while British Isles is still commonly employed. Within them, they are also sometimes referred to as these islands.