Identification. The principality of Wales is one of the four "countries" constituting the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Though once ethnically homogeneous, Wales has had a steady influx of English-speaking settlers since the twelfth century. Prior to 1974 there were thirteen internal divisions or counties; in 1974 these were redrawn into eight counties.
Location. Wales is a wide peninsula that extends into the Irish Sea on the west coast of the island of Great Britain. The northern shore begins at the Dee Estuary and Liverpool Bay, the western shore borders on Saint George's Channel and the Irish Sea, and the south shore consists of the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel. The peninsula consists of four major regions. The interior plateaus and uplands are characterized by a shorter growing season, relatively infertile acid soils, and high rainfall. The northwestern and west coastal lowlands or "Welsh Heartland" has a milder climate, longer growing season, and better soils. The "Anglicized Lowlands" along the south coast and the English border have relatively good soils and a more productive agricultural economy. Finally, "Industrialized Wales" is centered in the hills, valleys, and coastal cities of the south.
The Welsh climate is part of the North Atlantic Maritime pattern with relatively heavy rainfall and high humidity throughout the year. Along the coast the amount of rainfall varies between 76 and 80.9 centimeters per year. The annual mean temperature is around 10.4° C with the January mean around 5° C and the July and August mean around 16° C. At times the higher uplands are subject to heavy winter snowstorms.
Demography. As of 1988 the population of Wales was estimated at 2,805,000, of which 76 percent was urban and 24 percent rural. Given the official status of both the English and Welsh languages and the differing degrees of bilingualism, it is impossible to determine the exact numbers of Individuals who ethnically identify as Welsh. The uplands, north, and west are relatively thinly populated. All the large cities (Cardiff, Swansea, and Newport) are in the relatively densely populated southern industrial belt.
Linguistic Affiliation. Both Welsh and English are official languages. During the past two centuries the percentage of Welsh speakers has continued to decline. In 1901 about half the people spoke Welsh; today this is about 20 percent. Welsh is one of the Celtic languages. It is closest to Breton in France. Other related languages are Irish and Scottish Gaelic. In recent years there has been an increasing recognition and use of Welsh in Wales.