The Great British Map; Or Great Britain vs. The United Kingdom vs. The British Isles
Last night I made another map. It tries to answer some of more perplexing and confusing facets of the geography surrounding the world's 9th largest island. I mean of course Great Britain. No, wait. I mean the United Kingdom. No, wait. I mean Britain. Or do I mean England? See, it's confusing.
- So if the ISO 3166-2 code is GBR, how come the country is called the United Kingdom?
- But if England is a country and the United Kingdom is a country, how come England is part of the United Kingdom?
- What about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland?
This isn't the first time I've covered this topic. The first time was for a post on the now defunct Yahoo! Geo Technologies blog entitled UK Addressing, The Non Golden Rules Of Geo Or Help! My Country Doesn't Exist. The
ygeoblog.com domain is now long gone and redirects to the Yahoo! corporate blog but I was able to reproduce this post here and it's also captured in the Internet Archive's WayBackMachine. The second time was when I made a variation of The Great British Venn Diagram. But this is the first time (though probably not the last) that I've used a map, which is odd as this is something that's tailor-made for a map.
When the page first loads you'll see the coastlines of Britain, Ireland and towards the bottom, the Channel Islands. There's then five ways of looking at this particular map.
There's the group of geographic islands that's termed the British Isles; these show up in purplish-grey and if you're observant, the Channel Islands vanish as they're not part of this island group.
Then there's the individual geographic islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle Of Man and The Channel Islands; these show up in green.
There's two sovereign states, The United Kingdom of Great Britain And Northern Island and the Republic Of Ireland; these show up in red.
Next comes the administrative countries which make up the United Kingdom; England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. These show up in yellow.
Finally, there's the Crown Dependencies, the self governing possessions of the British Crown; the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are these and they show up as purple.
What's missing from the map? The British Overseas Territories, which is a polite way of saying what's left of the British Empire that didn't gain independence and which the United Kingdom still asserts sovereignty over. These are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat, Pitcairn Islands, St. Helena, Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, the Sovereign Base Areas of Akrotiri and Dhekalia and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
If you're interested in how I actually made the map, read on.
The source data from the map are two public domain datasets from Natural Earth; the 1:10m map Admin 0 Subunits dataset and the 1:10m Populated Places dataset. This data includes shapefiles which can be converted into GeoJSON format by the GDAL
ogr2ogr command line tool. I extracted the vectors for the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands from the Admin 0 Subunits dataset, keying on their ISO 3166-1 Alpha-3 country codes.
$ ogr2ogr -f GeoJSON -where "adm0\_a3 IN ('GBR','IRL','IMN','GGY','JEY','GBA')" subunits.json ne\_10m\_admin\_0\_map\_subunits/ne\_10m\_admin\_0\_map\_subunits.shp
I then extracted the place data from the Populated Places dataset, again extracting data for the UK, Ireland, Isle of Man and Channel Islands, this time keying on their ISO 3166-1 Alpha-2 country codes. Not entirely sure why one dataset uses Alpha-2 and the other uses Alpha-3 but go figure; the data is free, accurate and open so who am I to complain?
$ ogr2ogr -f GeoJSON -where "iso\_a2 IN ('GB','IM','JE','GG') AND SCALERANK < 8" places.json ne\_10m\_populated\_places/ne\_10m\_populated\_places.shp
Finally, I merged subunits.json and places.json into a single TopoJSON file, with the added bonus that TopoJSON is much much smaller than GeoJSON. The source GeoJSON weighed in at 549 KB whereas the combined TopoJSON is a mere 78 KB.
$ topojson --id-property su\_a3 -p NAME=name -p name -o great-british-map.json subunits.json places.json
Speaking of code, it should come as no surprise that the map's code base is available on GitHub. The Great British Map is based on great D3 tutorial that Mike has written on vector mapping using Natural Earth, so the similarity between Mike's map and my map is entirely intentional.