South West England is one of nine official regions of England. It is the largest such region in area, covering 9,200 square miles (23,828 km2) and comprising Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Five million people live in South West England.
South West region shown within England
9,200 sq mi
|Ranked 6th of 9
222 /km2 (570 /sq mi)
|GVA per capita||£18,195 (4th)|
|Leadership||South West Councils|
|Regional development||South West of England RDA|
|European parliament||South West England|
South West England is one of nine official regions of England. It is the largest such region in area, covering 9,200 square miles (23,828 km2) and comprising Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, Dorset, Wiltshire, Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Five million people live in South West England.
The region includes the area often known as the West Country and much of the ancient kingdom of Wessex. The size of the region is shown by the fact that the northern part of Gloucestershire, near Chipping Campden, is as close to the Scottish border as it is to the tip of Cornwall. The largest city is Bristol. Other major urban centres include Plymouth, Swindon, Gloucester, Exeter, Bath, and the South East Dorset conurbation of Bournemouth, Poole and Christchurch. All counties either include at least one unitary authority or are unitary authorities themselves, as is the case with Cornwall and the Unitary Authority of Bristol. The region has 8 cities: Salisbury, Bath, Wells, Bristol, Gloucester, Exeter, Plymouth and Truro. It includes two National Parks and four World Heritage Sites, including Stonehenge and the Jurassic Coast.
The region is used for statistical analysis, being at the first level of NUTS for Eurostat purposes. Key data and facts about the region are produced by the South West Observatory. Following the abolition of the South West Regional Assembly and Government Office, some local government co-ordination across the region is now undertaken by South West Councils.
Traditionally, the South West of England has been well known for producing Cheddar cheese, which originated in the Somerset village of Cheddar, for Devon cream teas, crabs, Cornish pasties, and for cider. It is also well known as the home of the Eden Project, Aardman Animations, the Glastonbury Festival, the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta, trip hop music and also Cornwall's surfing beaches. The region has by far the longest coastline in England, and is well known for its traditional seaside fishing towns.
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Most of the South West occupies a peninsula between the English Channel and Bristol Channel. It has the longest coastline of England's regions, totalling 702 miles (1,130 km). Much of the coast is now protected from further substantial development because of its environmental importance, which contributes to the region’s attractiveness to tourists and residents.
Geologically the region is divided into the largely igneous and metamorphic west and sedimentary east, the dividing line slightly to the west of the River Exe. Cornwall and West Devon's landscape is of rocky coastline and high moorland, notably at Bodmin Moor and Dartmoor National Park. These are due to the granite and slate that underlie the area. The highest point of the region is High Willhays, at 2,038 feet (621 m), on Dartmoor. In North Devon the slates of the west and limestones of the east meet at Exmoor National Park. The variety of rocks of similar ages seen here have led to the county's name being lent to that of the Devonian period.
The east of the region is characterised by wide, flat clay vales and chalk and limestone downland. The vales, with good irrigation, are home to the region's dairy agriculture. The Blackmore Vale was Thomas Hardy's "Vale of the Little Dairies"; another, the Somerset Levels was created by reclaiming wetlands. The Southern England Chalk Formation extends into the region, creating a series of high, sparsely populated and archaeologically rich downs, most famously Salisbury Plain, but also Cranborne Chase, the Dorset Downs and the Purbeck Hills. These downs are the principal area of arable agriculture in the region. Limestone is also found in the region, at the Cotswolds, Quantock Hills and Mendip Hills, where they support sheep farming. All of the principal rock types can be seen on the Jurassic Coast of Dorset and East Devon, where they document the entire Mesozoic era from west to east.
The climate of South West England is classed as oceanic (Cfb) according to the Köppen climate classification. The oceanic climate typically experiences cool winters with warmer summers and precipitation all year round, with more experienced in winter. Annual rainfall is about 1,000 millimetres (39 in) and up to 2,000 millimetres (79 in) on higher ground. Summer maxima averages range from 18 °C (64 °F) to 22 °C (72 °F) and winter minimum averages range from 1 °C (34 °F) to 4 °C (39 °F) across the south-west. It is the second windiest area of the United Kingdom, the majority of winds coming from the south-west and north-east. Government organisations predict the region to rise in temperature and become the hottest region in the United Kingdom.
Inland areas of low altitude experience the least amount of precipitation. They experience the highest summer maxima temperatures, but winter minima are colder than the coast. Snowfalls are more frequent in comparison to the coast, but less so in comparison to higher ground. It experiences the lowest wind speeds and sunshine total in between that of the coast and the moors. The climate of inland areas is more noticeable the further north-east into the region.
In comparison to inland areas, the coast experiences high minimum temperatures, especially in winter, and it experiences slightly lower maximum temperatures during the summer. Rainfall is the lowest at the coast and snowfall is rarer than the rest of the region. Coastal areas are the windiest parts of the peninsula and they receive the most sunshine. The general coastal climate is more typical the further south-west into the region.
Areas of moorland inland such as: Bodmin Moor, Dartmoor and Exmoor experience lower temperatures and more precipitation than the rest of the south west (approximately twice as much rainfall as lowland areas), because of their high altitude. Both of these factors also cause it to experience the highest levels of snowfall and the lowest levels of sunshine. Exposed areas of the moors are windier than lowlands and can be almost as windy as the coast.
The boundaries of the South West Region are based upon those devised by central government in the 1930s for civil defence administration, and subsequently used for various statistical analyses. The region is also similar (subject to minor boundary adjustments) to that used in the 17th century Rule of the Major-Generals under Cromwell. (For further information, see Historical and alternative regions of England). By the 1960s, the South West Region (including Dorset, which for some previous purposes had been included in a Southern region), was widely recognised for government administration and statistics. The boundaries were carried forward into the 1990s, when regional administrations were formally established as Government Office Regions. A regional assembly and regional development agency were added in 1999.
It has been argued that the official South West region does not possess a cultural and historic unity or identity of itself, which has led to criticism of it as an "artificial" construct. The large area of the region, stretching as it does from the Isles of Scilly to Gloucestershire, encompasses diverse areas which have little more in common with each other than they do with other areas of England. The region has several TV stations and newspapers based in different areas, and no single acknowledged regional "capital". Many people of the region have some level of a 'South West', or 'West Country' regional identity, although this may not necessarily correspond to an identification with the official government-defined region. It is common for people in the region to identify at a national level (whether English, British, Cornish, and/or a county or city/town level). Identifying as being from 'the Westcountry', amorphous though it is, tends to be more predominant further into the peninsula where the status of being from the region is less equivocal.
In particular, Cornwall's inclusion in the region is disputed by Cornish nationalists. The cross-party Cornish Constitutional Convention and Cornish nationalist party Mebyon Kernow have campaigned for a Cornish Assembly ever since the idea of regional devolution was put forward.
The South West region is largely rural, with small towns and villages; a higher proportion of people live in such areas than in any other English region. The largest cities and towns are Bristol, Plymouth, Bournemouth and Poole (which together with Christchurch make up the South East Dorset conurbation), Swindon, Gloucester, Cheltenham, Torbay, Exeter, Bath, Weston-super-Mare, Salisbury, Taunton and Weymouth. The population of the South West is about five million.
The region lies on several main line railways. The Great Western Main Line runs from London to Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Penzance in the far west of Cornwall. The South Western Main Line runs from London and Southampton to Bournemouth, Poole and Weymouth in Dorset. The West of England Main Line runs from London to Exeter via south Wiltshire, north Dorset and south Somerset. The Wessex Main Line runs from Bristol to Salisbury and on to Southampton. The Heart of Wessex Line runs from Bristol in the north of the region to Weymouth on the south Dorset coast via Westbury, Castle Cary and Yeovil, with most services starting at Gloucester.
Three major roads enter the region from the east. The M4 motorway from London to South Wales via Bristol is the busiest. The A303 cuts through the centre of the region from Salisbury to Honiton, where it merges with the A30 to continue past Exeter to the west of Cornwall. The A31, an extension of the M27, serves Poole and Bournemouth and the Dorset coast. The M5 runs from the West Midlands through Gloucestershire, Bristol and Somerset to Exeter. The A38 serves as a western extension to Plymouth. There are three other smaller motorways in the region, all in the Bristol area.
Within the region the local transport authorities carry out transport planning through the use of a Local Transport Plan (LTP) which outlines their strategies, policies and implementation programme. The most recent LTP is that for the period 2006–11. In the South West region the following transport authorities have published their LTP online: Bournemouth U.A., Cornwall U.A., Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Plymouth U.A., Somerset, Swindon U. A., Torbay U. A. and Wiltshire unitary authority. The transport authorities of Bath and North East Somerset U. A., Bristol U. A., North Somerset U. A. and South Gloucestershire U. A. publish a single Joint Local Transport Plan as part of the West of England Partnership.
There is evidence from flint artefacts in a quarry at Westbury-sub-Mendip that an ancestor of modern man, possibly Homo heidelbergensis, was present in the future Somerset from around 500,000 years ago. There is some evidence of human occupation of southern England before the last ice age, such as at Kents Cavern in Devon, but largely in the south east. The British mainland was connected to the continent during the ice age and humans may have repeatedly migrated into and out of the region as the climate fluctuated. There is evidence of human habitation in the caves at Cheddar Gorge 11,000–10,000 years BC, during a partial thaw in the ice age. The earliest scientifically dated cemetery in Great Britain was found at Aveline's Hole in the Mendip Hills. The human bone fragments it contained, from about 21 different individuals, are thought to be roughly between 10,200 and 10,400 years old. During this time the tundra gave way to birch forests and grassland and evidence for human settlement appears at Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire and Hengistbury Head, Dorset.
At the end of the last Ice Age the Bristol Channel was dry land, but subsequently the sea level rose, resulting in major coastal changes. The Somerset Levels were flooded, but the dry points such as Glastonbury and Brent Knoll are known to have been occupied by Mesolithic hunters. The landscape at this time was tundra. Britain's oldest complete skeleton, Cheddar Man, lived at Cheddar Gorge around 7150 BC (in the Upper Palaeolithic or Old Stone Age), shortly after the end of the ice age; however it is unclear whether the region was continuously inhabited during the previous 4000 years, or if humans returned to the gorge after a final cold spell. A Palaeolithic flint tool found in West Sedgemoor is the earliest indication of human presence on the Somerset Levels. During the 7th millennium BC the sea level rose and flooded the valleys, so the Mesolithic people occupied seasonal camps on the higher ground, indicated by scatters of flints. The Neolithic people continued to exploit the reed swamps for their natural resources and started to construct wooden trackways. These included the Post Track and the Sweet Track. The Sweet Track, dating from the 39th century BC, is thought to be the world's oldest timber trackway and was once thought to be the world's oldest engineered roadway. The Levels were also the location of the Glastonbury Lake Village as well as two lake villages at Meare. Stonehenge and Avebury are perhaps the most famous Neolithic sites in the UK.
The region was heavily populated during the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age periods. Many monuments, barrows and trackways exist. Coin evidence shows that the region was split between the Durotriges, Dobunni and Dumnonii. The Iron Age tribe in Dorset were the Durotriges, "water dwellers", whose main settlement is represented by Maiden Castle. Ptolemy stated that Bath was in the territory of the Belgae, but this may be a mistake. The Celtic gods were worshipped at the temple of Sulis at Bath and possibly the temple on Brean Down. Iron Age sites on the Quantock Hills include major hill forts at Dowsborough and Ruborough, as well as smaller earthwork enclosures, such as Trendle Ring, Elworthy Barrows and Plainsfield Camp.
At the time of the Roman invasion, the inhabitants of the entire area spoke a Brythonic Celtic language. Its descendant languages are still spoken to a greater or lesser extent in Cornwall, Wales, and Brittany.
During the Roman era, the east of the region, particularly the Cotswolds and eastern Somerset, was heavily Romanised but Devon and Cornwall were much less so, though Exeter was a regional capital. There are villas, farms and temples dating from the period, including the remains at Bath.
The area of Somerset was part of the Roman Empire from AD 47 to about AD 409. The empire disintegrated gradually, and elements of Romanitas lingered on for perhaps a century. In AD 47, Somerset was invaded from the south-east by the Second Legion Augusta, under the future emperor Vespasian. The hillforts of the Durotriges at Ham Hill and Cadbury Castle were captured. Ham Hill probably had a temporary Roman occupation. The massacre at Cadbury Castle seems to have been associated with the later Boudiccan Revolt of AD 60–61.
The Roman invasion, and possibly the preceding period of involvement in the internal affairs of the south of England, was inspired in part by the lead mines of the Mendip Hills, which also offered the potential for the extraction of silver. Forts were set up at Bath and Ilchester. The lead and silver mines at Charterhouse in the Mendip Hills were run by the military. The Romans established a defensive boundary along the new military road known the Fosse Way (from the Latin fossa meaning "ditch"). The Fosse Way ran through Bath, Shepton Mallet, Ilchester and south-west towards Axminster. The road from Dorchester ran through Yeovil to meet the Fosse Way at Ilchester. Salt was produced on the Somerset Levels near Highbridge and quarrying took place near Bath, named after the Roman baths.
Excavations carried out before the flooding of Chew Valley Lake also uncovered Roman remains, indicating agricultural and industrial activity from the second half of the 1st century until the 3rd century AD. The finds included a moderately large villa at Chew Park, where wooden writing tablets (the first in the UK) with ink writing were found. There is also evidence from the Pagans Hill Roman Temple at Chew Stoke. In October 2001 the West Bagborough Hoard of 4th century Roman silver was discovered in West Bagborough. The 681 coins included two denarii from the early 2nd century and 8 miliarensia and 671 siliquae all dating from AD 337 to 367. The majority were struck in the reigns of emperors Constantius II and Julian and derive from a range of mints including Arles and Lyons in France, Trier in Germany, and Rome. In April 2010, the Frome Hoard, one of the largest ever hoards of Roman coins discovered in Britain, was found by a metal detectorist. The hoard of 52,500 coins dated from the 3rd century AD and was found buried in a field near Frome, in a jar 14 inches (36 cm) below the surface. The coins were excavated by archaeologists from the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
After the Romans left at the start of the 5th century AD, the region split into several British kingdoms, including Dumnonia, centred around the old tribal territory of the Dumnonii. The upper Thames area soon came under Anglo-Saxon control but the remainder of the region was in British control until the 6th century. Bokerley Dyke, a large defensive ditch on Cranborne Chase dated to 367, delayed the Saxon conquest of Dorset, with the Romano-British remaining in Dorset for 200 years after the withdrawal of the Roman legions. The Western Wandsdyke earthwork was probably built during the 5th or 6th century. This area became the border between the Romano-British Celts and the West Saxons following the Battle of Deorham in 577. The Anglo-Saxons then gained control of the Cotswold area; but most of Somerset, Dorset and Devon (as well as Cornwall) remained in British hands until the late 7th century. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the Saxon Cenwalh achieved a breakthrough against the British Celtic tribes, with victories at Bradford-on-Avon (in the Avon Gap in the Wansdyke) in 652, and further south at the Battle of Peonnum (at Penselwood) in 658, followed by an advance west through the Polden Hills to the River Parrett. The Saxon advance from the east seems to have been halted by battles between the British and Saxons, for example at the siege of Badon Mons Badonicus (which may mave been in the Bath district, perhaps at Solsbury Hill), or Bathampton Down. The Battle of Bedwyn was fought in 675 between Escuin, a West Saxon nobleman who had seized the throne of Queen Saxburga, and King Wulfhere of Mercia. The earliest fortification of Taunton started for King Ine of Wessex and Æthelburg, in or about the year 710. However according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle this was destroyed 12 years later. Alfred the Great refortified Exeter as a defensive burh, followed by new erections at Lydford, Halwell and Pilton, although these fortifications were small compared to burhs further east, suggesting that they were protection for the elite only.
The English defeated a combined Cornish and Danish force at Hingston Down (near Gunnislake) in 838. Edward the Elder built similarly at Barnstaple and Totnes. But sporadic Viking incursions continued until the Norman Conquest, including the disastrous defeat of the Devonians at the Battle of Pinhoe. In 876 King Alfred the Great trapped a Danish fleet at Arne and then drove it out; 120 ships were wrecked at Studland. Although King Alfred had lands in Cornwall, it continued to have a British king. It is generally considered that Cornwall came fully under the dominion of the English Crown in the time of Athelstan's rule, i.e. 924–939. In the absence of any specific documentation to record this event, supporters of Cornwall's English status presume that it then became part of England. However in 944, within a mere five years of Athelstan's death, King Edmund issued a charter styling himself "King of the English and ruler of this province of the Britons". Thus we can see that then the "province" was a territorial possession, which has long claimed a special relationship to the English Crown.
Corfe Castle in 978 saw the murder of King Edward the Martyr, whose body was taken first to Wareham and then to Shaftesbury. Somerset played an important part in stopping the spread of the Danes in the 9th century. Viking raids took place for instance in 987 and 997 at Watchet and the Battle of Cynwit.
King Alfred was driven to seek refuge from the Danes at Athelney before defeating them in 878 at the Battle of Ethandun, usually considered to be near Edington, Wiltshire, but possibly the village of Edington in Somerset. Alfred established a series of forts and lookout posts linked by a military road, or Herepath, to allow his army to cover Viking movements at sea. The Herepath has a characteristic form which is familiar on the Quantocks: a regulation 20 m wide track between avenues of trees growing from hedge laying embankments. A peace treaty with the Danes was signed at Wedmore and the Danish king Guthrum the Old was baptised at Aller. Burhs (fortified places) had been set up by 919, such as Lyng. The Alfred Jewel, an object about 2.5-inch (64 mm) long, made of filigree gold, cloisonné-enamelled and with a rock crystal covering, was found in 1693 at Petherton Park, North Petherton. This is believed to have been owned by King Alfred. Monasteries and minster churches were set up all over Somerset, with daughter churches of the minsters in manors. There was a royal palace at Cheddar, which was used at times in the 10th century to host the Witenagemot.
In the late pre-Norman period, the east coast of modern-day England came increasingly under the sway of the Norsemen. Eventually England came to be ruled by Norse monarchs, and the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms fell one by one, Wessex being conquered in 1013 by King Sweyn Forkbeard. Sweyn's realms included Denmark and Norway, and parts of England such as Mercia (an Anglian kingdom roughly coinciding with the English Midlands), much of which, along with northern England, fell under the Danelaw. Sweyn ruled Wessex, along with his other realms, from 1013 onwards, followed by his son Canute the Great. But Cornwall was not part of his realm of Wessex. A map by the American historian called the "The Dominions of Canute" (pictured just above) shows that Cornwall, like Wales and Scotland, was part neither of Sweyn Forkbeard's nor of Canute's Danish empire. Neither Sweyn Forkbeard nor Canute conquered or controlled Scotland, Wales or Cornwall; but these areas were "client nations": subject to payment of a yearly tribute or danegeld to Sweyn and later Canute, all three areas retained their autonomy from the Danes. Ultimately, the Danes lost control of Wessex in 1042 on the death of both of Canute's sons: (Edward the Confessor retook Wessex for the Saxons. In 1016 Edmund Ironside was crowned king at Glastonbury.
After the Norman Conquest the region was controlled by various Norman as well as Breton lords and later by local gentry, a few of whom appear to have been descended from pre-Conquest families. In 1140, during the civil war of King Stephen's reign, the castles of Plympton and Exeter were held against the king by Baldwin de Redvers and this gave rise to the defensive castles at Corfe Castle, Powerstock, Wareham and Shaftesbury. The period saw the growth of towns such as Truro, Totnes, Okehampton and Plympton in the west of the region, but these were small compared with the established wealth of ancient cathedral cities in the east of the region such as Exeter, Bath and Wells. Wealth grew from sheep farming in the east of the region: church controlled estates such as Glastonbury Abbey and Wells became among the richest in England, while tin and silver mining was important in Devon and Cornwall; Stannary Parliaments with semi-autonomous powers were established. Farming prospered until it was severely hit by the Black Death which arrived in Dorset in 1348 and quickly spread through Somerset, causing widespread death, with mortality rates perhaps as high as 50% in places. The resulting labour shortage led to changes in feudal practices. Crafts and industries also flourished; the Somerset woollen industry was then one of the largest in England. Coal mining in the Mendips was an important source of wealth while quarrying also took place.
Many parish churches were rebuilt in this period. Between 1107 and 1129 William Giffard, the Chancellor of King Henry I, converted the bishop's hall in Taunton into Taunton Castle. His successor, Henry of Blois, transformed the manor house here into a mighty castle in 1138. Bridgwater Castle was built in 1202 by William Brewer. It passed to the king in 1233 and in 1245 repairs were ordered to its motte and towers. During the 11th century Second Barons' War against Henry III, Bridgwater was held by the barons against the King. During the Middle Ages sheep farming for the wool trade came to dominate the economy of Exmoor. The wool was spun into thread on isolated farms and collected by merchants to be woven, fulled, dyed and finished in thriving towns such as Dunster. The land started to be enclosed and from the 17th century onwards larger estates developed, leading to establishment of areas of large regular shaped fields. During this period a Royal Forest and hunting ground was established, administered by the Warden. The Royal Forest was sold off in 1818.
Where conditions were suitable, coastal villages and ports had an economy based on fishing. The larger ports such as Fowey contributed vessels to the naval enterprises of the King and were subject to attack from the French in return. Bridgwater was part of the Port of Bristol until the Port of Bridgwater was created in 1348, covering 80 miles (130 km) of the Somerset coast line, from the Devon border to the mouth of the River Axe. Historically, the main port on the river was at Bridgwater; the river being bridged at this point, with the first bridge being constructed in 1200. Quays were built in 1424; with another quay, the Langport slip, being built in 1488 upstream of the Town Bridge. In Bristol the port began to develop in the 11th century. By the 12th century Bristol was an important port, handling much of England's trade with Ireland. During this period Bristol also became a centre of shipbuilding and manufacturing. Bristol was the starting point for many important voyages, notably John Cabot's 1497 voyage of exploration to North America. By the 14th century Bristol was one of England's three largest medieval towns after London, along with York and Norwich, with perhaps 15,000–20,000 inhabitants on the eve of the Black Death of 1348–49. The plague resulted in a prolonged pause in the growth of Bristol's population, with numbers remaining at 10,000–12,000 through most of the 15th and 16th centuries.
During the Wars of the Roses, there were frequent skirmishes between the Lancastrian Earl of Devon and Yorkist Lord Bonville. In 1470, Edward IV pursued Warwick and Clarence as far as Exeter after the Battle of Lose-coat Field. The organisation of the region remained based on the shires and Church estates, which were largely unchanged throughout the period. In 1497, early in Henry VII's reign, the Royal pretender Perkin Warbeck, besieged Exeter. The Cornish Rebellion of 1497 led by An Gof and Thomas Flamank ended in a march to Blackheath in London where the Cornish forces were massacred.
Great disturbances throughout both Cornwall and Devon followed the introduction of Edward VI's Book of Common Prayer. The day after Whit Sunday 1549, a priest at Sampford Courtenay was persuaded to read the old mass. This insubordination spread swiftly into serious revolt. The Cornish quickly joined the men of Devon in the Prayer Book Rebellion and Exeter was besieged until relieved by Lord Russell. The Cornish had a particular motivation for opposing the new English language prayer book, as there were still many monoglot Cornish speakers in West Cornwall. The Cornish language declined rapidly afterwards and the Dissolution of the Monasteries resulted in the eventual loss of the Cornish language as a primary language. By the end of the 18th century it was no longer a first language.
The Council of the West was a short-lived administrative body established by Henry VIII for the government of the western counties of England. It was analogous in form to the Council of the North. The Council was established in March 1539, with Lord Russell as its Lord President. Members included Thomas Derby, Sir Piers Edgcumbe, Sir Richard Pollard and John Rowe. However, the fall of Thomas Cromwell, the chief political supporter of government by Councils, and the tranquillity of the western counties made it largely superfluous. It last sat in summer 1540, although it was never formally abolished.
The Bristol Channel floods of 1607 are believed to have affected large parts of the Somerset Levels, with flooding up to 8 feet (2 m) above sea level. In 1625, a House of Correction was established in Shepton Mallet, and today HMP Shepton Mallet is England's oldest prison still in use.
During the English Civil War, Somerset was largely Parliamentarian, although Dunster was a Royalist stronghold. The county saw important battles between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians, notably at Lansdowne in 1643 and Langport in 1645. Bristol was occupied by Royalist military, after they overran Royal Fort, the last Parliamentarian stronghold in the city. Taunton Castle had fallen into ruin by 1600 but it was repaired during the Civil War. The castle changed hands several times during 1642–45 along with the town. During the Siege of Taunton it was defended by Robert Blake, from July 1644 to July 1645. After the war, in 1662, the keep was demolished and only the base remains. This war resulted in castles being slighted (destroyed to prevent their re-use).
In 1685, the Duke of Monmouth led the Monmouth Rebellion in which a force partly raised in Somerset fought against James II. The rebels landed at Lyme Regis and travelled north hoping to capture Bristol and Bath, Puritan soldiers damaged the west front of Wells Cathedral, tore lead from the roof to make bullets, broke the windows, smashed the organ and the furnishings, and for a time stabled their horses in the nave. They were defeated in the Battle of Sedgemoor at Westonzoyland, the last battle fought on English soil. The Bloody Assizes which followed saw the losers being sentenced to death or transportation. At the time of the Glorious Revolution, King James II gathered his main forces, altogether about 19,000 men, at Salisbury, James himself arriving there on 19 November 1688. The first blood was shed at Wincanton, in Somerset. In Salisbury, James heard that some of his officers, such as Edward Hyde, had deserted, and he broke out in a nose-bleed which he took as a bad omen. His commander in chief, the Earl of Feversham, advised retreat on 23 November, and the next day John Churchill deserted to William. On 26 November, James's daughter Princess Anne did the same, and James returned to London the same day, never again to be at the head of a serious military force in England.
Since 1650, the City of Plymouth has grown to become the largest city in Devon, mainly due to the naval base at Devonport. Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Devonport is one of three operating bases in the United Kingdom for the Royal Navy. HMNB Devonport is now the largest naval base in Western Europe. The large Portland Harbour, built at the end of the 19th century and protected by Nothe Fort and the Verne Citadel, was for many years, including during the wars, another of the largest Royal Navy bases.
The 19th century saw improvements to roads in the region with the introduction of turnpikes and the building of canals and railways. The usefulness of the canals was short-lived, though they have now been restored for recreation. Chard claims to be the birthplace of powered flight, in 1848 when the Victorian aeronautical pioneer John Stringfellow first demonstrated that engine-powered flight was possible through his work on the Aerial Steam Carriage. North Petherton was the first town in England (and one of the few ever) to be lit by acetylene gas lighting.
Around the 1860s, at the height of the iron and steel era, a pier and a deep-water dock were built, at Portishead to accommodate the large ships that had difficulty in reaching Bristol Harbour. The Portishead power stations were coal-fed power stations built next to the dock. Industrial activities ceased in the dock with the closure of the power stations. The Port of Bristol Authority finally closed the dock in 1992, and it has now been developed into a marina and residential area.
During the First World War many soldiers from the South West were killed, and war memorials were put up in most of the towns and villages; only a few villages escaped casualties. There were also casualties – though much fewer – during the Second World War, who were added to the memorials. Several areas were bases for troops preparing for the 1944 D-Day landings. Exercise Tiger, or Operation Tiger, was the code names for a full-scale rehearsal in 1944 for the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The British Government evacuated approximately 3,000 local residents in the area of Slapton, now South Hams District of Devon. Some of them had never left their villages before. Bristol's city centre suffered severe damage from Luftwaffe bombing during the Bristol Blitz of World War II. The Royal Ordnance Factory ROF Bridgwater was constructed early in World War II for the Ministry of Supply. The Taunton Stop Line was set up to resist a potential German invasion, and the remains of its pill boxes can still be seen, as well as others along the coast.
Exmoor was one of the first British National Parks, designated in 1954, under the 1949 National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act. and is named after its main river. It was expanded in 1991 and in 1993 Exmoor was designated as an Environmentally Sensitive Area. The Quantock Hills were designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in 1956, the first such designation in England under the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. The Mendip Hills followed with AONB designation in 1972.
Hinkley Point A nuclear power station was a Magnox power station constructed between 1957 and 1962 and operating until ceasing generation in 2000. Hinkley Point B is an Advanced Gas-cooled Reactor (AGR) which was designed to generate 1250 MW of electricity (MWe). Construction of Hinkley Point B started in 1967. In September 2008 it was announced, by Electricité de France (EDF), that a third, twin-unit European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) reactor known as Hinkley Point C is planned, to replace Hinkley Point B which is due for closure in 2016.
|Key population data for
South West England
|Over 75 years old||9.3%|
According to the 2001 census the population of the South West region was 4,928,434. It had grown in the last 20 years by 12.5% from 4,381,400 in mid-1981, making it the fastest growing region in England. Teignbridge in Devon had the largest population gain with 26.3% and Devon as whole grew by 17.6%. Population falls occurred in the two major cities of Bristol and Plymouth.
For top-tier authorities, Torbay has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the region, with Exeter the highest rate for council districts. For top-tier authorities, North Somerset (closely followed by Bath & NE Somerset) has the lowest rate, with Cotswold having the lowest rate for council districts.
As measured by the English Indices of Deprivation 2007, the region shows similarities with Southern England in having more Lower Layer Super Output Areas in the 20% least multiple derived districts than the 20% most deprived. The relative amount of deprivation is similar to the East Midlands, except the South West has much fewer deprived areas. According to the LSOA data in 2007, the most deprived districts (before Cornwall became a unitary authority) were, in descending order – Bristol (64th in England), Torbay (71st), Plymouth (77th), Kerrier (86th), Restormel (89th), North Cornwall (96th), and West Somerset (106th). At county level, the deprived areas are City of Bristol (49th in England), Torbay (55th), Plymouth (58th), and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (69th).
The least deprived council districts are, in descending order – East Dorset, North Wiltshire, South Gloucestershire, Cotswold, Kennet, Stroud, Tewkesbury, West Wiltshire, Salisbury, and Bath and North East Somerset. East Dorset has the highest life expectancy for males in the UK. At county level, the least deprived areas, in descending order, are South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Poole, North Somerset, and Somerset.
In March 2011 the region had the second lowest unemployment claimant count in England, second to South East England, with 2.7%. Inside the region, Torbay has the highest rate with 4.5%, followed by Bristol and Plymouth with 3.8%. East Dorset has the lowest rate with 1.4%.
In the 2010 general election, there was a 1% swing from Liberal Democrat to Conservative in the region.  For the region's electorate, 43% voted Conservative, 35% voted Liberal Democrat, and Labour came third with 15%. The distribution of seats is weighted in favour of the Conservatives with 36 Conservative, 15 Liberal Democrat and 4 Labour (Plymouth Moor View, Exeter, Bristol South and Bristol East). The Conservatives gained 11 seats, with the others (mostly Labour – 8) losing seats. Somerset and Cornwall are the strongest areas for the Liberal Democrats, with Gloucestershire, Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire being more Conservative.
In the 2009 European Election, 30% voted Conservative, 22% UKIP, 17% Liberal Democrat, 9% Green, and 8% Labour. Labour and the Greens have no MEPs.
The Cornish language evolved from the Southwestern dialect of the British language spoken during the Iron Age and Roman period. The area controlled by the Britons was progressively reduced by the expansion of Wessex after the sixth century, and in 936 Athelstan set the east bank of the Tamar as the boundary between Anglo-Saxon Wessex and Celtic Cornwall. The Cornish language continued to flourish during the Middle Ages but declined thereafter, and the last speaker of traditional Cornish died in the nineteenth century. Geographical names derived from the British language are widespread in South West England, and include several examples of the River Avon, from abonā = "river" (cf. Welsh afon), and the words "tor" and "combe".
Until the 19th century, the West Country and its dialects of the English language were largely protected from outside influences, due to its relative geographical isolation. The West Country dialects derive not from a corrupted form of modern English, but from the Southwestern dialects of Middle English, which themselves derived from the dialects of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex. Late West Saxon, which formed the earliest English language standard, from the time of King Alfred until the late 11th century, is the form in which the majority of Anglo-Saxon texts are preserved. Thomas Spencer Baynes claimed in 1856 that, due to its position at the heart of the Kingdom of Wessex, the relics of Anglo-Saxon accent, idiom and vocabulary were best preserved in the Somerset dialect. There is some influence from the Welsh and Cornish languages, depending on the specific location. eflect the historic origins of the English language and its historic pronunciation West Country dialects are commonly represented as "Mummerset", a kind of catchall southern rural accent invented for broadcasting.
The most economically productive areas within the region are Bristol, the M4 corridor and south east Dorset which are all areas with the best links to London. Bristol alone accounts for a quarter of the region's economy, with the surrounding areas of Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire accounting for a further quarter. The South West of England Regional Development Agency is based in Exeter (although this is expected to cease operations by March 2012, its functions being generally replaced by Local Enterprise Partnerships), and the South West Strategic Leaders' Board (which makes funding decisions) is in Taunton.
Bristol's economy has been built on maritime trade (including the import of tobacco and the slave trade). Since the early 20th century, however, aeronautics have taken over as the basis of Bristol's economy, with companies including Airbus UK, Rolls-Royce (military division) and BAE Systems (former Bristol Aeroplane Company then BAC) manufacturing in Filton. Defence Equipment and Support is at MoD Abbey Wood. More recently defence, telecommunications, information technology and electronics have been important industries in Bristol, Swindon and elsewhere. VOSA, the Soil Association, Clerical Medical, the Arts and Humanities Research Council, Bristol Water, and the Bristol and West Bank are in Bristol; Orange United Kingdom and the Environment Agency are based at Aztec West (South Gloucestershire); Indesit makes tumble dryers in Yate; and HP have a large site and Infineon Technologies UK are at Stoke Gifford. Knorr-Bremse UK make air brakes in Kingswood. The South West Observatory's Economy Module provides a detailed analysis of the region's economy.
The region's Gross value added (GVA) breaks down as 69.9% service industry, 28.1% production industry and 2.0% agriculture. This is a slightly higher proportion in production, and lower proportion in services, than the UK average. Agriculture, though in decline, is important in many parts of the region. Dairy farming is especially important in Dorset and Devon, and the region has 1.76 million cattle, second to only one other UK region, and 3,520 square miles (9,117 km2) of grassland, more than any other region. Only 5.6% of the region's agriculture is arable.
Tourism is important in the region, and in 2003 the tourist sector contributed £4,928 million to the region's economy. In 2001 the GVA of the hotel industry was £2,200 million, and the region had 13,800 hotels with 250,000 bed spaces.
There are very large differences in prosperity between the eastern parts of the region and the west. While Bristol is the second most affluent large city in England after London, some parts of Cornwall have among the lowest average incomes in Northern Europe.
NHS South West, the strategic health authority is based in Taunton off junction 25 of the M5. The Devon Air Ambulance is based at the Devon and Cornwall Police HQ in Exeter; the Cornwall Air Ambulance is at Newquay Cornwall Airport; Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance is at Henstridge east of Yeovil on the A30; the Great Western Air Ambulance is at Bristol Filton Airport (one of the last in the UK when it began in June 2008); and the Wiltshire Air Ambulance (shared with the police) is at Devizes (police HQ). The South Western Ambulance Service is on the Sowton Industrial Estate, next to the M5, half a mile east of the police HQ. The region's Manufacturing Advisory Service is on the A38 north of Gloucester at Twigworth, its Business Link is in central Swindon, and the UKTI office is at the Leigh Court Business Centre in Abbots Leigh, North Somerset.
Major companies in Cornwall include Imerys who are major producers of kaolin, Dairy Crest who have their main cheese creamery in Davidstow making Cathedral City Cheddar on the former RAF Davidstow Moor, and Ginsters have a food production plant in Callington, off the A390 between Liskeard and Tavistock. Rodda's make clotted cream near Scorrier, off the A30 east of Redruth. Fugro Seacore in Mongleath near Falmouth are leading offshore drilling contractors. Kensa Heat Pumps are west of Truro.
Cornwall has become reliant on tourism, more so than the other counties of the South West. In 2010 Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly had the lowest GVA per head of any county or unitary authority in England. It contributes only 7.4% of the region's economy and has received EU Convergence funding (formerly Objective One funding) since 2000. Over four million people visit the county each year. The reasons for Cornwall's poor economic performance are complex and apparently persistent, but causes include its remoteness and poor transport links, the decline of its traditional industries, such as mining, agriculture and fishing, the low-wealth generating capacity of tourism, relocation of higher skilled jobs to other parts of the South West, and lack of a concerted economic strategy (although use of European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund monies have been deployed in an attempt at restructuring).
The Met Office is in Exeter as is Pennon Group, the water company. The airline Flybe is based at Exeter Airport. Hemerdon Mine, east of Plymouth, has one of the largest deposits of tungsten in the world. Britannia Royal Naval College is at Dartmouth. Appledore Shipbuilders are based at Appledore, Torridge, Devon, three miles north of Bideford. Parker Hannifin have their instrumentation division next to the Taw Bridge (A361) at Pottington in Barnstaple. Next to Royal Marines Base Chivenor Perrigo makes Germolene and own-label OTC medicines at the Wrafton Laboratories in Heanton Punchardon on the A361.
All Ambrosia products are made in Lifton, off the A30 on the River Lyd. Parkham Farms make Westcountry Farmhouse Cheddar at Woolfardisworthy, Torridge. Supacat at Dunkeswell Aerodrome, north of Honiton, make protective vehicles for the Army, notably the Jackal. These vehicles are also made in Plymouth by Devonport Management Limited (DML). Centrax make industrial gas turbines in Newton Abbot. To the north-west, on the A38 at the A382 junction at Heathfield in Bovey Tracey, British Ceramic Tile have the largest ceramic tile plant in Europe.
Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company UK (chewing gum) and HMNB Devonport (the largest naval base in western Europe) are in Plymouth. Toshiba had a large presence in Ernesettle, in the north Plymouth of, which was the second largest employer after the Royal Navy, until they moved production of televisions to Kobierzyce in Poland in 2009; Britain made its last television at the site on 27 August 2009. Princess Yachts make motor yachts off the A374 in Stonehouse.
New Look is in Weymouth. Hall & Woodhouse brewery is in Blandford Forum (home of the Royal Corps of Signals). Wytch Farm (BP) is the UK's largest onshore oil field. Meggitt is a leading aerospace and defence contractor, based west of Bournemouth Airport, with Hobbycraft, at a former BAC works in Hurn, close to West Parley. The Royal Armoured Corps is based at Bovington Camp, and next door is the Bovington Tank Museum.
Merlin Entertainments (who own Sea Life Centres, and are the world's second largest theme park operator after Disney) is in Poole, at the end of the A350 near the Twin Sails bridge; Lush, the cosmetics company, and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) are headquartered nearby. Parvalux, on the A3049 on the West Howe Ind Estate in Wallisdown, makes geared DC electric motors and gearboxes. Ryvita is made in Parkstone on the B3061. Hamworthy Combustion is an international engineering consultancy based at the A349/A3049 junction in Fleetsbridge. Fitness First, the largest privately owned health club group in the world, originated in Bournemouth and is now globally headquartered south of Fleet's Corner. Siemens Traffic Controls make most of the UK's traffic lights west near Fleet's Corner, and Sunseeker International is a main motor yacht manufacturer.
Endsleigh Insurance is on the A46 south of Cheltenham at Shurdington. Kraft Foods UK, UCAS, Kohler Mira Ltd (showers), Spirax-Sarco Engineering Plc, Chelsea Building Society, GE Aviation Systems UK (former Smiths Group), and GCHQ (also in Oakley) are in Cheltenham. Computer security firm Symantec have a site in Gloucester, the base of Ecclesiastical Insurance. Dowty Rotol (who make propellors), Messier-Dowty UK (historically Britain's main aircraft undercarriage manufacturer, now owned by Safran) and Bond Aviation Group (helicopter leasing) are next to Gloucestershire Airport at Staverton. The Cheltenham & Gloucester bank is Barnwood (north Gloucester) next to Unilever's manufacturing site for Wall's ice cream on the A417 and to the south EDF Energy (former British Energy) have their nuclear energy engineering centre.
Moog Controls UK on the Ashchurch Ind Estate near junction 9 (A46) of the M5 makes servo valves for the aerospace industry (flight control systems). The Colt Car Company UK (who distribute Mitsubishi Motors) are in Cirencester, and Corin Group make artificial joints on the A429 near the Royal Agricultural University. The Stroud & Swindon Building Society and Ecotricity are in Stroud. Dairy Crest makes Frijj milkshake at its large dairy at Severnside at Stonehouse next to the M5; nearby ReedHycalog (owned by National Oilwell Varco) make industrial drill bits off the A419. GSK makes Lucozade and Ribena at Coleford in the Forest of Dean. Mabey Group make steel girder bridges in Lydney. The Fire Service College is in Moreton-in-Marsh.
The Royal Marines have a large base for 40 Commando west of Taunton, with their training centre at Lympstone in Devon, on the A376 and River Exe. Screwfix is in Yeovil and Clarks shoes is in Street, although most of its shoes are made in the Far East. Shepton Mallet is home of Blackthorn Cider and the Gaymer Cider Company. Uniq Desserts make premium chilled desserts, such as tiramisu for M & S, at their site (former St Ivel) off the B3081 at Evercreech. Dairy Crest packs Cathedral City cheese in Frome. The Glastonbury Festival at Pilton (nearer to Shepton Mallet than Glastonbury), off the A361, is the UK's biggest music festival. Westland Helicopters (now AgustaWestland, owned by Italy's Finmeccanica) is in Yeovil and Weston-super-Mare. To the east of Yeovil, in Houndstone, Garador make garage doors (part of Hörmann Group of Amshausen, Europe's largest mechanical door manufacturer). Yeo Valley Organic is in Blagdon. Numatic International Limited makes vacuum cleaners in Chard, and Brecknell Willis, a railway engineering company on the A30, makes pantographs. Dairy Crest makes brandy butter south of the town in Tatworth and Forton, near the meeting point of Dorset, Somerset and Devon. DS Smith's Wansbrough paper mill at Watchet on the coast is the UK's largest manufacturer of coreboard. Ministry of Cake, owned by Greencore since December 2007 on the A3065 in Staplegrove in the west of Taunton, is the leading provider of frozen desserts to the UK foodservice industry. The United Kingdom Hydrographic Office is in Taunton. Pilgrims Choice cheddar is made at Wincanton.
Next to the Royal Portbury Dock, off junction 19 of the M5 on the A369 is Lafarge Plasterboard. Thatchers Cider is in Sandford, North Somerset on the A368, two miles east of the M5. Towards Bristol Airport, Claverham make actuation equipment for the aerospace sector in Yatton in North Somerset, off the A370, and is part of Hamilton Sundstrand, derived from the electrical systems part of Fairey Aviation.
Wessex Water, Future plc, Buro Happold and Rotork are in Bath. Cadbury used to make Curly Wurly, Double Decker and Crunchie at the Somerdale Factory, Keynsham until Kraft closed the plant in March 2011 and moved production to Skarbimierz, Opole Voivodeship in Poland.
The Early Learning Centre is in South Marston. Nearby, Castrol, the Nationwide Building Society, Research Councils UK and five research councils, Intel Europe, the British Computer Society, a main office of English Heritage, and the National Trust (responsible for the area of the UK except Scotland) are in Swindon. In Stratton St Margaret, BMW press metal for the MINI at Swindon Pressings Ltd, there is a major Honda manufacturing plant (also in South Marston), and the headquarters of W H Smith. Near junction 16 of the M4, close to Freshbrook, are Synergy Health and RWE npower, near the A3102/B4534 roundabout. Triumph International UK is in Blunsdon St Andrew. On the A361 in Highworth north-east of Swindon, TS Tech make seating systems for Honda. Kembrey Wiring Systems make wiring systems for aircraft off the B4006/A4312 roundabout in Stratton St Margaret. Sauer-Danfoss UK provide hydraulics off the A419 in Dorcan, in east Swindon.
Dyson is in Malmesbury, north of the M4. Cotswold Outdoor (recommended supplier to the DofE Award and the Scout Association), is based at the former RAF Kemble (now Cotswold Airport) in Crudwell, off the A429 near the Gloucestershire boundary south of Cirencester.
Apetito UK, with Wiltshire Farm Foods, is based in Trowbridge off the B3106 next to the railway. Virgin Mobile is in Trowbridge, as is Danone UK (owner of Actimel) and their Cow & Gate subsidiary (run by Numico). In Devizes is the Wadworth Brewery. Cereal Partners make Shredded Wheat and Shreddies at Staverton on the B3106 next to the railway. Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury attracts many tourists. Rockhopper Exploration is in the town and Naim Audio make hi-fi equipment off the A36 in the east of the town. Nearby, Dstl is at Porton Down. Lyons Seafoods in Warminster are the UK's leading producer of frozen prawns. Knorr-Bremse Rail Systems UK (former Westinghouse) make railway air brakes in Bowerhill just south of Melksham and nearby is the headquarters of Avon Rubber. Cooper Tire & Rubber Company also make Avon Tyres in the same town. Chippenham has the HQ of Wincanton plc, the large logistics company, and Invensys Rail Group (former Westinghouse Rail Systems) who make rail signalling equipment, and the software company SciSys. Herman Miller UK, a maker of office furniture, has its international headquarters at the A4/A350 roundabout south of Chippenham, towards Corsham. Avon Protection are on the A350 south of Melksham in Melksham Without, and are world-leading manufacturers of respirators, including for the MoD.
In the centre of the county are many military establishments, notably MoD Boscombe Down, the training base on Salisbury Plain, and the army bases around Tidworth, Larkhill (home of the Royal School of Artillery) and Warminster (home of the Infantry).
The region covers much of the historical area of Wessex (omitting only Hampshire and Berkshire), and all of the Celtic Kingdom of Dumnonia which comprised Cornwall, Devon, and parts of Somerset and Dorset. In terms of local government, it was divided after 1974 into Avon, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Somerset, and Wiltshire. Avon has since been abolished, and several mainly urban areas have become unitary authorities.
The official region consists of the following geographic counties and local government areas:
|Map||Ceremonial county||Shire county / unitary||Districts|
|Somerset||1. Bath and North East Somerset UA|
|2. North Somerset UA|
|11. Somerset CC||a) South Somerset, b) Taunton Deane, c) West Somerset, d) Sedgemoor, e) Mendip|
|3. Bristol UA|
|Gloucestershire||4. South Gloucestershire UA|
|5. Gloucestershire CC||a) Gloucester, b) Tewkesbury, c) Cheltenham, d) Cotswold, e) Stroud, f) Forest of Dean|
|Wiltshire||6. Swindon UA|
|7. Wiltshire UA|
|Dorset||8. Dorset CC||a) Weymouth and Portland, b) West Dorset, c) North Dorset, d) Purbeck, e) East Dorset, f) Christchurch|
|9. Poole UA|
|10. Bournemouth UA|
|Devon||12. Devon CC||a) Exeter, b) East Devon, c) Mid Devon, d) North Devon, e) Torridge, f) West Devon, g) South Hams, h) Teignbridge|
|13. Torbay UA|
|14. Plymouth UA|
|Cornwall||15. Isles of Scilly sui generis UA|
|16. Cornwall UA|
|NUTS 1||Code||NUTS 2||Code||NUTS 3||Code|
|South West England||UKK||Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Bristol/Bath area||UKK1||Bristol||UKK11|
|Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire||UKK12|
|Dorset and Somerset||UKK2||Bournemouth and Poole||UKK21|
|Cornwall and Isles of Scilly||UKK3||Cornwall and Isles of Scilly||UKK30|
Although referendums had been planned on whether elected assemblies should be set up in some of the regions, none was planned in the South West. The South West Regional Assembly (SWRA) was the regional assembly for the South West region, established in 1999. It was based in Exeter and Taunton. The SWRA was a partnership of councillors from all local authorities in the region and representatives of various sectors with a role in the region's economic, social and environmental well-being. There was much opposition to the formation of the SWRA with critics saying it was an unelected unrepresentative and unaccountable "quango". The Regional Assembly was wound up in May 2009, and its functions taken on by the Strategic Leaders' Board (SLB) of South West Councils.
South West England is one of the constituencies used for elections to the European Parliament. From the 2004 election onwards, Gibraltar has been included within the constituency for the purpose of elections to the European parliament only. As of the 2009 European Parliament election, it is represented by three Conservative, two UKIP and one Liberal Democrat Member of European Parliament (MEP).
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Somerset, the former area of Avon, Swindon and Cornwall have comprehensive schools. The other counties have some selective grammar schools. Gloucestershire has six, Wiltshire has two (both in Salisbury), Poole has two, Bournemouth has two, Devon has one, Plymouth has three and Torbay has three.
There are around 205,000 at secondary schools in the region, the third lowest total after the North East and the East Midlands. The region has fairly low overall truancy. At secondary schools Bristol has the highest rate of persistent truants with 6.0%; Purbeck (Dorset) has the lowest rate with 2.3%, followed by East Dorset with 2.6%.
At GCSE in 2009, Bath and North East Somerset consistently performs the best, closely followed by Gloucestershire, Poole, and Wiltshire. Also above the UK average are Dorset, Torbay, North Somerset, Devon, Bournemouth, and Torbay, in descending order. The South West performs well at GCSE, with the only exception being the City of Bristol which is very low performing, and to a smaller extent, Swindon.
At A-level in 2009, Bournemouth performs the best, and does so consistently every year, ahead of all the other areas including most of England. Gloucestershire again performs well, being next best, closely followed by Wiltshire. These areas and Somerset are the only ones in the South-West above the England average, and the top three out of the four have some selective schools and are the only three to perform above average at A-level and GCSE. Poole received much lower A-level results than normal in 2009. At A-level, the South West is not quite as well performing as other areas. Dorset does not perform much lower at A-level than GCSE on average, but Bristol performs much better at A-level than GCSE. Plymouth performs the worst, although Swindon has had that position in recent years.
There are 33 further education colleges in the region. The main five FE colleges are Cornwall College, City of Bristol College, Somerset College of Arts and Technology, Bournemouth and Poole College, and Truro College. LSC areas (which fund FE colleges) follow the traditional county boundaries, except Devon and Cornwall (similar to their police force) share an LSC area. The regional LSC office is based at St Lawrence House in Bristol.
There are twelve universities in the region:
There are also four higher education colleges. The region has the lowest number of people registered on higher education courses at FE colleges.
The University of Bristol receives the most total funding, according to Higher Education Funding Council for England figures for the 2006/2007 academic year, and the largest research grant—twice as big as any other in the region. Bath has the next largest research grant, closely followed by Exeter. UWE and Plymouth get small research grants, but no other universities in the region receive much of a research grant. The University of Plymouth has the largest teaching grant.
Of the region's students (postgraduate and undergraduate), 50% are from the region, and around 40% from other regions. For full-time first degree students, 35% come from the region, around 22% are from South East England, and 8% are from London. Including the East of England, around 70% are from Southern England. 10% are from the Midlands, and 5% from Northern England. The main access for students from the north is the Cross Country Route. Around 33% of native South West students stay in the region, with 18% going to the South East (around 60% stay in the south of England). Around 14% go to Wales, but very few go to the East of England. Access by road or rail to the East of England region is not straightforward, with around the same amount of travel as to Scotland. Many more native South West students are prepared to go to the north of England, than northern students are prepared to study in the South West. Once graduated, around 50% stay in the region, with 15% each going to London or the South East (around 80% find work in the south of England). Very few go elsewhere (especially the north of England); around 4% go to the West Midlands or Wales.
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