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Thursday, October 11, 2007

The Isles of Scilly (Cornish: Ynysek Syllan) form an archipelago of islands off the southwesternmost tip of Great Britain. Traditionally administered as part of the county of Cornwall, the islands now have their own Council of the Isles of Scilly. They are also designated the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The islands are correctly referred to as the Isles of Scilly, or simply as Scilly; the terms "Scillies" and "Scilly Isles" are considered incorrect by locals.

Scilly has been inhabited since the Stone Age and its history has been one of subsistence living until the 20th century with people living off the land and the sea. Farming and fishing continue today, but the main industry now is tourism.
The islands may correspond to the Cassiterides (Tin Isles) visited by the Phoenicians and mentioned by the Greeks.
It is likely that until relatively recently the Isles were much larger with many of them joined into one island and that the land has subsided. Evidence for this includes:
It is not known at exactly what time the islands stopped speaking Cornish, but it seems to have gone into decline during the Middle Ages, and lost the language before parts of Penwith. The islands thus appeared to have lost the old Celtic language before parts of the mainland, in contrast to the situation of Irish or Scottish Gaelic.
During the English Civil War, the isles were a stronghold for the Royalists. It was during this period that the Three Hundred and Thirty Five Years' War started between the isles and the Netherlands. In June 1651, the isles were captured from the Royalists by Admiral Robert Blake for the Parliamentarians.
Scilly is famous for its danger to shipping and its many shipwrecks. The wreck of Sir Cloudesley Shovell's ship HMS Association in 1707 off the Isles of Scilly due to inaccuracies in navigation led to the development of the method of lunar distances, and to the invention of the marine chronometer by John Harrison, the first reliable methods of determining longitude at sea.
The sea has always played a huge part in Scillonian history but it was in the 19th century that Scilly had its maritime heyday. Beaches which are now enjoyed by sunbathers were then factories for shipbuilding; the harbours now full of pleasure boats were once packed with local and visiting fishing and trading boats.
Former Prime Minister Harold Wilson regularly holidayed on the Isles and eventually bought a cottage there as a holiday home. He is buried on St Mary's. His widow Mary Wilson is still a frequent visitor.

A description in Roman times describes Scilly as "Scillonia insula" in the singular, as if there was an island much bigger than any of the others.
Remains of a prehistoric farm have been found on Nornour, which is now a small rocky skerry far too small for farming.
At certain low tides the sea becomes shallow enough for people to walk between some of the islands. This is possibly one of the sources for stories of drowned lands, e.g., Lyonesse.
Ancient field walls are visible below the high tide line off some of the islands (e.g. Samson).
King Olaf I of Norway, came to Syllingene as the isles were called in Snorre Sturlason`s Royal Sagas of Norway. He came to see a fortuneteller, a seer. This event eventually led to the christening of King Olav. History

Historically, the Isles of Scilly were administered as one of the hundreds of Cornwall, although the Cornwall quarter sessions had limited jurisdiction there.
The Local Government Act 1888 allowed the Local Government Board to establish in the Isles of Scilly "councils and other local authorities separate from those of the county of Cornwall"... "for the application to the islands of any act touching local government." Accordingly, in 1890 the Isles of Scilly Rural District Council (the RDC) was formed as a sui generis unitary authority, outside the administrative county of Cornwall. Cornwall County Council provided some services to the Isles, for which the RDC made financial contributions. Section 265 of the Local Government Act of 1972 allowed for the continued existence of the RDC, but renamed as the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

Local government
Politically, the islands are a fully integrated part of England and hence of the United Kingdom. They are represented in the United Kingdom Parliament as part of the St Ives constituency, currently held by Andrew George of the Liberal Democrats.
As part of the United Kingdom, the islands are part of the European Union and are represented in the European Parliament as part of the multi-member South West England constituency. The Isles of Scilly are not the most remote part of this constituency, as it also includes the United Kingdom dependent territory of Gibraltar.

National government
There are primarily two flags used to represent Scilly:
An adapted version of the old Board of Ordnance flag has also been used, after it was left behind when munitions were removed from the isles. The Cornish Ensign has also been used. Scilly Isles Flags
The Isles of Scilly are subdivided into four wards that have no administrative function, but only serve statistical purposes []:
The list of parishes, also without any administrative function since 1929, numbers five [2]:

St. Agnes
St. Martin's
St. Mary's
St. Agnes
St. Martin's
St. Mary's
Tresco Subdivisions

Historical context
Today, tourism is estimated to account for 85 per cent of the island's income. The islands have been efficient in attracting this investment due to its unique environment, favourable summer climate, relaxed culture, efficient co-ordination of tourism providers and good transport links by sea and air to the mainland, uncommon in scale to similar sized island communities.
Due to its scale, tourism stands to justify the existence of many other island activities, for example, transport links to the mainland which could not be maintained with reduced visitor numbers. Therefore the implications of tourism are far ranging, as they essentially affect the sustainability of the whole community.
Tourism is also a highly seasonal industry due to its reliance on outdoor recreation, and the low level of tourist activity in winter causes a near shutdown of the islands during that season. However, the tourist season benefits from an extended period of business in October when many birdwatchers (or birders) arrive. Because of its position, Scilly is the first landing for many migrant birds, including extreme rarities from North America and Siberia.

The predominance of tourism means that "tourism is by far the main sector throughout each of the individual islands, in terms of employment… [and] this is much greater than other remote and rural areas in the United Kingdom". Tourism accounts for approximately 63 per cent of all employment.
Because of the seasonality of tourism, many jobs on the islands are seasonal and part time as work cannot be guaranteed throughout the year. Some islanders take up other temporary jobs 'out of season' to compensate for this. Due to a lack of local casual labour at peak holiday times, many of the larger employers accommodate guest workers who come to the islands for the summer to have a 'working holiday'.

The islands are linked to the mainland by both air and sea services, and rely on boat services for inter-island connections. St. Mary's is the only island with a significant road network.
By air, the islands are served by St. Mary's Airport on the main island of St. Mary's and by Tresco Heliport on the island of Tresco. The following air services currently operate:
By sea, the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company provides a passenger and cargo service from Penzance to St Mary's. The other islands are linked to St. Mary's by a network of inter-island launches. Transport
The freehold of the islands is the property of the British Crown (except for Hugh Town on St Mary's, which was sold to the inhabitants in 1949). The crown estate on the islands is administered by the Duchy of Cornwall. The duchy also holds 3,921 acres as duchy property, part of the duchy's landholding.

Real estate
In 1975, the islands were designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The designation covers the entire archipelago, including the uninhabited islands and rocks, and is the smallest such area in the UK. The islands of Annet and Samson have large terneries and the islands are well populated by seals. The Isles of Scilly are the only British haunt of the White-toothed Shrew.
The islands are famous amongst birdwatchers, especially twitchers for their almost magnetic ability to attract rare birds from all corners of the globe. The peak time of year for this is generally in October when it is not unusual for several of the rarest birds in Europe to share this archipelago. One reason for the success of these islands in producing rarities is the extensive coverage these islands get from birdwatchers, but island archipelagos are favoured by rare birds which like to make landfall and eat before continuing their journeys and often arrive on far flung islands first.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty

The people of the islands have a genetic link to the ancient British tribal people who inhabited the islands long before the arrival of the Celts or Romans. The vast majority of the population are English, and the ethnic makeup of the islands is almost exclusively White.

One continuing legacy of the isles' past is gig racing, wherein fast rowing boats ("gigs") with crews of six (or in one case, seven) race between the main islands. Gig racing has been said to derive from the race to collect salvage from shipwrecks on the rocks around Scilly, but the race was actually to deliver a pilot onto incoming vessels, to guide them through the hazardous reefs and shallows. (The boats are correctly termed "pilot gigs".)
The Isles of Scilly feature what is reportedly the smallest football league in the world. The league's two clubs, Woolpack Wanderers and Garrison Gunners, play each other sixteen times a season and compete for two cups as well as the league title. The two share a ground, Garrison Field, but travel to the mainland for part of the year to play other non-professional clubs.
In December 2006, Sport England published a survey which revealed that residents of the Isles of Scilly were the most active in England in sports and other fitness activities. 32% of the population participate at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes.

Scilly is a popular scuba diving area.

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