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Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly, UK, are an archipelago of five inhabited islands and numerous other small rocky islets (around 140 in total) lying 28 miles off Land's End - the most southwesterly point of the British Isles. The five inhabited islands are (in order of size) St. Mary's, Tresco, St Martin's, St Agnes and Bryher; the total population is just over 2000. There are many smaller uninhabited islands and rocky islets.

The islands' position produces a place of great contrast - the ameliorating effect of the sea means they rarely have frost or snow, which allows local farmers to grow flowers well ahead of those on mainland Britain (the largest agricultural product is cut flowers, mostly daffodils), while the exposure to the Atlantic winds means spectacular winter gales lash the islands from time to time.

This is reflected in the landscape, most clearly seen on Tresco where the lush Sub-Tropical Abbey Gardens on the sheltered southern end of the island contrast with the low heather and bare rock sculpted by the wind on the exposed Northern end.

Scilly has been inhabited since stone-age times and its history has been one of subsistence living until this century with people living from the land and the sea. Farming and fishing continues today, but the main industry now is tourism.

Obviously the sea has always played a huge part in Scillonian history but it was in the nineteenth 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.

One continuing legacy of the isles' past is gig racing, wherein fast rowing boats ("gigs") with crews of 6 (or in one case, 7) race between the main islands. Gig racing is said to derive from the race to collect salvage from ships wrecked on the rocks around Scilly.

The tourist season has been extended into October when many birderss arrive. Because of its position, Scilly is the first landing for many vagrant birds, including extreme rarities from North America and Siberia.

The islands are the property of the British Crown (except for Hugh Town, on St Mary's, which was sold to the inhabitants in 1949), and are administered by the Duchy of Cornwall.

Sometimes known by variant forms such as Scilly Isles, but Isles of Scilly is the official name.