This article will provide a fact-based background to the Falkland Islands. This will include details regarding its geography, climate, population, history, governance and the economy.
The Falkland Islands are located 400 miles (650 km) off the south-east coast of South America and consist of approximately 740 islands. The largest islands called East Falkland and West Falkland, with the Capital Stanley located on the former. The total land mass of the Falkland Islands is 4,700 square miles (12,173 square km), approximately the size of the US State Connecticut, the Bahamas or half the size of Wales. The landscape comprises of mountain ranges, flat plains, rugged coastline, sandy beaches and cliffs. The highest point in the Falklands is Mount Usborne on East Falkland and its highest peak is 705m (2,312 ft.). A map of the Falkland Islands is provided below.
The Falkland Islands weather is strongly affected by the cool South Atlantic Ocean giving it a narrow annual temperature. However, the weather is similar to the UK but with more sunshine hours and less rainfall, but a lower average temperature in the summer. Summers are from October to March and experience an average of 6.6 hours of sunshine per day and have a Mean Maximum temperature of 13.6°C. During winter, April to September, the sunshine hours decrease to an average of 3 hours per day and temperatures drop to a Mean Maximum average of 6.6°C.
Rainfall does not generally differ from season to season with an average 48.7mm per month in summer and 47.2mm in winter. Summers are generally windier than winters, experiencing an average wind speed of 18.1mph (29.1 kph) compared to 16.3mph (26.2 kph) in winter. The table below provides the average weather conditions for each month in the Falkland Islands since 1986.
According to the 2016 National Census, the Falkland Islands has a population of 3,354 people. A total of 2,524 of which live in the Capital, Stanley, 397 live in the countryside, known locally as “Camp” and 381 live at Mount Pleasant, which is the British military base on East Falkland.
English sea captain John Davis, in his ship the Desire, recorded the first sighting of the Falkland Islands in 1592. First claimed by Britain in 1765, the British, French and Spanish periodically had garrisons in the Islands until 1811, when all the garrisons were withdrawn. Subsequently, British and American ships frequently visited the islands.
On 6th October 1832, an Argentine military garrison landed in an attempt to establish Argentine sovereignty over the Falkland Islands, disregarding the British claim of 67 years prior. On 2nd January 1833, the Royal Navy evicted the Argentine military garrison with no loss of life. The civilian population in the Islands, who had sought permission from Britain to live there, were invited to stay. A year later, a small, permanent British administration was established. In 1845 Stanley was founded and continues to remain the islands’ Capital to this day.
In the 19th century Stanley, the capital of the Falklands, became one of the world’s busiest ports because of the damage sustained by ships going around the Cape Horn (the southern tip of South America). This was ended when the Panama Canal opened in 1914 and shipping could travel from the Atlantic to Pacific via the canal.
The World War I memorial
During World War I, the Falklands was host to one of the largest naval battles to take place, and concluded with a decisive British Naval Victory over the Imperial German Navy on the 8th December 1914. A memorial stands in Stanley to commemorate the battle and the loss of life on both sides.
On the 1st April 1982, an Argentine military force invaded the Falkland Islands. The British forces liberated the Falkland Islands after 74 days of occupation on 14th June 1982. Unfortunately, nearly 1,000 Falkland Island, British and Argentine lives were lost as a result of the war.
The Falkland Islands are a United Kingdom Overseas Territory by choice. The United Kingdom has no doubts over the sovereignty of the islands and supports the islander’s right to self-determination. The Falkland Islands are self-sufficient and self-governing and do not require financial support from the United Kingdom, with the exception of defence. A new Falkland Islands Constitution, signed by HMG, was brought into effect on the 1st January 2009 and further entrenches the rights of the local Falkland Islands population to govern itself in all areas apart from defence and foreign affairs.
On 10th and 11th March 2013, the Falkland Islands Government held an internationally observed Referendum on the political status of the Falkland Islands. The people of the Falkland Islands were asked "Do you wish the Falkland Islands to retain their current political status as an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom?”. The turnout was 92% and 99.8% of people voted to remain a British Overseas Territory.
Under the terms of the Falkland Islands Constitution, eight Assembly Members are elected every four years. The Legislative Assembly is chaired by a Speaker and includes two ex officio members; the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) Chief Executive and the FIG Financial Secretary. The Legislative Assembly is empowered to pass legislation for the peace, order and good governance of the Falkland Islands, subject to the approval of Her Majesty the Queen, acting through her Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. Legislative Assembly meetings are held in public, usually bi-monthly. Elected Members have a substantial measure of responsibility for the conduct of affairs concerning the Falkland Islands, although the Governor retains responsibility for foreign affairs and defence. The Governor nevertheless consults regularly with Members on these issues.
Currently, no political parties are represented during elections, with all Members being elected as independents. There is no formal opposition. Each Member takes responsibility for a particular portfolio and works closely with the relevant departments, but does not have the role of a Minister.
Each year the elected Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) elect three of them to Executive Council, which is the policy making body of the Government. Executive Council is chaired by His Excellency the Governor. Executive Council normally meets twice monthly and is responsible for the formulation of strategy and policy, and for high level management decisions. Under the Falkland Islands Constitution, the Governor retains responsibility for various issues, particularly external affairs and defence, however the Governor consults regularly on these issues.
The Falkland Islands Government
Due to the size and population of the Falkland Islands, FIG provides a broad and eclectic range of services compared to other developed nations. FIG provides the basic government services such as education, health, social services, taxation, public works, administration (secretariat), treasury and agriculture etc. FIG also provides necessary services to the community which the private-sector is currently unable to, such as Leisure and Sports facilities, Aviation and Utilities. Other departments were established for regulating and monitoring economic activities, such as Fisheries and Minerals Departments.
FIG’s financial year operates from the 1st July to the 30th June, and has the objective to maintain a balanced budget. For the 2020/2021 financial year, the FIG operating budget is £81.7m.
Up until the mid-1980s Falkland Islands’ economy was very small and heavily relied on the export of wool. Since the Shackleton Report in 1983, which commissioned after the Falklands War, recommended a number of key economic changes, such as the sub-division of farms, the establishment of a development corporation and infrastructure development. Another key recommendation from the Shackleton Report was the designation of a fisheries zone, which took place in the mid-1980s. This has allowed the Falklands to diversify its economy and move away from its dependence on the Agriculture industry and enabled the Falkland Islands Government and the Falklands’ economy to become self-sufficient.
The GDP of the Falkland Islands peaked in 2012 at around £204m, and the latest figures estimate the Falklands’ GDP stands at between £170 - £200m. The Fishing industry is traditionally the Falkland’s largest sector and can contribute between 30-50% of the islands’ GDP. In recent years the Oil and Gas and Tourism industries have become more prominent because of hydrocarbons exploration in the islands and the recovery of tourism worldwide, particularly the cruise industry. The Agriculture industry, culturally and economically, is also considered a very important industry in the islands and is one of the largest private sector employers in the Falklands.