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Falkland Islands, also called Malvinas Islands or Spanish Islas Malvinas, internally self-governing overseas territory of the United Kingdom in the South Atlantic Ocean. It lies about 300 miles (480 km) northeast of the southern tip of South America and a similar distance east of the Strait of Magellan. The capital and major town is Stanley, on East Falkland; there are also several scattered small settlements as well as a Royal Air Force base that is located at Mount Pleasant, some 35 miles (56 km) southwest of Stanley. In South America the islands are generally known as Islas Malvinas, because early French settlers had named them Malouines, or Malovines, in 1764, after their home port of Saint-Malo, France. Area 4,700 square miles (12,200 square km). Pop. (2012, excluding British military personnel stationed on the islands) 2,563.
The two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, and about 200 smaller islands form a total land area nearly as extensive as the U.S. state of Connecticut. The government of the Falkland Islands also administers the British overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, including the Shag and Clerke rocks, lying from 700 to 2,000 miles (1,100 to 3,200 km) to the east and southeast of the Falklands.
Ranges of hills run east-west across the northern parts of the two main islands, reaching 2,312 feet (705 metres) at Mount Usborne in East Falkland. The coastal topography features many drowned river valleys that form protected harbours. The small rivers occupy broad, peat-covered valleys. The islands’ cool and windy climate offers few temperature extremes and only minor seasonal variability. Consistently high west winds average 19 miles (31 km) per hour, while the mean annual average temperature is about 42 °F (5 °C), with an average maximum of 49 °F (9 °C) and an average minimum of 37 °F (3 °C). Precipitation averages 25 inches (635 mm) annually.
The islands’ vegetation is low and dense in a landscape with no natural tree growth. White grass (Cortaderia pilosa) and diddle-dee (Empetrum rubrum) dominate the grasslands. Where livestock grazing has been controlled, coastal tussock grass (Parodiochloa flabellata) still covers offshore islands. The chilly, damp climate inhibits the complete decomposition of plant matter and permits the accumulation of deep peat deposits.
Almost the whole area of the two main islands, outside of Stanley, is devoted to sheep farming. The islands’ sheep stations (ranches) vary in size and may be owned by individual families or by companies based in Britain. Several hundred thousand sheep are kept on the islands, producing several thousand tons of wool annually as well as some mutton. The wool is sold in Great Britain and is the Falklands’ leading land-based export. The Falkland Islands Company, incorporated in 1852 and granted a Royal Charter in 1851, played a notable part in the economic development of the islands and was for many years the single largest sheep rancher there.
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