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The Orkney Islands, also known as Orkney or wrongly The Orkneys, are a county and archipelago located off the north coast of Scotland in the United Kingdom. The county consists of 70 islands and skerries. The islands are separated from the Scottish mainland by the Pentland Firth, a 10 km seaway which stretches from the north coast of Caithness to the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay.

The largest island of the Orkneys, known as Mainland, is home to 15,000 of the total 20,000 population of the county, but the north islands of Shapinsay, Gairsay, Stronsay, Wyre, Rousay, Egilsay, Eday, Sanday, Westray, Papa Westray and North Ronaldsay and the south islands of Graemsay, Hoy, Burray, Flotta and South Ronaldsay are also populated.[1]

The largest town and administrative centre of the islands is Kirkwall.[2]


Orkney lies between 58°41′and 59°24′North, and 2°22′and 3°26′West, measuring 80 kilometres from northeast to southwest and 47 kilometres from east to west, and covers 975 square kilometres in total.

The islands are largely low-lying with the exceptions of rising sandstone hills on the isles of Hoy and Rousay and rugged cliffs on the west coast of Mainland. The coastlines of the islands are indented, and are separated from each other by straits, usually called "firths".


Agriculture, primarily animal husbandry, is the main industry in the Orkney Islands, with more than 90% of land in the islands being used for the growing of crops (mostly cereal production) and the grazing of sheep and cattle. The agricultural sector alone provides employment for over a quarter of Orkney's workforce.

The modern fishing industry is also a major sector in Orkney, concentrating on herring, white fish, lobsters, crabs and other shellfish, and salmon fish farming. Although it is in decline, approximately 3.5% of the islands workforce are involved in the fishing industry, concentrating on herring, white fish, lobsters, crabs and other shellfish, and salmon fish farming.


Orkney is represented in the United Kingdom's House of Commons as part of a joint constituency with the Shetland Islands, which elects one Member of Parliament (MP). The seat has been held consistently by members of the UK Liberal Democrats and their predecessors the British Liberal Party since 1950.[3] The current incumbent of the Orkney and Shetland constituency is Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael.[4]

In the Scottish Parliament the Orkney Islands are an individual constituency which elects one Member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP). The current MSP for the constituency is Liam McArthur of the Liberal Democrat party.[5] The Orkney Islands are also a member of the Highlands and Islands electoral region.

The local government, Orkney Islands Council (OIC), consists of 21 councilors, all of whom are independent.[6] Orkney is one of only two Scottish council areas in which a majority of the members are independents, the other being Shetland.


  1. http://www.visitorkney.com/about_orkney.asp
  2. http://www.orkneyjar.com/orkney/kirkwall/
  3. http://www.alba.org.uk/scot99constit/h05.html
  4. http://www.alistaircarmichael.org.uk
  5. http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/msp/membersPages/liam_mcarthur/
  6. http://www.orkney.gov.uk/

See also