Another important element in giving Great Britain its present status has doubtless been the typically marine climate.
From the standpoint of agriculture the climate is good because the winters are mild, extremes of temperature are rare, and rain falls at all seasons. Nevertheless, on the whole the summers are too cool and the rainfall too abundant. Along the west coast where marine influences are strongest, the January temperature is nearly uniform from Cornwall in the southwest (44° F.) to the Hebrides (42° F.). In the Scilly Islands off the end of Cornwall subtropical vegetation prevails, and the winter temperature is about the same as in the French Riviera although the Mediterranean sunshine is missing.
Toward the east the temperature decreases, but except on the mountains it almost nowhere averages below 36° F. In summer the west and north coasts are cool, ranging from 60° F. along the west coast of England to 55° F. in the far north. The central part is warmer with July averages as high as 63° F.
The rainfall is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year, with a little less in the spring and a slight maximum in the fall. On the western side of Great Britain and in most of the highlands it is more abundant than is desirable in a climate with such cool summers. Consequently the natural vegetation is largely moors A278) with a great amount of heather, and the use of the land is almost limited to sheep-raising. In certain sections the annual rainfall exceeds 80 inches. Eastern Britain and the Midlands, however, are in the rain shadow of the highlands and some parts get less than 25 inches. The humidity is generally high, and cloudiness increases toward the west. On Ben Nevis the sun shines only 17 per cent of the time when it is above the horizon, and even in the sunniest sections along the English Channel only 40 per cent. This means that most of Great Britain is better adapted to cattle and sheep than to crops, but the southeast is good for crops. This will be illustrated in a later section where East Anglia is used as an example.
The outstanding excellence of the British climate lies in its effect on man as distinguished from agriculture. There is probably no part of the world where the climate is more favorable to the health and activity of both mind and body, provided people are technologically so advanced that they can easily provide themselves with proper food, clothing, and shelter. We have already seen how the center of human progress has shifted toward the climates which combine five main conditions, namely, summers that are ideal for physical activity, winters that are ideal for mental activity, a rather high degree of humidity at all temperatures from the optimum downward, a constant succession of stimulating but not excessively severe storms, and a sufficient but not extreme rainfall evenly distributed throughout the year. Even on the basis of investigations in distant lands like America or Japan, the ideal weather appears to be approximately that of London with an average of 63° in July and 37° in January, and with a constantly high atmospheric humidity, few extremes of heat or cold, constant changes of weather, and moderate rain at all seasons. Fogs are often mentioned as a great disadvantage of London, but as a matter of fact they occur there on an average only about twenty days per year. They axe not particularly bad in themselves; their disagreeable quality arises largely because man--even the Englishman--has not yet learned to keep smoke and dust out of the air.