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The Channel Islands [imagemap with 7 links]

The Channel Islands

The Channel Islands -- once a part of Normandy when they were know as Les Iles Normandes -- are located just twenty miles off the coast of France, along the English Channel. There are five main islands: Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark. The other permanently occupied islands are Brecqhou (off Sark) and Jethou (close to Herm); both are privately owned.

The Channel Islands have been a focal point for the discord that was to exist between England and France since the 13th century. The French made many raids on the Islands and, at times, established temporary footholds, only to be driven off by the resolute islanders, supported by the forces of the English monarch. The frequency of these raids led to the building of fortresses around the coasts. Some vestiges of these fortifications remain, reminders of the islands' stormy history. Many laws and customs remain rooted in the Islands' Norman-French past.

A unique blend of cultural influences, the islands boast a temperate climate with mild, damp winters and warm, dry summers. The economy is based largely on financial services -- banking, fund management, insurance, etc., as well as agriculture and tourism. Potatoes, cauliflower, tomatoes, and especially flowers are important export crops, shipped mostly to the UK.

Dairy cows are also integral to the Channel Islands. The Golden Guernsey cow is thought to have originated from crossing native black European wild cattle with larger Roman cows from the south and mixing them with high milk-yielding animals brought to France by Norse invaders. Today, the Guernsey is known for excellent grazing traits, gentle disposition, and the production of high-butterfat, high-protein milk. By law, different breeds can't be imported to Guernsey; only Guernsey milk can be sold in Guernsey. And Guernsey milk can be exported, but not imported. The Jersey breed is another of the oldest known dairy breeds and an important export income earner. Milk products generally go to the UK and other European Union countries.

In recent years, the government has encouraged light industry, with the result that an electronics industry has developed alongside the traditional manufacturing of knitwear. Raw materials and energy requirements are imported, as well as a large share of food needs. Low taxes (the islands are duty-free) make both Jersey and Guernsey popular tax havens.

Among the many famous people with island connections (among them Sir Walter Raleigh, Anthony Trollope and George Eliot), is Victor Hugo who spent sixteen years in exile in Jersey and Guernsey. He described the islands as "pieces of France which fell into the sea and were gathered up by England."

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