Vice-counties of Great Britain and the Isle of Man (Orkney and Shetland not shown)
Map showing detailed differences between Derbyshire vice-county (VC57) and the modern administrative county of Derbyshire, England.

A vice-county (vice county or biological vice-county)[1] is a geographical division of the British Isles used for the purposes of biological recording and other scientific data-gathering. It is sometimes called a Watsonian vice-county as vice-counties were introduced for Great Britain, its offshore islands, and the Isle of Man, by Hewett Cottrell Watson who first used them in the third volume of his Cybele Britannica published in 1852.[2] Watson's vice-counties were based on the ancient counties of Britain, but often subdividing these boundaries to create smaller, more uniform units, and considering exclaves to be part of the vice-county in which they locally lie.

In 1901 Robert Lloyd Praeger introduced a similar system for Ireland and its off-shore islands.[1][2]

Vice-counties are the "standard geographical area for county based [...] recording".[3] They provide a stable basis for recording using similarly sized units, and, although National Grid-based reporting has grown in popularity, vice-counties remain a useful mapping boundary, employed in many regional surveys, especially county floras and national lists. This allows data collected over long periods of time to be compared easily. The vice-counties remain unchanged by subsequent local government reorganisations, allowing historical and modern data to be more accurately compared.[4]

In 2002, to mark the 150th anniversary of the introduction of the Watsonian vice-county system, the NBN Trust commissioned the digitisation of the 112 vice-county boundaries for England, Scotland and Wales, based on 420 original one-inch to the mile maps annotated by Dandy in 1947, and held at the Natural History Museum, London. The resulting datafiles were much more detailed than anything readily available to recorders up to that point, and were made freely available (as a beta version). Intended for use with modern GIS and biological recording software, a final 'standard' version was released in 2008.[5] Up until that point, county recorders only had general access to a set of two fold-out vice-county maps covering the entirety of Great Britain, published in 1969.[6]

Vice-county systems

The vice-county system was first introduced by Hewett Cottrell Watson in the third volume of his Cybele Britannica published in 1852. He refined the system in later volumes. The geographical area that Watson called "Britain" consisted of the island of Great Britain with all of its offshore islands, plus the Isle of Man, but excluding the Channel Islands. This area was divided into 112 vice-counties with larger counties divided; for example, Devon into the vice-counties of North Devon and South Devon, and Yorkshire into five vice-counties. Each of these 112 vice-counties has a name and a number. Thus Vice-county 38, often abbreviated to "VC38", is called "Warwickshire".[2]

In 1901, Robert Lloyd Praeger extended the system of vice-counties to Ireland and its off-shore islands, based on an earlier suggestion by C.C. Babington in 1859. The Irish vice-counties were based on the historic 32 counties of Ireland, with the six largest being sub-divided; for example, the county of Cork was divided into three vice-counties. This produced a total of 40 vice-counties for Ireland, which were numbered from H1 to H40 ("H" for "Hibernia"). As with the 112 vice-counties of Britain, each vice-county has a name as well as a number. Thus Vice-county (or VC) H3 is "West Cork".[1][2]

Combining these two systems produces a 152 vice-county system. The exclusion of the Channel Islands from Watson's system for Britain has led to variations between different recording schemes. The geographical area covered by the 152 vice-counties may be described as the "British Isles", as in the 2008 Checklist of Beetles of the British Isles.[7] Other recording schemes regard the "British Isles" as including the Channel Islands. As they are not part of the 152 vice-county system, the Channel Islands may be added as an extra vice-county, making 153 in total, being indicated by letter codes such as "C"[3] or "CI".[8] Less usually, each of the five separate islands may be treated as a vice-county, giving 157 vice-counties in total.[9]

Alternative counts of vice-counties used in different recording schemes are shown in the table below.

Alternative counts of vice-counties
Count Originator Descriptions
112 Watson (Great) Britain (including the Isle of Man)
40 Praeger Ireland
0, 1 or 5   Channel Islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm)
152, 153 or 157   British Isles, (Great) Britain and Ireland

The vice-counties of Britain alone may be described as "Watsonian vice-counties",[10] or this term may be used for the combined vice-counties of Britain and Ireland,[3] which may also be described as "Watson-Praeger vice-counties".[11] In all cases, the Channel Islands may be excluded,[10] or included,[11] so that the count of vice-counties varies, as noted in the table above.

List of vice-counties

Great Britain

VCVice county
1 West Cornwall with Scilly
2 East Cornwall
3 South Devon
4 North Devon
5 South Somerset
6 North Somerset
7 North Wiltshire
8 South Wiltshire
9 Dorset
10 Isle of Wight
11 South Hampshire
12 North Hampshire
13 West Sussex
14 East Sussex
15 East Kent
16 West Kent
17 Surrey
18 South Essex
19 North Essex
20 Hertfordshire
21 Middlesex
22 Berkshire
23 Oxfordshire
24 Buckinghamshire
25 East Suffolk
26 West Suffolk
27 East Norfolk
28 West Norfolk
29 Cambridgeshire
30 Bedfordshire
31 Huntingdonshire
32 Northamptonshire
33 East Gloucestershire
34 West Gloucestershire
35 Monmouthshire
36 Herefordshire
37 Worcestershire
38 Warwickshire
39 Staffordshire
40 Shropshire
41 Glamorganshire
42 Breconshire
43 Radnorshire
44 Carmarthenshire
45 Pembrokeshire
46 Cardiganshire
47 Montgomeryshire
48 Merionethshire
49 Caernarvonshire
50 Denbighshire
51 Flintshire
52 Anglesey
53 South Lincolnshire
54 North Lincolnshire
55 Leicestershire (with Rutland)
56 Nottinghamshire
57 Derbyshire
58 Cheshire
59 South Lancashire
60 West Lancashire
61 South-east Yorkshire
62 North-east Yorkshire
63 South-west Yorkshire
64 Mid-west Yorkshire
65 North-west Yorkshire
66 County Durham
67 South Northumberland
68 North Northumberland
69 Westmorland (with Furness)
70 Cumberland
71 Isle of Man
72 Dumfriesshire
73 Kirkcudbrightshire
74 Wigtownshire
75 Ayrshire
76 Renfrewshire
77 Lanarkshire
78 Peeblesshire
79 Selkirkshire
80 Roxburghshire
81 Berwickshire
82 East Lothian
83 Midlothian
84 West Lothian
85 Fifeshire
86 Stirlingshire
87 West Perthshire
88 Mid Perthshire
89 East Perthshire
90 Angus
91 Kincardineshire
92 South Aberdeenshire
93 North Aberdeenshire
94 Banffshire
95 Moray
96 East Inverness-shire
97 West Inverness-shire
98 Argyllshire
99 Dunbartonshire
100 Clyde Isles
101 Kintyre
102 South Ebudes
103 Mid Ebudes
104 North Ebudes
105 West Ross & Cromarty
106 East Ross & Cromarty
107 East Sutherland
108 West Sutherland
109 Caithness
110 Outer Hebrides
111 Orkney
112 Shetland


VCVice county
H1 South Kerry
H2 North Kerry
H3 West Cork
H4 Mid-Cork
H5 East Cork
H6 Waterford
H7 South Tipperary
H8 Limerick
H9 Clare
H10 North Tipperary
H11 Kilkenny
H12 Wexford
H13 Carlow
H14 Laois
H15 South-east Galway
H16 West Galway
H17 North-east Galway
H18 Offaly
H19 Kildare
H20 Wicklow
H21 Dublin
H22 Meath
H23 Westmeath
H24 Longford
H25 Roscommon
H26 East Mayo
H27 West Mayo
H28 Sligo
H29 Leitrim
H30 Cavan
H31 Louth
H32 Monaghan
H33 Fermanagh
H34 East Donegal
H35 West Donegal
H36 Tyrone
H37 Armagh
H38 Down
H39 Antrim
H40 Londonderry

Vice-counties of Great Britain listed by historic county

Historic countyVice counties
Cambridgeshire, incorporating the Isle of ElyCambridgeshire
CornwallWest Cornwall with Scilly, East Cornwall
DevonSouth Devon, North Devon
County DurhamDurham
EssexSouth Essex, North Essex
GloucestershireEast Gloucestershire, West Gloucestershire
HampshireSouth Hampshire, North Hampshire, Isle of Wight
KentEast Kent, West Kent
Lancashire less FurnessSouth Lancashire, West Lancashire
Leicestershire and RutlandLeicestershire with Rutland
LincolnshireSouth Lincolnshire, North Lincolnshire
Middlesex & the City of London Middlesex
NorfolkEast Norfolk, West Norfolk
Northamptonshire, incorporating the Soke of PeterboroughNorthamptonshire
NorthumberlandSouth Northumberland, North Northumberland (Cheviotland)
SomersetSouth Somerset, North Somerset
SuffolkEast Suffolk, West Suffolk
SussexWest Sussex, East Sussex
Westmorland and FurnessWestmoreland with Furness
WiltshireNorth Wiltshire, South Wiltshire
YorkshireSouth-east Yorkshire, North-east Yorkshire, South-west Yorkshire, Mid-west Yorkshire, North-west Yorkshire
Denbighshire and English MaelorDenbighshire
Flintshire less English MaelorFlintshire
AberdeenshireSouth Aberdeenshire, North Aberdeenshire
ArgyllshireMain Argyll, Kintyre, Mid Ebudes, South Ebudes
ButeshireClyde Isles
Fife and Kinross-shireFife
Inverness-shire and Nairnshire less Outer HebridesEasterness, Westerness, North Ebudes
Perthshire and ClackmannanshireWest Perth, Mid Perth, East Perth
Ross and Cromarty less Outer HebridesEast Ross, West Ross
SutherlandEast Sutherland, West Sutherland

Vice-counties of Ireland listed by county, province and jurisdiction

VCVice countyCountyProvinceJurisdiction
H1 South Kerry County Kerry Munster Republic of Ireland
H2 North Kerry County Kerry Munster Republic of Ireland
H3 West Cork County Cork Munster Republic of Ireland
H4 Mid-Cork County Cork Munster Republic of Ireland
H5 East Cork County Cork Munster Republic of Ireland
H6 Waterford County Waterford Munster Republic of Ireland
H7 South Tipperary County Tipperary Munster Republic of Ireland
H8 Limerick County Limerick Munster Republic of Ireland
H9 Clare County Clare Munster Republic of Ireland
H10 North Tipperary County Tipperary Munster Republic of Ireland
H11 Kilkenny County Kilkenny Leinster Republic of Ireland
H12 Wexford County Wexford Leinster Republic of Ireland
H13 Carlow County Carlow Leinster Republic of Ireland
H14 Laois County Laois Leinster Republic of Ireland
H15 South-east Galway County Galway Connacht Republic of Ireland
H16 West Galway County Galway Connacht Republic of Ireland
H17 North-east Galway County Galway Connacht Republic of Ireland
H18 Offaly County Offaly Leinster Republic of Ireland
H19 Kildare County Kildare Leinster Republic of Ireland
H20 Wicklow County Kildare Leinster Republic of Ireland
H21 Dublin County Dublin Leinster Republic of Ireland
H22 Meath County Meath Leinster Republic of Ireland
H23 Westmeath County Westmeath Leinster Republic of Ireland
H24 Longford County Longford Leinster Republic of Ireland
H25 Roscommon County Roscommon Connacht Republic of Ireland
H26 East Mayo County Mayo Connacht Republic of Ireland
H27 West Mayo County Mayo Connacht Republic of Ireland
H28 Sligo County Sligo Connacht Republic of Ireland
H29 Leitrim County Leitrim Connacht Republic of Ireland
H30 Cavan County Cavan Ulster Republic of Ireland
H31 Louth County Louth Leinster Republic of Ireland
H32 Monaghan County Monaghan Ulster Republic of Ireland
H33 Fermanagh County Fermanagh Ulster Northern Ireland
H34 East Donegal County Donegal Ulster Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland
H35 West Donegal County Donegal Ulster Republic of Ireland
H36 Tyrone County Tyrone Ulster Northern Ireland
H37 Armagh County Armagh Ulster Northern Ireland
H38 Down County Down Ulster Northern Ireland
H39 Antrim County Antrim Ulster Northern Ireland
H40 Londonderry County Londonderry Ulster Northern Ireland

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Webb, D. A. (1980), "The Biological Vice-Counties of Ireland", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 80B: 179–196, JSTOR 20494359
  2. 1 2 3 4 Peter J. Vincent (1990). "Recording species distributions". A Biogeography of the British Isles: an Introduction. Routledge. pp. 48–73. ISBN 978-0-415-03471-5.
  3. 1 2 3 "Vice-county map of Britain and Ireland". British Bryological Society. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  4. Stace, C.A.; Ellis, R.G.; Kent, D.H.; McCosh, D.J. (2003), Vice-county Census Catalogue of The Vascular Plants of Great Britain, London: Botanical Society of the British Isles, ISBN 0 901158 30 5
  5. Sharing Information about Wildlife: Useful Things, National Biodiversity Network, retrieved 8 August 2014
  6. Dandy, J.E. (1969), Watsonian vice-counties of Great Britain, Publication no. 146, Ray Society, London
  7. Duff, A.G., ed. (2008), Checklist of Beetles of the British Isles, retrieved 10 August 2011
  8. Stace, Clive (2010). New Flora of the British Isles (3rd ed.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-70772-5., inside back cover
  9. C. Baroni Urbani & C. A. Collingwood (1976). "A numerical analysis of the distribution of British Formicidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata)" (PDF). Verhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel. 85: 51–91.
  10. 1 2 Browse Watsonian Vice County, National Biodiversity Network, 2011, retrieved 10 August 2011
  11. 1 2 Merritt, R.; Moore, N.W. & Eversham, B.C. (1996), Atlas of the dragonflies of Britain and Ireland : ITE research publication no. 9 (PDF), London: HMSO, ISBN 978-0-11-701561-6, retrieved 10 August 2011

External links

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