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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 (also spelled vice county)[1] is a geographical division of the British Isles. It is also called biological vice-county[1] as it is used for purposes of biological recording and other scientific data-gathering, or sometimes called a Watsonian vice-county as vice-counties were introduced by Hewett Cottrell Watson 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 surrounding vice-county.

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][6] 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.[7]

Vice-county systems[edit]

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.[8] 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".[9] Less usually, each of the five separate islands may be treated as a vice-county, giving 157 vice-counties in total.[10]

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",[11] 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".[12] In all cases, the Channel Islands may be excluded[11] or included,[12] so that the count of vice-counties varies, as noted in the table above.

List of vice-counties[edit]

Southern England[edit]

VC Vice county
VC1 West Cornwall with Scilly
VC2 East Cornwall
VC3 South Devon
VC4 North Devon
VC5 South Somerset
VC6 North Somerset
VC7 North Wiltshire
VC8 South Wiltshire
VC9 Dorset
VC10 Isle of Wight
VC11 South Hampshire
VC12 North Hampshire
VC13 West Sussex
VC14 East Sussex
VC15 East Kent
VC16 West Kent
VC17 Surrey
VC18 South Essex
VC19 North Essex
VC20 Hertfordshire
VC21 Middlesex
VC22 Berkshire
VC23 Oxfordshire
VC24 Buckinghamshire
VC25 East Suffolk
VC26 West Suffolk
VC27 East Norfolk
VC28 West Norfolk
VC29 Cambridgeshire
VC30 Bedfordshire
VC31 Huntingdonshire
VC32 Northamptonshire
VC33 East Gloucestershire
VC34 West Gloucestershire

Northern England, Wales[edit]

VC Vice county
VC35 Monmouthshire
VC36 Herefordshire
VC37 Worcestershire
VC38 Warwickshire
VC39 Staffordshire
VC40 Shropshire
VC41 Glamorganshire
VC42 Breconshire
VC43 Radnorshire
VC44 Carmarthenshire
VC45 Pembrokeshire
VC46 Cardiganshire
VC47 Montgomeryshire
VC48 Merionethshire
VC49 Caernarvonshire
VC50 Denbighshire
VC51 Flintshire
VC52 Anglesey
VC53 South Lincolnshire
VC54 North Lincolnshire
VC55 Leicestershire with Rutland
VC56 Nottinghamshire
VC57 Derbyshire
VC58 Cheshire
VC59 South Lancashire
VC60 West Lancashire
VC61 South-east Yorkshire
VC62 North-east Yorkshire
VC63 South-west Yorkshire
VC64 Mid-west Yorkshire
VC65 North-west Yorkshire
VC66 County Durham
VC67 South Northumberland
VC68 North Northumberland
VC69 Westmorland with Furness
VC70 Cumberland

Scotland, Isle of Man[edit]

VC Vice county
VC71 Isle of Man
VC72 Dumfriesshire
VC73 Kirkcudbrightshire
VC74 Wigtownshire
VC75 Ayrshire
VC76 Renfrewshire
VC77 Lanarkshire
VC78 Peeblesshire
VC79 Selkirkshire
VC80 Roxburghshire
VC81 Berwickshire
VC82 East Lothian
VC83 Midlothian
VC84 West Lothian
VC85 Fifeshire
VC86 Stirlingshire
VC87 West Perthshire
VC88 Mid Perthshire
VC89 East Perthshire
VC90 Angus
VC91 Kincardineshire
VC92 South Aberdeenshire
VC93 North Aberdeenshire
VC94 Banffshire
VC95 Moray
VC96 East Inverness-shire
VC97 West Inverness-shire
VC98 Argyllshire
VC99 Dunbartonshire
VC100 Clyde Isles
VC101 Kintyre
VC102 South Ebudes
VC103 Mid Ebudes
VC104 North Ebudes
VC105 West Ross & Cromarty
VC106 East Ross & Cromarty
VC107 East Sutherland
VC108 West Sutherland
VC109 Caithness
VC110 Outer Hebrides
VC111 Orkney
VC112 Shetland


VC Vice 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 Ireland listed by county, province and jurisdiction[edit]

Praeger's fieldwork mostly predates and ignores the county boundary changes made in 1899 under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898. Divergences from the pre-1899 boundaries are noted below.

Irish vice counties
Irish vice counties
Vice-counties of Ireland[13]
VC Vice county County Province Jurisdiction
H1 South Kerry Kerry Munster Republic of Ireland
H2 North Kerry Kerry Munster Republic of Ireland
H3 West Cork Cork Munster Republic of Ireland
H4 Mid-Cork Cork Munster Republic of Ireland
H5 East Cork Cork Munster Republic of Ireland
H6 Waterford Waterford[n 1] Munster Republic of Ireland
H7 South Tipperary[n 2] Tipperary Munster Republic of Ireland
H8 Limerick Limerick[n 3] Munster Republic of Ireland
H9 Clare Clare[n 3][n 4][n 5] Munster[n 4][n 5] Republic of Ireland
H10 North Tipperary[n 2] Tipperary Munster Republic of Ireland
H11 Kilkenny Kilkenny[n 1] Leinster[n 1] Republic of Ireland
H12 Wexford Wexford Leinster Republic of Ireland
H13 Carlow Carlow Leinster Republic of Ireland
H14 Queen's County Laois Leinster Republic of Ireland
H15 South-east Galway Galway[n 5] Connacht[n 5] Republic of Ireland
H16 West Galway Galway[n 4][n 6] Connacht Republic of Ireland
H17 North-east Galway Galway Connacht Republic of Ireland
H18 King's County Offaly Leinster Republic of Ireland
H19 Kildare Kildare Leinster Republic of Ireland
H20 Wicklow Wicklow Leinster Republic of Ireland
H21 Dublin Dublin Leinster Republic of Ireland
H22 Meath Meath Leinster Republic of Ireland
H23 Westmeath Westmeath Leinster Republic of Ireland
H24 Longford Longford Leinster Republic of Ireland
H25 Roscommon Roscommon Connacht Republic of Ireland
H26 East Mayo Mayo Connacht Republic of Ireland
H27 West Mayo Mayo[n 6] Connacht Republic of Ireland
H28 Sligo Sligo Connacht Republic of Ireland
H29 Leitrim Leitrim Connacht Republic of Ireland
H30 Cavan Cavan Ulster Republic of Ireland
H31 Louth Louth Leinster Republic of Ireland
H32 Monaghan Monaghan Ulster Republic of Ireland
H33 Fermanagh Fermanagh Ulster Northern Ireland
H34 East Donegal Donegal[n 7] Ulster Republic of Ireland[n 7]
H35 West Donegal Donegal Ulster Republic of Ireland
H36 Tyrone Tyrone Ulster Northern Ireland
H37 Armagh Armagh Ulster Northern Ireland
H38 Down Down Ulster Northern Ireland
H39 Antrim Antrim Ulster Northern Ireland
H40 Londonderry Londonderry[n 7] Ulster Northern Ireland
  1. ^ a b c County Waterford (Munster) north of the River Suir (i.e. Kilculliheen) is in Kilkenny vice-county (Leinster)
  2. ^ a b The North and South Tipperary vice-counties are divided by the Dublin–Cork railway line and do not correspond to the county's North and South ridings.
  3. ^ a b County Limerick north-west of the River Shannon (i.e. the North Liberties) is in Clare vice-county
  4. ^ a b c The Aran Islands (County Galway, Connacht) are in Clare vice-county (Munster)
  5. ^ a b c d The only 1899 transfer accepted by Praeger is the land east of Lough Derg transferred from Galway (Connacht) to Clare (Munster).
  6. ^ a b Praeger's 1933 map inconsistently includes in West Mayo an area transferred from Galway to Mayo under the 1898 act; his 1901 map has it in West Galway.
  7. ^ a b c The area of County Londonderry (Northern Ireland) west of the River Foyle is in East Donegal vice-county (Republic of Ireland).

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d Webb, D. A. (1980), "The Biological Vice-Counties of Ireland", Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 80B: 179–196, JSTOR 20494359
  2. ^ a b c d Vincent, Peter J. (1990), "Recording species distributions", A Biogeography of the British Isles: an Introduction, Routledge, pp. 48–73, ISBN 978-0-415-03471-5
  3. ^ a b c 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, archived from the original on 4 March 2016, retrieved 8 April 2021
  6. ^ "Watsonian vice county boundaries GIS layers". GitHub. 5 June 2019. Retrieved 8 April 2021.
  7. ^ Dandy, J. E. (1969), Watsonian vice-counties of Great Britain, vol. Publication no. 146, Ray Society, London
  8. ^ Duff, A. G., ed. (2008), Checklist of Beetles of the British Isles, retrieved 10 August 2011
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Baroni Urbani, C. & Collingwood, C. A. (1976), "A numerical analysis of the distribution of British Formicidae (Hymenoptera, Aculeata)" (PDF), Verhandlungen der Naturforschenden Gesellschaft in Basel, 85: 51–91
  11. ^ a b Browse Watsonian Vice County, National Biodiversity Network, 2011, retrieved 10 August 2011
  12. ^ a b 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
  13. ^ Webb, D. A. (1980). "The Biological Vice-Counties of Ireland". Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, Section B. 80B: 179–196. ISSN 0035-8983. JSTOR 20494359.

External links[edit]