The World’s Newest Countries



Image: Toronto Sun

I always cringe in our local pub quiz when the geography questions come along – and pray that they refer to something I know in order to maintain my street-cred.


In a recent quiz, a couple of questions referred to ‘new’ countries of the world, and it led me to check that I was up to speed with all of the newest countries to gain world recognition.

Here is my list:

  1. South Sudan – declared independence from Sudan in 2011, and is currently the newest sovereign country of the world, and a member of the United Nations.
  2. Timor Leste – formerly East Timor, which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002. timor-leste-010211
  3. Eritrea – annexed by Ethiopia in 1962 after a long civil war, eventually gained independence in 1993.
  4. Palau – Gained independence in 1994, and now exists in free association with the USA which is responsible for its defence and foreign affairs.
  5. Kosovo – part of the former Yugoslavia, broke away from Serbia and unilaterally declared independence in 2008. Recognised by the UK and many other United Nations countries, but is not actually a UN member state.
  6. Montenegro – joined with Serbia in 1992 after the collapse of Yugoslavia – but Montenegro withdrew from this alliance in 2006.
  7. Serbia – formed in 2006 after the alliance with Montenegro collapsed.
  8. Slovakia – born as a nation in 1993 following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia.
  9. Czech Republic – created in 1993 following the disintegration of Czechoslovakia.
  10. Bosnia & Herzegovina – created in 1992 following the break up of Yugoslavia.
  11. Croatia – formed in 1991 following the break up of Yugoslavia.
  12. Slovenia – formed in 1991 following the break up of Yugoslavia.

In addition to these, the earlier disintegration of the USSR gave rise to 15 new countries – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

And what of the future? Maybe these will be the next ‘new’ countries to figure in pub quizzes –

Catalonia – a region of Spain located on the north east coast and bordering France and Andorra; Flemish Republic – (Belgium) Flanders differs greatly from Wallonia in terms of language and culture; Venito – some in Venice envision the city becoming a European version of Singapore; Scotland – calls for Scottish independence are still alive; Abkhazia – this region has been disputed for centuries, and tried to separate from Georgia when it was made independent; South Ossetia – recognised by Russia as an independent nation; Transnistra – currently an unrecognised state within Moldova; New Russia – Donetsk and Luhansk, 2 self-declared republics in Ukraine; West Papua – western half of New Guinea; Somaliland – a state within Somalia




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Not Just Garden And Golf …

Since I took early retirement from my teaching career back in 2015, it has not all been gardening and golf.

Apart from my regular visits to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor on behalf of Rayburn Tours, I have been involved in a number of writing projects.

These are now beginning to come to fruition, and the following resources will soon be available to teachers and students:

This exam practice book for OCR B GCSE is published by Hodder and will be available later this month. It was written in collaboration with Jo Payne from Okehampton School – a real Devonian joint effort!Hodder New Publication

I also wrote a number of sections for this AQA GCSE revision guide for Harper Collins, and this will be available in June:

Collins New Publication

I have also been working on a revision flashcard smart ‘phone app for AQA GCSE on behalf of BBC Bitesize, and this should be available later in the year.

No projects in the immediate pipeline – so this summer I can get back to tending my garden and reducing that golf handicap ….

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DigiMap Now With Photos

The excellent Digimap For Schools service has now been updated to include photographs.

Over 5 million photographs from across Britain are now available on Digimap courtesy of Geograph. This crowd-sourced project ( set out in 2005 to capture a photograph for each and every 1 km grid square in the country, and each week, more and more photographs are being uploaded.

Teachers and students can now access this photograph library via the Digimap programme, and can easily find images of features they are interested in and see them located on the maps.

The photographs are available via the menu bar by clicking on the UK map (fifth from the left):

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You can then search by geographical feature (eg drumlins) to see if there are any photographs of these in the map area you have defined. I started by reducing the map scale to cover the whole of the UK before performing my search – and discovered over 260 images of drumlins I could check out!

ScreenHunter_06 May. 16 17.32

Here is my search for glacial erratics:

ScreenHunter_09 May. 16 17.45

The help section of Digimap provides more information about how to use this new feature, and it includes this excellent short video:


If you have not yet made use of this superb mapping software, get your school signed up at:




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Where On Earth Is North Korea?

There has been some pretty hot and scary geo-politics in recent times, particularly the focus on the relationship between the United States and North Korea.

Alan Parkinson (aka @GeoBlogs) alerted me to a recent survey conducted by the New York Times that gathered views from citizens concerning military strategy, sanctions and the like.

One of the questions asked citizens to identify the position of North Korea on a world map – and the responses were (to me, at least) quite frightening.

ScreenHunter_03 May. 16 13.46

1,746 people were asked to place North Korea on a map, and only 36% managed to get it right. Interestingly, males managed a 45% success rate, against females who achieved 27%. The most accurate age group was the over 65s, with a 48% success rate.

ScreenHunter_04 May. 16 13.46

However, the main thrust of the survey revealed some interesting results connected to citizens’ spatial awareness. It showed that respondents who could correctly identify North Korea tended to view diplomatic and non-military strategies more favorably than those who could not.

They also viewed direct military engagement – in particular, sending ground troops – much less favorably than those who failed to locate North Korea.

The largest difference between the groups was the simplest: Those who could find North Korea were much more likely to disagree with the proposition that the United States should do nothing about North Korea.

American Geographers?

Americans’ inability to identify countries is not new. A Roper survey in 2006 found that, in the midst of the Iraq War, 6 out of 10 young adults could not locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East. Also, about 75% could not identify Iran or Israel, and only half could identify New York State.

How would UK citizens shape up with a similar test?

Click on the box below for the full article:


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Lava Caving In The Reykjanes Peninsula

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I love each and every trip to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor for Rayburn Tours. I thoroughly enjoy the chance to share some of the wonders of this fantastic island with eager students, and am particularly happy when I get to try something new.

Although I have in the past explored a number of lava tubes in Iceland (as well as at other locations such as Hawaii and New Zealand) , on my last trip I had the opportunity to visit a new location – the Leidarendi Lava Caves on the Reykjanes peninsula.

aAlthough the previous few days had been decent spring weather, when we set off on our journey to the lava caves it began to snow heavily. As we were to spend a good bit of time underground, this obviously didn’t matter too much – and it certainly added to the atmosphere of the day.

The caves are located just a few miles south east of Hafnarfjordur, one of the southern suburbs of the Reykjavik metropolitan area. They are found in a giant scoria crater called Stori Bolli (‘Big Cup’), and were first opened in 1992, and were created around 2000 years ago when a major eruption produced a huge lava field in this part of south west Iceland.

Lava caves (or tubes) were formed when surface-flowing lava solidified – while molten lava continued to flow in a tunnel (or tube) below the surface. The tubes eventually drain as the lava flow ceases, and the rock cools to leave a long, narrow cave.

When we arrived at the caves, we were met by our excellent guides from ‘Iceland Expeditions’, who kitted everyone out with safety helmets and head torches. The entry into the cave system was pretty narrow, but once inside it was possible to walk through the old channels – with a few spots demanding a crouched posture or all-fours, and one or two a bit of a crawl  with chest on the cave floor.

cWhile underground, we were given some fascinating information about the volcanic activity in the Reykjavik area, and were able to explore a good length of the lava tube system. With our head torches lighting the way, the smooth cave walls were clear to see – and it didn’t need a great imagination to visualise how flowing lava streams had sculpted and polished these channels.


One distinct feature of the Leidarendi system is the presence of lava-icicles – stalactites and stalagmites on the cave floor and ceiling – formed from dripping and splashing lava. Lava flakes that had fallen from the walls and roof due to frost and erosion littered the tunnel floor beneath our feet.

It was a strange feeling re-emerging from this sheltered underground world back into a raging snow storm – but a great experience that really brought alive the scale and wonder of the volcanic activity that has formed this unique subterranean landscape.




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Walking Like A Dog In Reykjavik


Collage 2017-05-15 11_08_05

On my last trip to Iceland as a Field Studies Tutor for Rayburn Tours, I arrived a few hours ahead of my group. This gave me a great opportunity to explore the streets of Reykjavik with no students to worry about.

I love to explore like a geographical dog – walking aimlessly in all directions, and taking a good sniff at everything I encounter (metaphorically speaking, of course).

Here is a collection of photographs of some of the sights of the city I was able to enjoy:

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World’s Population Hits 7.5 Billion



Image: Simon Kemp (The Next Web)


When checking one of my favourite classroom tools recently  – the ‘World Population Clock’ found at – I noticed the total for world population has now hit the 7.5 billion mark.

There has been a stunning increase in world population of 25 million people since the start of 2017, and it is believed that more than half of the world’s population today is aged 30 or under!

Just seven countries now account for half of the world’s population:

  • China: 1.385 billion
  • India: 1.335 billion
  • United States: 325 million
  • Indonesia: 262 million
  • Brazil: 210 million
  • Pakistan: 195 million
  • Nigeria: 189 million

Some other interesting facts:

# Nigeria has the youngest population with more than half of the country’s 189 million residents below the age of 15.

# Monaco has the world’s oldest population, with more than half of the city-state’s residents over the age of 50.

# There are approximately 65 million more men than women alive on Earth today.

# Worldwide, the average life expectancy for babies born today sits at 71 years, but women are likely to live roughly five years longer than men.

# Japanese people can expect to live the longest, with the average national life expectancy currently sitting at 83.7 years.

The UN reports that the world’s population is currently growing at a rate of  1.11% – which translates to growth of about 80 million people each year. At current rates, the world’s population should pass the eight billion mark sometime in 2024.

Sources of data can be found at the original article by Simon Kemp at:



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