Vertical land motion caused by continuing glacial isostatic adjustment is one of several important components of sea-level change and is not limited just to previously glaciated regions. A national-scale analysis for the British Isles shows an ellipse of present-day relative uplift (relative sea-level fall), ∼1.2 mm a−1, broadly centred on the deglaciated mountains of Scotland. The pattern of three foci of relative subsidence, ∼1 mm a−1, results from the additional interactions of the deglacial meltwater load on the Atlantic basin and the continental shelf, and the signal due to far-field ice sheets. At a local scale, sediment compaction can more than double the rate of relative land subsidence. Relative land-level change (the negative of relative sea-level change) is not the same as vertical land motion. There is a spatial pattern in the difference between relative land-level change and vertical land motion, with differences at present of approximately −0.1 to −0.3 mm a−1 around the British Isles and +2.5 to −1.5 mm a−1 globally. For the wider scientific and user community, whether or not the differences are considered significant will depend upon the location, time frame and spatial scale of the study that uses such information. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.