Kelps, fucoids and other large brown seaweeds are common and important features of temperate coastal zones. The British Isles is a centre for seaweed diversity in the NE Atlantic, but, despite numerous surveys, an incomplete picture of the distribution remains. Survey data and herbarium specimens were used to examine the environmental preference of 15 species of large brown seaweeds, covering the orders Laminariales (kelps), Fucales (wracks) and one species of Tilopteridales. Habitat suitability models were developed to estimate broad-scale distribution and area of habitat created by these species around the British Isles. Topographic parameters were important factors limiting distributions. Generally, temperature did not appear to be a limiting factor, probably because the British Isles lies in the centre of the NE Atlantic distribution for most species, and not at climatic tolerance limits. However, for the recent migrant Laminaria ochroleuca, temperature was found to be important for the model, thus range expansion could continue northwards provided dispersal is possible. In contrast, the widespread Alaria esculenta showed a negative association with warmer summer temperatures. The total potential habitat around the British and Irish coastline is more than 19,000 km2 for kelps and 11,000 km2 for wracks, which represents a significant habitat area similar in scale to British broadleaf forest. We conclude that large brown algal species need to be managed and conserved in a manner that reflects their scale and importance.