LONDON: Banknotes featuring a portrait of King Charles entered circulation in Britain on Wednesday, nearly two years after he succeeded the late Queen Elizabeth as head of state.

Charles’ image will appear on the new notes for five, 10, 20 50 pounds issued by the Bank of England. Existing notes featuring Elizabeth will continue to circulate.

“This approach is in line with guidance from the Royal Household, to minimise the environmental and financial impact of this change,“ the BoE said. “This means the public will begin to see the new King Charles III notes very gradually.”

Elizabeth was the first monarch to feature on British banknotes, in contrast to coins in England which have carried images of kings and queens for more than 1,000 years.

The design of the new banknotes was revealed in December 2022, shortly after coins featuring Charles entered circulation. Other than the new monarch, the design of the banknotes is unchanged.

Cash usage has fallen sharply in Britain in recent years as consumers favour debit cards and other electronic payments.

According to the British Retail Consortium, cash accounted for more than half of transactions in shops in 2014, but had fallen to 15% by 2021 - partly due to COVID-19 restrictions - before rising to 19% in 2022.

“We are committed to providing banknotes for as long as the public demand them. Bringing these new notes into circulation is a demonstration of that commitment,“ BoE Governor Andrew Bailey said on Wednesday.

Britain’s government passed legislation last year to require banks to ensure ready access to cash.