This is the page for archive news items and the Antarctic Times. Latest news is on our home page.
The Penguin Post Office – Bransfield House (Base ‘A’) is a little bit of Britain in the heart of Antarctica. Inside the British Base ‘A’, run by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), the Post Office has everything you’d expect: a postbox, stamps, postcards and four dedicated UKAHT staff. Outside, things are a little bit different, neighbouring the Post Office are 2,000 gentoo penguins. They’re here for one reason, to raise a family, but their lives are far from picture postcard - adultery and robbery are rife, as the BBC program makes clear
In October 2013 BBC Natural World with the help of the UKAHT set out to film at Port Lockroy. The program they made, narrated by Juliet Stevenson and filmed and produced by Andrew Graham-Brown, follows the lives of the UKAHT staff and a colony of gentoo penguins as they survive around Bransfield House, a British Antarctic Territory Post Office in the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Every summer the gentoo penguins return to the location of the world’s most southerly public Post Office, and it is here the viewers find out that as the penguins nest, they share their home with four newly recruited UKAHT staff, who run the Post Office for visiting tourists, proudly flying the Union flag and cleaning up the penguin mess around the base, we soon learn that there is more to these adorable little penguins than comical waddling. We also take a look around the Post Office and learn about its history in the 1940’s and 50’s. We meet this year’s Base Leader, Helen Annan, and Post Mistresses, Kristy Leissle and Jane Cooper, who were living alongside the penguins for the austral summer. They, and some of the visitors to the island, share their thoughts direct to camera on these special animals and what they are writing on their postcards home.
As Helen Annan Base Leader said “it’s a dream job and like the penguins I would like to come back here ever year”.
THE UKAHT POST OFFICE WORKERS
Base Leader - Helen Annan
Helen was Base-Leader at Port Lockroy in the 2013/14 season. She travelled down ahead of the other Post Office workers, with the Penguin Post Office film crew to get everything set up and organised. Helen spent a season working at Port Lockroy in 2007/8 and loved it so much she returned again! Helen is from the UK and, until last year, worked in the youth hostel industry. She is currently living in Perthshire.
Sarah originates from France, has spent a few years living and teaching in Japan and regularly works the summer season in Tromsø, Norway, as a tour guide. This was her first season in the Antarctic, but she is already set to return next year to do another season as Base Leader in Port Lockroy.
Jane is from Stroud, UK. She trained and worked as a lawyer before deciding to change career. Prior to the 2013/14 season at Port Lockroy, she worked for Mencap as a trainer. Her hobbies include climbing and travelling. This was her first time to the Antarctic.
Kristy is from New York, USA, but currently lives in Seattle, where she works as a Professor at the University of Washington. She travelled to the Antarctic as a passenger on a cruise ship and actually visited Port Lockroy in a previous season, deciding then that she wanted to work there. She is also known as the Doctor of Chocolate, having completed a PhD about the cocoa industry in Ghana and the global trade of cocoa and chocolate.
Notes to editor:
Established in 1993, The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) works to conserve Antarctic buildings and artefacts, and to promote and encourage the public's interest in its Antarctic heritage.
The UKAHT cares for the flagship site at Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula and also undertakes conservation works at other historic sites (former British research stations) at Damoy, Detaille and Wordie.
The work of the UKAHT is funded largely through the operation of Base ‘A' at Port Lockroy. The buildings at Port Lockroy, which are still part of a British base run by the UKAHT under an agreement with the British Antarctic Survey, are designated Historic Sites and Monuments (HSMs) and protected under the Antarctic Treaty, which governs activities in Antarctica. Port Lockroy, was established in 1944 as part of ‘Operation Tabarin’, a British Government initiative to establish a permanent year-round presence in Antarctica. It later operated as a scientific research station for the organisation now known as the British Antarctic Survey. It was the first geophysics study base until 1962 when this scientific work was moved and expanded to a more modern site. After this time it fell into disrepair. In 1995 the buildings were recognised for their historic importance and initial restoration was begun a year later by the British Antarctic Survey to create a living museum and Post Office. Since being taken over by the UKAHT in 2006 and with very significant new investment and restoration Port Lockroy has continued to go from strength to strength. It is now the most visited location in the whole of Antarctica, receiving around 18,000 visitors a year.
Each year, the UKAHT recruits and trains a team of four staff to live and work at Port Lockroy, promoting the legacy of early British scientists’ work to visitors. Work involves annual maintenance to protect the buildings from the weather and welcoming visitors from ships. The team runs the Government of the British Antarctic Territory’s busiest post office, enabling visitors to send postcards using specially designed stamps. The UKAHT also operates a gift shop, which together with income from the sale of stamps helps fund the work of the UKAHT. In addition, the team also monitor, through a long-term environmental study, the impact of visitors on the breeding gentoo penguins which nest on the island.
In the UK, the UKAHT also acts as a fund-giving organisation and provides financial support to other polar institutions that support the charity's mission. The UKAHT coordinates Antarctica 100, a group of over 50 institutions with an interest in Antarctic heritage which works to share knowledge and resources. The UKAHT also works with other organisations and is an important financial supporter of the British Antarctic Oral History Project. This project captures important audio and video recordings of individual’s recollections which offer unique insights into the interactions of those who have been fortunate enough to work in Antarctica.
The UKAHT supports its sister organisation New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, in protecting four historic buildings in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica on the opposite side of the continent to the Peninsula sites. It is active in promoting Antarctic public engagement and supports institutions which have a connection to Antarctic heritage through their collections or through education and outreach activities.
Tel: 01223 355049
British Antarctic Territory
The British Antarctic Territory is the largest of the UK’s Overseas Territories – covering around 1.7m sq km. The Territory has its own legislative framework and makes a range of legal and administrative appointments. It is self-financing and the modest income from stamp and coin sales, and income tax from over-wintering scientists is reinvested in the protection of the historic and natural environment in the region. Without an indigenous population, it is administered by officials within the Polar Regions Department in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Tel: 020 7008 2616 or 07785 608330
The UKAHT's 2015 Special edition 'Penguin Post Office' calendar featuring photographs of gentoo penguins taken at Port Lockroy by UKAHT and printed locally in the UK
200 invited guests attended a reception and exhibition in the Terrace Pavilion at the House of Commons on Monday 16 June 2014 organised by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust and sponsored by David TC Davies MP.
George James, one of two surviving members of Operation Tabarin with The Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister of State for Universities and Science. The Minister spoke of the Government's commitment for ensuring the continuation of Operation Tabarin's legacy.
L-R: David T C Davies MP, sponsor and host of the exhibition and reception; Jane Rumble, Head of the Polar regions Department of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Jane is only the fourth head in its 70 year history; Rachel Morgan, Director of the Trust.
Donald Lamont and Rachel Morgan, Chairman and Director of the Trust.
Alan Carroll, Base Leader at Port Lockroy 1955-6 and author of the book 'Operation Tabarin'.
Father, son, and grandson: Jonathan and Finn Walton are son and grandson of Kevin Walton who was on of the first members of the Falklands Islands Dependencies Survey which replaced Operation Tabarin. All three have worked in Antarctica. Jonathan brought for display his father's mukluks as well as a 1/6 scale Nansen sledge and pyramid tent.
Seasoned ice captain 'Captain Jack' with Trust Operations Manager, Anna Malaos.
Members of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) without whose help, the Trust could not operate on the Antarctic Peninsula - L-R - Dave Fletcher, Hapag-Lloyd; Karin Strand, Hurtigruten; Lisa Kelley, Lindblad Expeditions; Amanda Lynnes, IAATO; Skip Novak, Pelagic Expeditions; Rachel Morgan, Trust Director; Ulrike Schultzen, Hapag Lloyd.
Ruth Peacey, assistant producer for the BBC Natural World 'Penguin Post Office' film, to be broadcast later this year.
Professor Jane Francis, Director of the British Antarctic Survey with Tudor Morgan, Special Project Manager for the Trust.
Three quarters of next season's Port Lockroy team: Stephen Skinner, Phoebe Boag, and base leader, Sarah Auffret.
A charity working to raise awareness of British Antarctic heritage celebrated a landmark anniversary at Westminster this week.
The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) marked the 70th anniversary of Operation Tabarin, which laid the foundations for one of the most important and enduring government sponsored programmes of scientific research in the Polar Regions, with a special exhibition and reception at the House of Commons.
UKAHT conserves early British scientific bases and artefacts in Antarctica and promotes and encourages public interest in Antarctic heritage both at home and abroad.
UKAHT now works to ensure that the legacy from this heroic age of exploration and scientific endeavour remains to inspire current and future generations.
Supporters and MPs from across the UK gathered in the Terrace Pavilion at the House of Commons on Monday afternoon (16th June) for a special reception to help UKAHT commemorate 70 years of continuous British presence in Antarctica.
Monmouth MP David TC Davies hosted the event and was joined by the Rt Hon David Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science in officially opening the reception.
Mr Davies said: “I’m especially pleased that Wales has such a strong connection with Antarctica and extremely proud of the fact the Trust Director is based here in Monmouthshire.
“Wales has a very important Antarctic story to tell and this remarkable charity is keeping it alive today.”
Included within the guests was George James one of the last survivors of Operation Tarbarin. George was a wireless operator on a support vessel, HMS William Scoresby. Now 90 years of age, George attended with his two sons and grandson.
The reception also introduced the forthcoming BBC Natural World documentary ‘Penguin Post Office’ filmed on the Antarctic Peninsula earlier this year. UKAHT runs the world’s most southerly public post office on behalf of the Government of the British Antarctic Territory at Port Lockroy. Around 70,000 cards are posted each year from the post office by visitors to over 100 countries.
Donald Lamont , Chair of UKAHT, added: “We are proud to celebrate what has been achieved through the restoration of Port Lockroy, one of the stations built during ‘Operation Tabarin’, instigated by the political decision taken in 1943 to open three stations in the Antarctic Peninsula. It is now the most visited sites in Antarctica, and will reach an even wider audience through the filming that was carried out this season for broadcast later this year.
For further information, visit www.ukaht.org
We are pleased to report that the new Port Lockroy team has now been picked. Congratulations to Phoebe, Amy and Stephen who will be joining Sarah (who worked at Port Lockroy last season) for the upcoming 2014-15 season at Port Lockroy.
Selection took place over two days in May at the Mepal Outdoor Centre in Ely. The eight candidates were put through their paces by staff, with activities ranging from the high ropes and raft building (kindly run by the Mepal Outdoor Centre), to plug rewiring and pallet building. This was broken up with the candidates’ formal interviews, as well as some more informal and fun team games.
Using the Centre’s facilities and activities was a new experience for the Trust, and we are grateful to Mepal Outdoor Centre for enabling the smooth and successful running of the selection process with both their excellent facilities and activities (not to mention the food…definitely a high point for everyone!!). We, the staff, all agreed that we’d had a very enjoyable as well as successful two days. We certainly hope to return next year!
Congratulations again to our new 2014/15 team, and well done to all eight candidates who took part in the selection and made it such an enjoyable event. Finally, many thanks go to Jim Oakley, our external facilitator, Richard Hanson, our interviewer, and Sarah Auffret, our previous (and current) Port Lockroy team member.
We are sad to report that Trust Vice Patron, Dr Charles Swithinbank died on the 27 May 2014. He was involved in polar research for 65 years, first joining the Norwegian-British-Swedish Antarctic Expedition in 1949. He was then employed by the expedition until 1955 and then at the SPRI until 1959. He was based at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor until 1963 and then again at the Scott Polar Research Institute until 1974. From 1974 to 1986 he was with the British Antarctic Survey, first as Chief Glaciologist and then as Head of the Earth Sciences Division. Charles spent three winters and more than 20 field seasons in the polar regions. It was Charles that recognised the potential for Antarctica’s blue-ice fields to serve as wheeled-aircraft runways.
Helen Annan, Base Leader at Base ‘A’ raises the flag to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Operation Tabarin which started British presence at Port Lockroy, Antarctica on 11 February 1944.
In World War II the British Government was concerned about increased foreign activity in the Southern Ocean and as a result the Government established bases in Antarctica. But not all saw merit in the operation - Churchill when he learnt about it asked ‘What is the reason for sending an expedition of perfectly good fighting men to the South Pole?’.
Base ‘A’, as Port Lockroy was designated, would now be permanently manned (with the exception of three winters) becoming the first geophysics study base until 1962 when this scientific work was moved and expanded to a more modern site.
For over thirty years the buildings at Port Lockroy lay unoccupied until 1996 when the British Antarctic Survey restored them to their original 1962 condition. The British Antarctic Survey continues that legacy of research and pioneering exploration with cutting edge science in the Antarctic to this day. The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) took over responsibility of Port Lockroy and the buildings in 2006.
Base ‘A’, at Port Lockroy is now open to visitors during the Antarctic summer. Base leader, Helen who ran a youth hostel in the Lake Distinct before going to Antarctica, is part of a four person team recruited each season by the UKAHT to work at Port Lockroy promoting the legacy of British scientists’ early work to visitors. The application process to work at Base ‘A’ is rigorous: selection is based on the individual’s practical skills and personal attributes as well as their ability to live in a harsh and remote environment with basic facilities. However just like the original members of Operation Tabarin they find the reward of living at Port Lockroy is the opportunity of a lifetime. You can apply now to work at Port Lockroy - see our jobs page
Today Port Lockroy is not only an important natural and historic site but also the number one Antarctic destination for visitors from all over the world. The same could not be said in 1944 when two small ships HMS William Scoresby and SS Fitzroy sailed into Port Lockroy on 11 February 1944.
The UKAHT opens Base ‘A’ every year giving visitors a glimpse into Operation Tabarin and early scientific work in Antarctica. This UK based trust also runs the post office at Port Lockroy on behalf of the Government of the British Antarctic Territory with around 70,000 post cards being sent each year.
UKAHT Trustee Meredith Hooper and leading writer on Antarctica is honoured during the 100th anniversary of Australasian Antarctic Expedition.
Award-winning writer, lecturer, historian and world expert on Antarctica, Meredith Hooper, has added another accolade to her collection - Australian of the Year in the UK 2014 presented by the Australia Day Foundation for her passion and dedication to educating the world about Antarctica.
Meredith said: “We Australians in the UK inhabit two hemispheres. It's our good fortune, and our opportunity. We can gain, and we can give. This honour is a most happy acknowledging of my two selves. I am truly delighted.”
For a full copy of the press release click here
We are delighted that Philippa Foster Back, UKAHT Chairman from 2006 to 2013, has been appointed a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2014 New Year's Honours List for her services to Antarctic Heritage.
Philippa stepped up as Chairman of the Trust at a critical time and took the activities of the Trust to a new level. She oversaw the successful fund-raising campaign to secure the future of the Ross Sea Huts as well as steering the Trust in taking on the management of Port Lockroy and other Antarctic Peninsula sites. Her passion and commitment together with the success of Port Lockroy means the Trust now sits as one of the world premier Antarctic heritage organisations. Philippa continues as chairman of the UK Antarctic Place-Names Committee.
Philippa said 'I feel honoured to have been singled out but this is for everyone at the Trust and those involved in Antarctic heritage.'