The Historic Bases Working Group
UKAHT plays an important role in the safeguarding of Antarctic heritage in Antarctica but it is something we cannot do alone. It takes the combined skills, experience and influence of a range of organisations to ensure we can care for these historic sites to the best of our ability.
A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Historic Bases Working Group at the Foreign Office. This is a forum comprising representatives from our own organisation, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Government of the British Antarctic Territory (GBAT) and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). Its remit is to ‘provide the planning framework for the conservation and management of the early British bases in the Antarctic Peninsula region…’ This encompasses both those bases and sites which have HSM (Historic Sites and Monuments) designation under the Antarctic Treaty and those which don’t.
I was pleased with the positive reception from the group as we discussed the season past and the conservation works we had accomplished at Damoy and Port Lockroy. I think the pictures certainly helped.
As we looked forward I was able to discuss how we in UKAHT will be reviewing our heritage strategy and how we will be approaching conservation work from here. We have taken on two new former research stations: Base Y on Horseshoe Island and Base E on Stonington Island and this gives us the chance to roll out our revised approach.
A big part of heritage conservation, whether in wooden huts in Antarctica or in England’s finest stately homes, is not only how you monitor and maintain the building fabric, but how you manage how the sites are used. We enjoyed a good discussion on how we might take a fresh look at visitor guidelines and how we interpret the sites so that visitors can get the most out of their visit whilst ensuring their impact on the site is minimal. New issues like the use of UAVs or drones are a growing concern in Antarctica from a wildlife perspective but also have an impact on heritage. It is essential we evolve as technology changes but keep at our core the need to make the best decisions for our historic sites.
Plans for how we might better tell the stories of those historic sites on the Antarctic Peninsula which are not HSMs and yet have a part to play in the Antarctic story were also covered – I was inspired to follow up on Cape Geddes, Base C from Operation Tabarin, little remembered and little visited and yet an important piece of the wartime story. I’m looking forward to exploring how we can bring these sites to life.
Overall I was really impressed with the positive and collaborative spirit of the Historic Bases Working Group and really felt it was a forum for action and one which has real influence. Look out next year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, we may have something to share.