UK Minister with responsibility for the Polar Regions, David Rutley MP, has visited the British Antarctic Territory (BAT), alongside the BAT Commissioner, Paul Candler, and Deputy Commissioner, Jane Rumble. The BAT Administrator, Natalie Allen, also made a separate visit to the Territory during January 2024.
The British Antarctic Survey’s (BAS) Royal Research Ship Sir David Attenborough (“the SDA”) travelled from the Falkland Islands to Rothera Research Station and returned via Chile, between 31 December and 12 January 2024. Minister David Rutley’s visit to the British Antarctic Territory was the first by a UK Minister since 2012, and he was the first Minister from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) to make the journey since 2001. It was Paul Candler’s first visit to the Territory, for which he has been Commissioner since 2021.
The SDA travelled to Rothera via the majestic scenery of the Antarctic Peninsula, passing through the Neumayer and Lemaire Channels, enabling the Minister to also see some of the UK’s historic sites and monuments, other Antarctic research stations, and a number of tourist operations.
Rothera was buzzing with all the work underway to finalise the construction of the new operations building, and the resurfacing of the runway. These are both enormously challenging construction projects, but they will ensure Rothera remains the main gateway logistical hub for the scientific work of the British Antarctic Survey all over the continent.
The Minister saw how BAS coordinates and supports scientific field camps over thousands of miles away across Antarctica, as well as learning about some of the scientific work undertaken at Rothera itself. The common theme across all of the science work was the impacts of climate change across Antarctica, with much work underway to understand the consequences of this year’s record low sea ice extent. Climate change is also having significant changes on the biodiversity seen at Rothera, and across the Antarctic Peninsula, as some species adapt better to the warming conditions than others.
The trip also enabled the Commissioner to see how Rothera supports the administration of the Territory. The station leader is also a BAT magistrate, and the station also operates one of the BAT post offices. Stamps and coins remain an importance source of revenue for the BAT.
With recent agreement at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting (ATCM) to commence international negotiations for a new tourism regulatory framework, BAT Administrator, Natalie Allen, was also hugely grateful to Hurtigruten Expeditions for the opportunity to see their Antarctic tourism operations first hand on the MV Roald Amundsen.
Natalie participated in a number of landings across various sites in the Antarctic Peninsula, observing how tourist operators use ATCM general tourism and site guidelines, as well as the range of guidance produced by the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO). This guidance ensures tourists can experience Antarctica without causing undue damage to the environment; preventing the spread of non-native species, and ensuring that the wildlife is not disturbed. Natalie was also able to see first-hand some of the conservation work of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, who maintain and preserve former British stations and other British heritage sites in the region.