Cambridge heads Antarctic conservation mission
UK Antarctic Heritage Trust in Cambridge has sent a conservation field team to spend five weeks conducting crucial work on an historic building in Antarctica’s deep wilderness.
The team will carry out important survey and sampling work as well as vital maintenance to safeguard the building and structures of British scientific base, Base Y, on Horseshoe Island in Marguerite Bay.
Base Y was established in the heart of the British Antarctic Peninsula on Horseshoe Island in 1955. It was used for a pioneering mapping project, but also to capture geological and meteorological data. The men stationed there would go on extensive survey trips using dog teams and sledges. These trips often covered hundreds of miles and lasted several months. The base closed in 1960. The site consists of the original main hut, various stores and structures and the Blaiklock refuge hut a few miles away. Inside, the main building contains nearly all its original contents, fixtures and fittings.
The surprisingly good condition and completeness of both the building and artefacts provides a very special time-capsule of British life and science in the Antarctic. It was recognised and designated a Historic Site & Monument (No. 63) under the Antarctic Treaty in 1995.
Base Y is very difficult to access due to ice and severe weather conditions. Many visiting vessels often have to turn back and never actually make it to the site. It is only really accessible during February, which is the peak of the Antarctic summer.
It is because of this that it is only really visited by the most intrepid explorers. The field team will be camping in a specialist tent, which is designed to endure such conditions. They will have no running water and very limited access to the outside world. They might meet visiting ships if the weather allows it.
The field team comprises four of the world’s top polar conservators; UKAHT’s Mike Powell and Liesl Schernthanner will be joined by Al Fastier, programme manager from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust and Sophie Rowe from the University of Cambridge’s Scott Polar Research Institute.
Rowe will be carrying out a detailed survey and collection audit of the site and its artefacts, preparing detailed reports and analysis of the artefacts to enable her to make recommendations for their future conservation.
The project is an ambitious team effort and UKAHT has appointed conservation architects Kennedy O’Callaghan to assist with planning. In addition, expert support from the British Antarctic Survey, New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, the Building Research Establishment, SPRI, Collections Management Network and Cambridge University Archaeological Unit has enabled UKAHT to start developing a conservation management plan for Base Y.
Once complete, the plan will contain details of every aspect of the site and will set out UKAHT’s long-term programme for the care of the base and its collection of artefacts.
UKAHT chief executive Camilla Nichol said: “This expedition marks the start of our conservation and restoration programme for Base Y. Preserving this important but threatened heritage is a big undertaking and we are grateful for all the support we have received so far.”
Whatever the team uncovers will be shared online with the world: UK Antarctic Heritage Trust will be posting regular social media updates on how the project is progressing using #HorseshoeDiaries.
• PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS: Base Y at Horseshoe Island, Marguerite Bay. Image, courtesy The British Antarctic Survey.