By Camilla Nichol, CEO, UK Antarctic Heritage Trust

Windiest… coldest… driest… highest… we are familiar with the superlatives of Antarctica, the remote continent that most of us will never visit. In fact, for many, it has more in common with the Moon that any other place on our planet, and like the Moon, it was first set foot upon relatively recently.

During the last two centuries, Antarctica has been the theatre of some of the greatest challenges of science and human endurance, survival, and exploration. It is the focus of a global scientific effort to understand our world.

Early explorers were looking for new sources of seals and whales to exploit for their pelts and oil. In the last 100 years, through international science programmes, we now understand that Antarctica is pivotal in the Earth’s climate system and a sensitive barometer of environmental change.

 2020 is an important year. It marks 200 years since Antarctica was first sighted – and for this important anniversary we are inviting everyone to explore this fascinating continent and what it means to us all.  By harnessing greater awareness of the critical role Antarctica has in our global climate system, we can intensify public pressure on policy-makers to act responsibly in deciding the continent’s future.

Alongside heroism are stories of scientific discoveries, international geo-politics and exploitation of the natural world, all of which still resonate today. The Antarctic Treaty turns 60 this year and this, along with the bicentenary for the discovery of Antarctica, offers us all an opportunity to reflect upon how we have borne our responsibilities for this last wilderness and what our legacy could be for future generations.

We’re leading the plans for next year, but we’re keen to work with organisations across the UK. We’re delighted to be working in partnership with the British Science Association on this ambitious programme to launch new grants for UK Science Festival Network and Community Engagement Network members.

Major themes for our programme are:

Human Endeavour - Courage and Exploration

British Antarctic heritage is rich and diverse, and ever since Captain Cook set out from Whitby in 1772 in search of the continent, the UK has been at the forefront of exploration. The stories of the legendary figures Scott and Shackleton have inspired us for more than a century, and the stories of many other people, continue to inspire new generations. It is this heritage preserved in Antarctica and collections throughout the UK which reflect the important role the continent has played and provide us with the inspiration for our collective future.



Climate – Scientific Legacy

The climate crisis is perhaps the greatest challenge facing humanity. Ongoing international science programmes provide us with the evidence of Antarctica’s role in the Earth’s climate system and its acute sensitivity to our actions thousands of miles away. The origins of formal British science in Antarctica lie with Operation Tabarin, an ambitious expedition which established Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula during the Second World War. This marked the birth of the modern era of international collaboration and science and we want to share this heritage with a wider audience. This unique perspective enables us to use the scientific legacy to unlock both understanding and perhaps propose solutions to the climate crisis.



Geo-Politics - Exploitation to Preservation

Following the early period of devastation of the continent’s biodiversity through sealing and whaling, efforts to explore and understand prevailed, and in 1959, twelve countries signed the Antarctic Treaty. Forty-two more have signed since, upholding laws to protect rather than exploit the land. The Treaty supports and promotes scientific research, whilst prohibiting military activities, mineral mining, nuclear explosions and nuclear waste disposal. The Treaty is unique – no other governing document like it exists, but it is not universally popular and in a fast-changing world could be threatened. This all becomes relevant when considering elements of the Treaty could come up for review in 2048. Antarctica’s future remains intact for now – but in the course of our lifetime, could it become as fragile as the ecosystem it represents?

The grants from the programme with the BSA will give members the opportunity to submit proposals for new projects next year – aligned with one of the themes above

Our new UK-wide programme seeks to harness the power of culture - we all have a unique heritage with this wild continent, so we want to share familiar and untold stories of Antarctica to inspire new and future generations to take responsibility for its conservation. We will do this by commissioning art works celebrating the heritage located across the UK and presenting new events and talks with cultural organisations up and down the country – including, we hope, yours. 

I hope very much that you will join us in what will be an amazing year.

The British Science Association are working with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust on a new grant scheme for 2020. Members of our Community Engagement Network (CEN) and the UK Science Festivals Network (UKSFN) can apply for funding to run events as part of UKAHT’s UK wide programme in 2020. Please see the CEN grant guidelines and UKSFN grant guidelines for more information. 

 UK Antarctic Heritage Trust

We connect the past 250 years of human endeavour in Antarctica with the future of this unique continent. We take a lead in connecting people with the wonder of Antarctica and its human stories to promote a greater understanding of this extraordinary place and how we all have a role in protecting it. We conserve heritage in Antarctica, deliver a vibrant and creative public programme and we have an ongoing role in advocating for heritage with Antarctic policy makers. We look after six historic sites on the Antarctic Peninsula which are of international importance and we are the principal organisation in the UK dedicated to the advancement of conservation, culture and education for heritage in Antarctica.