Conservation of Historic Antarctic Huts

Martin Williams


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'Don't go looking for Antarctica without this book.' - Susan Solomon




The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust continues to make progress over its major conservation project to preserve Shackleton's, Scott's and Borchgrevink's historic huts located in the Ross Sea area of Antarctica. The project was launched by HRH the Princess Royal after she had visited these internationally significant sites in February 2002.

A Conservation Report regarding Sir Ernest Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds was issued in March 2003 following widespread consultation. It was launched by the New Zealand Prime Minister Right Hon. Helen Clark, MP, and Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, granddaughter of Sir Ernest. An Implementation Plan for the hut is now in preparation.

At the same time, Conservation Plans are also being prepared, once more with widespread consultation amongst international authorities, on Captain Robert Falcon Scott's huts at Hut Point (built by his Discovery Expedition 1901-04) and Cape Evans (built by his Terra Nova Expedition 1911-13), and on the huts at Cape Adare constructed by Scott and by Borchgrevink's 1899-1900 expedition.

These preparations will pave the way for actual conservation work to begin in earnest as soon as the necessary funding is in place. Fundraising efforts have already produced some substantial donations, but there is still a long way to go in order to meet the several million pounds needed in total. Meanwhile, annual basic maintenance continues on site as funds permit.

A most significant step in raising the international profile of the project, is the inclusion of Shackleton's hut in the World Monuments Fund (WMF) 2004 Watch List of the world's 100 Most Endangered Sites. WMF, based in New York, is a non-profit organization focused on conserving the world's historic, artistic and architectural heritage on an international level. This listing confirms the significance of Shackleton's hut in the first tier of world heritage, and brings it to the attention of potential public and private supporters around the world. Sites listed previously by WMF include the Great Wall of China, the Valley of the Kings in Egypt, the Taj Mahal, Pompeii and Machu Picchu.

World Monument Fund President Bonnie Burnham noted that this was the first time a site in Antarctica had been selected for the World Monument Watch list, and commented "The Watch list includes sites ranging from ancient cities to modern industrial buildings, to religious and civic structures, to entire landscapes. Inclusion on the list is often the only hope for survival for these threatened cultural monuments".

Shackleton's hut is located on Cape Royds, Ross Island, Antarctica. It was built by the British Antarctic Expedition 1907-1909 (also known as the Nimrod Expedition) led by Ernest Shackleton.

Shackleton's hut, and those of Scott's and Borchgrevink's expeditions, comprise almost all the very few intact wooden buildings remaining on Earth's southernmost continent, dating from the heroic age of Antarctic exploration. These expeditions together played a major part in opening up knowledge of Antarctica, both geographically and scientifically. The huge advances in understanding they achieved were made at the cost of enormous hardships, calling for exceptional endurance and sacrifice from the expedition members. The buildings were used as an expedition base and laboratory for scientific research. They were designed to withstand extreme weather conditions only for the duration of the actual expeditions which built them. After nearly a century of Antarctic blizzards, the buildings still stand, with thousands of the expeditions' artefacts still there. However, they have all decayed considerably and are now in need of urgent and extensive conservation.

If you would like to find out more or contribute financially to the Trust's project, check out their website

© Martin Williams, UK Consultant to New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust.



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