Written by: Stuart Doubleday / All photos credit: Stuart Doubleday
This was my second stint working in Polar Regions Department. I came away the first time around, when I worked mostly on the Arctic, really wanting to be Deputy Head and Administrator of the British Antarctic Territory (BAT) one day. I feel very fortunate that I have been able to do so, and sad that I had to stop.
I’ve been very proud to be Administrator of the BAT. Of course, it is an unusual Territory, it has no permanent population and due to the Antarctic Treaty, the majority of people who visit do not fall under our administration.
This is a blog about BAT but I should add what an incredible institution the Antarctic Treaty is. The UK is not paying lip service when we say that we see the Treaty and its Environmental Protocol as perpetual. A commitment to the protection, preservation and international governance of an entire continent is an incredible thing. I’ve been delighted to work closely with colleagues from around the world during my time in post, all striving for the better protection of the continent.
I have been lucky enough to visit BAT twice. It is an incredible place – at once awe inspiring, beautiful and tragic. I recollect being amazed staring down at the caldera of Deception Island from the top of the hill behind Telefon Bay. I recall the mass of Mohican haired Adélie penguins at Paulet Island. I remember a Leopard seal tossing about a poor Gentoo a few metres away from the boat I was in. Perhaps I imagined it, but in my head, I remember too, the difference of some of the places I visited eight years apart. The immediate, visible impact of climate change.
I, like most people who visit that incredible place, came away with a determination to protect it. And that’s what we strive to do in the BAT Administration. We support science and monitoring, like our continued backing for the team at Oceanites and their year on year efforts to count penguin numbers or the State of the Polar Oceans report published in 2018. We fund environmental clean-up and we support our key stakeholders like the British Antarctic Survey (who do such an incredible job shining a light on this most remote of places). We also seek to ensure more people know about Antarctica, we teamed up with the Royal Geographical Society to create the Discovering Antarctica website (discoveringantarctica.org.uk) and contributed funding to the National Maritime Museum’s Polar Gallery.
We also support the protection of British heritage and history in Antarctica. A subject close to my heart as a history graduate and somewhat history obsessive (although to a medievalist 200 years ago is virtually the present day). Working with the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust to protect the former British stations on the Peninsula is something I’m delighted we’ve been able to continually do. As I was our efforts with the Maritime Archaeology Sea Trust to learn more about BAT’s underwater heritage.
I’m also glad, during the recent 200th anniversary commemorations, we’ve been able to shine a light on those little known early Antarctic explorers who discovered Antarctica, especially the underappreciated William Smith (who in my book was the man who discovered Antarctica).
So yes a lot of this is about promoting Britain, and British history and yes we produce stamps, coins and laws to demonstrate our sovereignty, none of which I’m interested in apologising for. But in truth this is secondary in everything we do due to a genuine desire to protect, preserve, enable the study of and tell the story of Antarctica. I’ve been incredibly lucky to work with a small but hugely dedicated team of stakeholders to try deliver on this ambition. I hope I’ve made some small contribution to the effort. I’ve had fun trying.
Stuart is a career civil servant who, as well as working in the Polar Regions Department, has worked in the Cabinet Office, Chief Whips Office and Wales Office. George Clarkson is the new BAT Administrator. Roles in the Polar Regions Department are only available to existing civil servants.