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Country Facts

Status: United Kingdom Overseas Territory
Area: 1,709,400 sq km (666,000 sq miles)
Population: No indigenous population. The UK’s presence in the Territory is primarily provided by the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), which maintains two permanently-manned scientific stations (at Halley and Rothera) and one summer-only station, Signy, in the South Orkney Islands.
Currency: Sterling
Commissioner: Colin Roberts
Deputy Commissioner: Ms Jane Rumble
Administrator: Henry Burgess


Nationals of the United Kingdom and of the other Antarctic Treaty States require authorisation to visit Antarctica.

See Guidance for Visitors to Antarctica (

The UK Government supports the self-regulatory framework established by International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) ( and works with the organisation to promote safe and environmentally responsible tourism in Antarctica. In light of the high standards the industry has set itself, the Government restricts access to UK Historic Sites and scientific bases operated by the British Antarctic Survey to IAATO operators. The FCO encourages all visitors to Antarctica to travel with IAATO affiliated companies.


The BAT has a number of historical sites and monuments and sites of special scientific interest. More than half of the sites designated as Protected Areas in Antarctica are located within the Territory – around the main landmass, on and around Anvers Island and in the South Shetland Islands.

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The BAT is self-financing through revenue from income tax and the sale of postage stamps and coins.

BAT stamps can be purchased through the retail arm of CASCO Philatelic Services ( , Harry Allen ( , and the Falkland Islands Philatelic Bureau ( and coins through Pobjoy Mint Ltd. (

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The British explorer Captain James Cook first circumnavigated the Antarctic continent in 1773-1775. British interest continued during the 19th and 20th centuries, through the voyages and expeditions of notable explorers, including Sir Ernest Shackleton and Sir Vivian Fuchs.

The United Kingdom made the first territorial claim to part of Antarctica in 1908, by Letters Patent. It has maintained a permanent presence in the British Antarctic Territory since 1943, when Operation Tabarin was established to provide reconnaissance and meteorological information in the South Atlantic Ocean. This ‘secret’ wartime project, which became the civilian Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey in 1945, became in 1962 the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The BAS is responsible for most of Britain’s scientific research in Antarctica. It maintains active links with scientists world wide and is involved in international programmes devised through the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR). SCAR provides independent technical and scientific advice to the Treaty System’s Consultative meetings. Its permanent Secretariat is based at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge.

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In addition to the three research stations maintained by Britain, several other nations (Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria,Czech Republic, Chile, Ecuador, Germany, Republic of Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, Spain, Ukraine, United States, Uruguay) maintain stations and bases in the BAT, many on the South Shetland Islands.

The BAT and the Antarctic Treaty System

By the 1950s, five-sixths of the Antarctic continent was claimed by seven States (Britain, Argentina, Australia, Chile, France, New Zealand and Norway). Most of the British Antarctic Territory itself is counter-claimed by either Chile or Argentina. None of the territorial claims were recognised by non-Claimant States; and, to establish a mechanism that would defuse escalating disputes over sovereignty, Claimant and non-Claimant States negotiated the Antarctic Treaty. This was adopted in 1959 and entered into force in 1961. Its objectives are:

-- to keep Antarctica demilitarised, to establish it as a nuclear-free zone, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;

-- to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica; and

-- to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.

Five separate international agreements have been negotiated which, together with the original Treaty and the suite of Measures, Decisions and Resolutions, provide the framework governing all activities in Antarctica. Collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System, the 5 agreements are:

-- Agreed Measures for the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and Flora (adopted June 1964)

-- Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals (adopted December 1972, entered into force March 1978)

-- Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) (adopted May 1980, entered into force April 1982)

-- Convention on the Regulation of Antarctic Mineral Resource Activities (CRAMRA) (adopted June 1988, but superseded by the Environmental Protocol (see below) and unlikely to enter into force) and

-- Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty (adopted October 1991, entered into force January 1998).

Forty nine countries have acceded to the Treaty.

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The BAT comprises that sector of the Antarctic south of latitude 60 degrees South, between longitudes 20 degrees West and 80 degrees West. It is located in the coldest, driest and windiest continent in the world. The average annual temperature at the South Pole is minus 49 degrees Celsius. Only 0.7% of the BAT’s surface is ice-free. The remainder is covered by a permanent ice sheet of up to 5 kilometres thick. The highest mountain in the BAT, Mount Jackson, is 3,184 metres high.

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Constitutional Status

Originally administered as a Dependency of the Falkland Islands, the BAT became an Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom in its own right by Order in Council on 3 March 1962. The Territory continued to be administered from the Falklands until 1989 when responsibility passed to the newly-created role of Commissioner of the British Antarctic Territory (situated in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)). The BAT has a full suite of laws, and legal and postal administrations.

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Last Updated: January 2012

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