Documents to download

The UK has had a long historical relationship with Antarctica. British naval officer Captain James Cook was the first to circumnavigate the Antarctic continent in the late 18th century, and a few decades later, British naval officer Edward Bransfield was one of the first to sight Antarctic land. This year marks 200 years since Bransfield’s first sighting of Antarctic land on 30 January 1820, and the beginning of the UK’s involvement in Antarctica.

After the discovery of the continent, British sealers and explorers established a presence in Antarctica and the UK became the first country to lay formal claim to Antarctic territory, in 1908. This claim was followed by territorial claims from six other countries, two of which laid claim to the same territory as the UK.

In 1957, for the duration of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), all claims to territory in Antarctica were put aside to allow for the establishment of scientific research stations across the continent for the collection of data as part of the worldwide programme of research. Following the success of the IGY, the twelve nations involved in Antarctic research negotiated the Antarctic Treaty, which set aside all claims to Antarctic territory indefinitely.

The UK is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty. Since its ratification in 1961, the UK has upheld the principles of the treaty and protected the Antarctic continent through a series of Antarctic Treaty conventions. 

Several UK institutions are active in Antarctic affairs. The UK has a dedicated office for the Polar Regions at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which represents the UK in matters of governance; the British Antarctic Survey, which represents the UK in leading Antarctic scientific ventures and collaborations; and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, which works to conserve the heritage sites on the continent that illustrate the long history of the UK’s involvement in Antarctica.

The Antarctic continent faces several challenges, including those posed by climate change and the effects of increased tourism to the continent. The UK has dedicated to meeting these challenges and has undertaken initiatives to combat these issues. 

Documents to download

Related posts

  • The United Kingdom Internal Market Bill is a government bill that would make provision for the continuation of the UK’s single market when the transition period ends on 31 December 2020. As part of this it would provide for the ‘market access principles’ of mutual recognition and non-discrimination to apply to the sale of goods and the provision of services within the UK. It also seeks to provide unfettered access for qualifying Northern Ireland goods to the market in Great Britain. It contains provisions that seek to give ministers the power to unilaterally interpret, modify the application of or disapply parts of the Northern Ireland Protocol, notwithstanding their obligations under relevant international and domestic law.

  • The Terezin Declaration on Holocaust Era Assets and Related Issues is a legally non-binding document outlining several measures towards property restitution belonging to the victims of Nazi persecution. This article provides a background to the Declaration and discusses recent UK legislation on property restitution. The Declaration and the restitution of property is due to be the subject of an oral question in the House of Lords on 20 July 2020.