British Antarctic Territory

About the Territory

The British Antarctic Territory lies between longitudes 20° and 80° West and south of latitude 60° South. It includes the South Orkney Islands, the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula and all the adjacent islands as well as the land mass extending to the South Pole. The land mass is largely ice-covered and the adjacent seas are frozen during the winter. Around the coasts, temperatures during the summer (December to February) are close to or just above 0°C whilst during the winter monthly mean temperatures are between -10°C and -20°C. On the high interior plateau summers temperatures are normally below -20°C and monthly mean temperatures fall below -60°C during the winter.

The British Antarctic Territory has no indigenous population but there are number of scientific bases, including three run by the British Antarctic Survey: Rothera, Halley VI and Signy. The Territory is administered from London by staff in the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office. Annual revenue comes from income tax on over-wintering scientists, stamp sales and interest from capital reserves. All territorial sovereignty claims to Antarctica are held in abeyance under Article IV of the Antarctic Treaty 1959.


There are no naturally occurring land mammals, amphibians or reptiles and invertebrate fauna is sparse, particularly on the continent. Antarctica only has two native flowering plants and two native higher insects. The vertebrate biodiversity comprises breeding and visiting seabirds, including seven species of penguin, and six species of seals. Flora is very limited with only two flowering species although there are 100 species of mosses, 25 liverwort species and 300-400 lichens. Consequently, the ecosystems are relatively simple and fragile.

Policy and legislation

Biosecurity legislation is contained within Annex II to the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, which is enacted into UK legislation through the Antarctic Act 1994, 2013. With a few exceptions, the legislation prohibits the introduction of all non-native species.

The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty agreed in 1991 and entered into force 1998. Procedures are detailed in the comprehensive Biosecurity Handbook (external link), retitled the BAS Biosecurity Regulations in 2019, to better describe the mandatory nature of the contents for BAS personnel and those working under BAS logistics.

Further biosecurity documents and checklists have been developed for BAS contractors (BAM) during the construction of a new wharf at Rothera Research Station.

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