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.
Map of British Antarctic Territory
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, 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.
Invasive species and biosecurity
There are at least 13 non-native invertebrates established within BAT, and two introduced plants Poa annua and P. pratensis. A Dipteran and an annelid worm Christensenidrilus blocki are noted as having been introduced with soil that was part of an experiment to transplant vascular plants from South Georgia to Signy Island in 1967.
In February 2010 a Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) survey of the Palmer Deep seabed observed 42 live lithodid crabs. Subsequent identification of a collected female confirmed the species as Neolithodes yaldwyni, a species of King Crab not previously known to have crossed the Antarctic Shelf (Smith et al, 2011). An estimate of 10 600 individuals km2 was made.
Problems with invasive non-native species
No ecological impacts are noted in the JNCC database but work by Hughes et al (2013) suggests that large increases in the population density and extent of E. murphyi at Signy Island are likely to increase nutrient recycling rates in the soil. Along with the discovery of the large population of Neolithodes yaldwyni there was evidence of it having substantial impacts on the local native fauna and habitat.
Priority invasive non-native species and actions
Very few non-native species are present, and most are invertebrates. All are considered high risk within BAT. Any new introductions dramatically increase the continent’s plant and insect biodiversity and can have substantial (if so far very localised) impacts upon native ecosystems. Rapid response to any new introductions is therefore key.
BAS operates an accident/incident/near-miss/environment (AINME) reporting system with a special category for non-native species. Emergency biosecurity bags have been provided to all stations containing means to clean contaminated equipment and eradicate invertebrates within buildings or ISO containers (pyrethrum foggers, insect spray, etc.). Biosecurity rooms are being provided within the new infrastructure being developed at Rothera Research Station in 2020.
In 2017 a biosecurity gap analysis (PDF) was completed. BAT is one of the territories with the greatest capacity in biosecurity. The simplicity of the Antarctic system makes risk analysis relatively straightforward on an ad hoc basis.
Pathway analysis was completed as part of the Review of British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Biosecurity Practice, March 2013. In addition, a range of studies have been done on different pathways / taxa. An assessment of biofouling risks was published in 2016. In 2018 a second pathway analysis was completed. There are airstrips at Rothera and Halley Research Stations. A De Havilland Canada Dash-7 aircraft flies the “air bridge” between Rothera and the Falklands and Punta Arenas, Chile. There are four Havilland Twin Otter aircraft based at Rothera and Halley Research Stations. The supply vessels RRS Ernest Shackleton and RRS James Clark Ross support operations in BAT, as part of the British Antarctic Survey fleet, travelling between the UK, Falklands, South Georgia, Rothera and Halley over the summer season. The RRS Ernest Shackleton spends the southern winter in the northern hemisphere, in Europe and Canada. Cargo is loaded in Immingham, Grimsby or occasionally Portsmouth or Southampton. Some additional fresh foods etc. may be collected in South America, particularly at Punta Arenas. The Royal Navy Ice Patrol Vessel HMS Protector operates around BAT. Tourists are landed from cruise ships at a number of landing sites, during the southern summer period. The tourism industry operates out or Ushuaia or to a lesser degree Punta Arenas.
Various horizon scanning exercises have been carried out as part of the Antarctic Treaty Systems Committee for the Environmental Protection ‘Non-Native Species Manual’, and publications: Continent-wide risk assessment for the establishment of nonindigenous species in Antarctica (Chown et al 2012), and Global thermal niche models of two European grasses show high invasion risks in Antarctica, (Pertierra et al 2017). A horizon scanning exercise was done in 2019, identifying 16 new invasive species of concern which have the potential to arrive within the next 5 – 10 years (Hughes et al 2020); read a report on the horizon scanning (PDF).
Strict biosecurity controls are applied to visitors (including tourists, with the tourism industry represented by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO)) and vessel access, to research staff, vehicles, cargo, and food supplies. All visitors apply self-policing protocols. Internal biosecurity (between stations) is also rigorous for some pathways. Procedures, protocols and detailed Handbook are in place. The Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty demands a black list approach. Non-native species can only be introduced with a permit for scientific purposes or food, and then must be destroyed. Codes of Conduct have been prepared by the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) that provide advice for scientists regarding non-native species. These Codes apply to BAT.
A non-native Species Response Protocol’ was approved by the Committee for Environmental Protection in 2019 for inclusion in the ‘CEP Non-native Species Manual’. The CEP non-native species manual has been endorsed by all 29 Antarctic Treaty Consultative Parties through Resolution 4 (2016). However, levels of compliance are unclear, both within Antarctica and at other points in the supply chain.
An identified weakness is the risk of intra-continental transfer of non-native species from the other 18 nations operating within the BAT area, as standards of compliance are unclear. Specific priority needs are an enhanced biosecurity understanding and practices in the other 18 Parties who operate within the same region in BAT, in order to implement measures to reduce intra-continental transfer of species. This is of particular concern for those operating in the climatically less extreme areas of the northern Peninsula where non-native species establishment may be more likely.
The UK has been involved in the preparation of management strategies for the non-native fly Trichocera maculipennis on King George Island. However, the chance of eradication or control does not look promising.
Poa annua on King George Island continues to be pulled up by Polish scientists. However, the seed bank means plants keep returning and it is not known how long this will take to eradicate completely.
Two projects were funded under the Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) (external link) between 2012 and 2014. These projects covered an emperor penguin census, and identification of important and vulnerable marine areas for conservation.
BAT has received three Darwin Initiative funded projects, listed below. For more information read the project reports (external link):
- An autonomous seabird monitoring network for the southern ocean (DPLUS0002)
- Antarctic and sub-antarctic marine protected areas: using penguin tracking data to identify candidate areas (DPLUS009)
- Developing the risk assessment framework for the Antarctic krill fishery (DPLUS072)
The project ‘Tackling invasive non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories’ was implemented between 2016 and 2020 to strengthen biosecurity in the OTs, funded by the UK government Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). BAT benefitted from a number of activities to strengthen its biosecurity, including: pathway analysis, horizon scanning, pathway action planning, access to online learning, and technical support. Read further details.
The Blue Belt Programme seeks to enhance long-term sustainable marine protection strategies for the UKOTs, and provides £20 million of funding over 4 years (2016 to 2020), also funded by CSSF and delivered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The Programme assisted the BAT with research on sustainable fisheries, and has a collaborative partnership with BAS on marine science and advice on management in the BAT region. Read project details and reports (external link).
Information for visitors
BAT has stringent biosecurity requirements to help protect the Territory from non-native invasive species.
Before travelling please ensure all items are clean, free from organic materials such as mud, faeces, seeds and invertebrates:
- Check your footwear, outdoor clothing and day packs to make sure they are clean and free from weed seeds, mud, invertebrates and plant material. If possible we recommend that you travel with new outdoor clothing and equipment. Shake out or vacuum all the compartments and pockets before you pack.
- If you have been camping, check that your tent and other equipment is clean, dry and free of dirt and invertebrates such as ants and spiders. Shake it out before you pack it up for travel and ensure no soil remains on tent pegs.
- If you have been hiking, visiting a wilderness area, farm or zoo, make sure your footwear and clothes are clean and free from seeds, mud and faeces. Check boot soles for mud between the treads, Velcro fastenings for seeds and plant material, and shake out or vacuum pockets to remove any dirt and plant material.
- If you are carrying golf, fishing or other sports and outdoor equipment with you, make sure they are clean, dry and free from dirt and any live creatures.
British Antarctic Territory Government
Polar Regions Department
Foreign and Commonwealth Office
King Charles Street
British Antarctic Survey
Tel: +44 (0)1223 221400
Barnsley, S., Cary, E., Pienkowski, M. and Wensink, C. (Eds) (2016). Review of performance by 2016 of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in implementing the 2001 Environment Charters or their equivalents and moving towards the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Targets. UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, April 2016.
Bartlett, Jesamine C., Convey, Peter , Pertierra, Luis R., Hayward, Scott A.. (2019) An insect invasion of Antarctica: the past, present and future distribution of Eretmoptera murphyi (Diptera, Chironomidae) on Signy Island. Insect Conservation and Diversity. 10.1111/icad.12389
Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R. and Stringer, C. (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
Bowman, R (2013). British Antarctic Territory Strategy Paper 2011-13. http://www.gov.uk/government/publications/british-antarctic-territory-strategy-paper-2011-2013.
Convey, P. (2006). Non-native species in Antarctic terrestrial and freshwater environments: presence, sources, impacts and predictions. In: Non-native species in the Antarctic – Proceedings by Rogan-Finnemore, M (ed.). Gateway Antarctica Special Publication Series No. 0801. Christchurch, New Zealand 2006.
Hughes, K.A., Worland, M.R., Thorne, M.A.S. and Convey, P. (2013). The non-native chironomid Eretmoptera murphyi in Antarctic: erosion of the barriers to invasion. Biol. Invasions 15:269-281.
Hughes, Kevin A., Convey, Peter, Pertierra, Luis R., Vega, Greta C., Aragón, Pedro, Ollala-Tárraga, Miguel A.. (2019) Human-mediated dispersal of terrestrial species between Antarctic biogeographic regions: a preliminary risk assessment. Journal of Environmental Management, 232. 73-89. 10.1016/j.jenvman.2018.10.095
Hughes, Kevin A., Greenslade, Penelope, Convey, Peter . (2017) The fate of the non-native collembolon, Hypogastrura viatica, at the southern end of its introduced range in Antarctica. Polar Biology, 40. 2127-2131. 10.1007/s00300-017-2121-4
Hughes, Kevin A., Misiak, Marta, Ulaganathan, Yogabaanu, Newsham, Kevin K. . (2018) Importation of psychrotolerant fungi to Antarctic associated with wooden cargo packaging. Antarctic Science, 30. 298-305. 10.1017/S0954102018000329
Hughes, Kevin A., Pescott, Oliver L., Peyton, Jodey, Adriaens, Tim, Cottier-Cook, Elizabeth J., Key, Gillian, Rabitsch, Wolfgang, Tricarico, Elena, Barnes, David K.A. , Baxter, Naomi, Belchier, Mark, Blake, Denise, Convey, Peter , Dawson, Wayne, Frohlich, Danielle, Gardiner, Lauren M., González-Moreno, Pablo, James, Ross, Malumphy, Christopher, Martin, Stephanie, Martinou, Angeliki F., Minchin, Dan, Monaco, Andrea, Moore, Niall, Morley, Simon A. , Ross, Katherine, Shanklin, Jonathan, Turvey, Katharine, Vaughan, David , Vaux, Alexander G.C., Werenkraut, Victoria, Winfield, Ian J., Roy, Helen E.. (2020) Invasive non‐native species likely to threaten biodiversity and ecosystems in the Antarctic Peninsula region. Global Change Biology. 10.1111/gcb.14938
McCarthy, Arlie, Peck, Lloyd, Hughes, Kevin, Aldridge, David C. (2019) Antarctica: the final frontier for marine biological invasions. Global Change Biology, 25. 2221-2241. 10.1111/gcb.14600
Malfasi, Francesco, Convey, Peter , Zaccara, Serena, Cannone, Nicoletta. (2020) Establishment and eradication of an alien plant species in Antarctica: Poa annua at Signy Island. Biodiversity and Conservation, 29. 173-186. 10.1007/s10531-019-01877-7
Pertierra, Luis R., Bartlett, Jesamine C., Duffy, Grant A., Vega, Greta C., Hughes, Kevin, Hayward, Scott A. L., Convey, Peter , Olalla-Tarraga, Miguel A., Aragón, P.. (2019) Combining correlative and mechanistic niche models with human activity data to elucidate the invasive potential of a sub‐Antarctic insect.. Journal of Biogeography. 16 pp. 10.1111/jbi.13780
Proctor, D. and Fleming, L. V., eds. (1999). Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Peterborough, UK: JNCC.
Smith, C.R., Grange, L.J., Honig, D.L., Naudts, L., Huber, B., Guidi, L. and Domack, E. (2011). A large population of king crabs in Palmer Deep on the west Antarctic Peninsula shelf and potential invasive impacts. Proc. R. Soc. B online 2011: 1496.
Varnham, K. (2006). Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. Peterborough, UK: JNCC Report No. 372.
- Antarctic Treaty – The protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty
- British Antarctic Survey
- British Antarctic Territory official website
- JNCC – Invasive species in the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies
- Kew RBG – UKOTS Online Herbarium
- RSPB – South Atlantic Invasive Species Strategy
- RSPB – UKOTs Wildlife Stocktake 2014 (external link)