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Friday, 7 December, 2001, 14:28 GMT
Scott's hut needs urgent repair
Hut, Kim Griggs
The Discovery Hut was built to last five years
By Kim Griggs in Wellington, New Zealand

In February, the first Antarctic home of the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott will be 100 years old. New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust (AHT) wants to make sure that it is not the Discovery Hut's last centenary.

The project is huge and beyond our resources

Nigel Watson, New Zealand's Antarctic Heritage Trust
Discovery Hut and the other huts used in Antarctica's heroic age of exploration are under siege. "They were built to be there five years," said Nigel Watson, the executive director of the AHT.

"By a stroke of luck they've lasted a hundred but... they will not last another hundred unless major conservation work is undertaken at these sites."

To conserve this unique Antarctic heritage, the trust needs broader - and greater - financial support. Next week, trust representatives will be in the UK, outlining the need for the intensive, and expensive, restoration of these historic buildings.

Sticking plaster

"Ninety percent of people don't know they are there," said Watson. "Those that do, probably nine out of ten think, 'Oh, they are frozen. They are in Antarctica. Therefore they must be in perfect condition'. And this isn't the case."

Scott, PA
Scott is supposed to be a British hero - but will the UK pay to conserve his base?
The decay comes in all forms: biological, chemical, environmental - and, despite low visitor numbers, human intervention. It happened, Watson said, "from knocking things, scraping the floor, through to people putting stuff in their pockets."

Conservation work has been done, but it has been insufficient to stem the decay. "There has been maintenance done in these huts essentially by conservators," said Antarctic huts conservation expert Professor Roberta Farrell.

"Most of that was quite 'band aid' and so there's serious work to be done."

Very expensive

The trust acknowledges the hitherto piecemeal approach to conservation is not enough.

"We just don't have the depth of expertise and conservators in New Zealand," said Nigel Watson. "We haven't been able to pay market rates. We've relied on the good will of those conservators."

Hut, Kim Griggs
Many items lie just where Scott left them
This year, the New Zealand Government has given the trust NZ$350,000 (100,000) to help them get the restoration project underway. That money was a big injection for a trust that has had to rely on ad hoc government grants and donations from the people who visit the huts each year.

But the government grant is only seed money: to bring the huts and their artefacts up to scratch will take NZ$20 million ($6m) or even more, well beyond the resources of the New Zealand trust.

World support

"The project is huge and beyond our resources and that's essentially what we've recognised and we need to go to that international market," Watson said.

Captain Scott
The Discovery Hut was constructed during Captain Scott's 1901-1904 expedition
He died in 1912 on a later expedition when he and his companions were caught in an unexpected bout of freezing weather
Capt Scott was just 13 miles (20 kilometres) away from the supplies at one-ton depot which would probably have saved him
To start raising the awareness of the funds needed, trust members will travel to the UK and the US this month. In February, to celebrate the centenary of Scott making his first Antarctic home, the trust has invited the Princess Royal to visit Antarctica.

"Our message is essentially to brief the British community on the state of the heritage in the Ross Sea, and the fate of that heritage unless more extensive conservation work is done," Watson said.

For now, however, Watson acknowledges, "we are very much on the first 10 metres of a 400-metre track".

Hut, Kim Griggs

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