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Monday, 17 December, 2001, 13:14 GMT
Princess on Antarctic mission
Hut, Kim Griggs
Scott's Discovery Hut is 100 years old next year
By Christine McGourty, science correspondent, in the Antarctic

The Princess Royal is to visit Antarctica in February to see the historic huts built there by heroic explorers Captain Robert Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The huts aren't going to fall down tomorrow, but... it is becoming critical

John Heap, UK Antarctic Heritage Trust
The huts are in territory administered by New Zealand and her visit is designed to support its efforts to raise funds to restore them.

Captain Scott first went to the Antarctic in February 1902, and the huts built by him and Shackleton in subsequent years have been left more or less untouched since they were used by these pioneering polar explorers.

Beds and bedding are still there, along with clothes and all manner of supplies. There are even biscuits and tins of food, as well as plates, pots and pans.

Strong links

At Shackleton's hut, at Cape Royd, there are the remains of stables built for the ponies he used and a garage built for the first car taken to the continent.

Chocolate, Christie's
Chocolate from Scott's Discovery expedition was recently sold at auction
At Scott's hut at Cape Evans, there are still penguin eggs and piles of seal blubber. The wooden huts have been reasonably well preserved by the cold until now, but they're being damaged by ice and much more needs to be done to ensure they last another 100 years.

So, to commemorate the centenary of Scott's first visit to Antarctica, there are new plans for restoration. The huts lie in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica, a part of the continent that is administered by New Zealand.

The Antarctic Heritage Trust there is seeking international support for its fund-raising efforts, and is hoping for large contributions from Britain, given the country's strong historical links with the region.

Restoration race

The Princess Royal will spend three days at the huts in early February, hosting a memorial dinner, attending a service in the small chapel at Scott's hut at McMurdo Sound and unveiling a plaque there.

Shackleton, PA
Campaigners say British interest in Shackleton (pictured) and Scott should spur interest
The ultimate aim is to raise money to ensure the huts are in a better condition to withstand the extreme weather here and to ensure they are not damaged by the growing number of tourists visiting Antarctica.

John Heap, chairman of the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust, says: "The New Zealanders have been looking after these huts for the best part of 30 years and they're finding that the rate at which they're decaying is rather faster than they can keep up with.

"They've come up with an ambitious programme for the huts' long-term preservation, to get ahead of the game rather than feeling always that the wind and the weather are getting the better of them."

Rusting tins

He says the number of visitors is also an issue. "There are two sets of problems, one human and one climatic.

"Ice grains are wearing away the wood the huts are made of. The other problem comes from large numbers of people walking through the huts, which brings its own wear and tear.

It's hoped there might be international support for the renovation, particularly from Britain

New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust spokeswoman
"The huts are well-stocked with original supplies of biscuits and things like Colman's Mustard. But the trouble is with people going through the huts breathing, creating a human atmosphere that starts rusting away the cans.

"The huts aren't going to fall down tomorrow, but in the New Zealanders' opinion it is becoming critical."

A spokeswoman from the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust said: "We have received some money from the New Zealand Government, but it's hoped there might be international support for the renovation, particularly from Britain.

"The idea of Princess Anne's visit is to draw attention to the restoration and she'll be flown by helicopter to see the conservation work for herself."

See also:

07 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Scott's hut needs urgent repair
20 Nov 01 | Sci/Tech
Preserving the last wilderness
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