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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 14:43 GMT
Heritage hut appeal
(Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust)
Scott's hut: Lashed by winds and sea salt
By Kim Griggs in Christchurch, New Zealand

An international appeal for 10m to save four ageing wooden huts left by explorers in Antarctica a century ago has been launched by the Princess Royal.

"These huts stand as fitting memorials to those explorers and their values," the Princess said in launching the venture. "That is why we must preserve these buildings and the legacy they represent."

Princess Anne in Christchurch. (Photo: Antarctic Heritage Trust)
The Princess Royal: "The work will be complex"
The New Zealand-based Antarctic Heritage Trust plans to restore four key huts on the Ross Sea coast over the next eight years.

It invited the Princess Royal to Antarctica to mark the 100th anniversary of Captain Robert Falcon Scott's first expedition there.

On Ross Island, the trust will restore Captain Scott's two huts and the one used by Ernest Shackleton in his polar attempt. On the Antarctic mainland, the trust wants to preserve the hut used by Carsten Borchgrevink for the first wintering on the continent.

International lifeline

So far the British Antarctic Territory administration has given the trust 70,000 to boost the fundraising effort. The Trust, which has survived hitherto on donations and small grants, last year received 100,000 from the New Zealand Government. But it is seeking 10m from the international community to carry out more extensive restoration work.

"The work will be complex, difficult and expensive .... and it cannot be done without the support of the entire international community," the Princess Royal, who is patron of the UK's Antarctic Heritage Trust, said.

Unless we commence a major conservation programme shortly we will lose this heritage

Rob Fenwick, Antarctic Heritage Trust
Though it is often assumed that the huts are safely preserved by the southern continent's dry conditions, the buildings and their contents are in fact deteriorating under the onslaught of winds and sea salt.

"For although the huts give this eerie appearance, that frozen in the environment of Antarctic they are being well preserved, the reverse is the case," said Rob Fenwick, chairman of the trust.

"They are rapidly deteriorating due principally to the weather, high humidity within the buildings and - for many years - uncontrolled visitation.

"Unless we commence a major conservation programme shortly we will lose this heritage. It will disappear."

The trust has appointed New Zealand firm Arrow International as project managers, and is already planning the restoration of Ernest Shackleton's Nimrod expedition hut, used at Cape Royds from 1907 to 1909. This hut and its artefacts, the trust hopes, can be restored to a state similar to when it was occupied.

Capricious continent

The hut at Cape Evans, to which Robert Scott did not return, will have selected restoration of "iconic" artefacts. The biggest of all the huts, it is packed with 10,000 items.

Scott's first hut, the Discovery hut, will be adapted to reflect its occupation at the end of the heroic era and the more remote and difficult to access hut built by Borchgrevink will be stabilised and preserved.

The work on Scott's hut at Cape Evans at an estimated 3.9m will be the most expensive hut to restore; Borchgrevink's the least at 1.4m.

"I think the big problem personally that we will have difficulty in changing will be the ravages of the climate," said Antarctic historian David Harrowfield. "To get on top of what the climate is doing to the structures and their contents is going to be the biggest challenge."

The Princess Royal had a taste of Antarctic capriciousness: her plane had to turn back on her first attempt to reach Antarctica. Then poor weather delayed her helicopter at Cape Evans. Weather also held up her trip to Shackleton's hut at Cape Royds.

A reception at Christchurch was told of her ability to pitch in at New Zealand's base in Antarctica, where she stayed. "I would love to go again," she told the reception, "and I hope that will be possible."

See also:

17 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Princess on Antarctic mission
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