The Penguin Post Office – Bransfield House (Base ‘A’) is a little bit of Britain in the heart of Antarctica. Inside the British Base ‘A’, run by the United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT), the Post Office has everything you’d expect: a postbox, stamps, postcards and four dedicated UKAHT staff. Outside, things are a little bit different, neighbouring the Post Office are 2,000 gentoo penguins. They’re here for one reason, to raise a family, but their lives are far from picture postcard - adultery and robbery are rife, as the BBC program makes clear
In October 2013 BBC Natural World with the help of the UKAHT set out to film at Port Lockroy. The program they made, narrated by Juliet Stevenson and filmed and produced by Andrew Graham-Brown, follows the lives of the UKAHT staff and a colony of gentoo penguins as they survive around Bransfield House, a British Antarctic Territory Post Office in the heart of the Antarctic Peninsula.
Every summer the gentoo penguins return to the location of the world’s most southerly public Post Office, and it is here the viewers find out that as the penguins nest, they share their home with four newly recruited UKAHT staff, who run the Post Office for visiting tourists, proudly flying the Union flag and cleaning up the penguin mess around the base, we soon learn that there is more to these adorable little penguins than comical waddling. We also take a look around the Post Office and learn about its history in the 1940’s and 50’s. We meet this year’s Base Leader, Helen Annan, and Post Mistresses, Kristy Leissle and Jane Cooper, who were living alongside the penguins for the austral summer. They, and some of the visitors to the island, share their thoughts direct to camera on these special animals and what they are writing on their postcards home.
As Helen Annan Base Leader said “it’s a dream job and like the penguins I would like to come back here ever year”.
THE UKAHT POST OFFICE WORKERS
Base Leader - Helen Annan
Helen was Base-Leader at Port Lockroy in the 2013/14 season. She travelled down ahead of the other Post Office workers, with the Penguin Post Office film crew to get everything set up and organised. Helen spent a season working at Port Lockroy in 2007/8 and loved it so much she returned again! Helen is from the UK and, until last year, worked in the youth hostel industry. She is currently living in Perthshire.
Sarah originates from France, has spent a few years living and teaching in Japan and regularly works the summer season in Tromsø, Norway, as a tour guide. This was her first season in the Antarctic, but she is already set to return next year to do another season as Base Leader in Port Lockroy.
Jane is from Stroud, UK. She trained and worked as a lawyer before deciding to change career. Prior to the 2013/14 season at Port Lockroy, she worked for Mencap as a trainer. Her hobbies include climbing and travelling. This was her first time to the Antarctic.
Kristy is from New York, USA, but currently lives in Seattle, where she works as a Professor at the University of Washington. She travelled to the Antarctic as a passenger on a cruise ship and actually visited Port Lockroy in a previous season, deciding then that she wanted to work there. She is also known as the Doctor of Chocolate, having completed a PhD about the cocoa industry in Ghana and the global trade of cocoa and chocolate.
Notes to editor:
Established in 1993, The United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust (UKAHT) works to conserve Antarctic buildings and artefacts, and to promote and encourage the public's interest in its Antarctic heritage.
The UKAHT cares for the flagship site at Port Lockroy on the Antarctic Peninsula and also undertakes conservation works at other historic sites (former British research stations) at Damoy, Detaille and Wordie.
The work of the UKAHT is funded largely through the operation of Base ‘A' at Port Lockroy. The buildings at Port Lockroy, which are still part of a British base run by the UKAHT under an agreement with the British Antarctic Survey, are designated Historic Sites and Monuments (HSMs) and protected under the Antarctic Treaty, which governs activities in Antarctica. Port Lockroy, was established in 1944 as part of ‘Operation Tabarin’, a British Government initiative to establish a permanent year-round presence in Antarctica. It later operated as a scientific research station for the organisation now known as the British Antarctic Survey. It was the first geophysics study base until 1962 when this scientific work was moved and expanded to a more modern site. After this time it fell into disrepair. In 1995 the buildings were recognised for their historic importance and initial restoration was begun a year later by the British Antarctic Survey to create a living museum and Post Office. Since being taken over by the UKAHT in 2006 and with very significant new investment and restoration Port Lockroy has continued to go from strength to strength. It is now the most visited location in the whole of Antarctica, receiving around 18,000 visitors a year.
Each year, the UKAHT recruits and trains a team of four staff to live and work at Port Lockroy, promoting the legacy of early British scientists’ work to visitors. Work involves annual maintenance to protect the buildings from the weather and welcoming visitors from ships. The team runs the Government of the British Antarctic Territory’s busiest post office, enabling visitors to send postcards using specially designed stamps. The UKAHT also operates a gift shop, which together with income from the sale of stamps helps fund the work of the UKAHT. In addition, the team also monitor, through a long-term environmental study, the impact of visitors on the breeding gentoo penguins which nest on the island.
In the UK, the UKAHT also acts as a fund-giving organisation and provides financial support to other polar institutions that support the charity's mission. The UKAHT coordinates Antarctica 100, a group of over 50 institutions with an interest in Antarctic heritage which works to share knowledge and resources. The UKAHT also works with other organisations and is an important financial supporter of the British Antarctic Oral History Project. This project captures important audio and video recordings of individual’s recollections which offer unique insights into the interactions of those who have been fortunate enough to work in Antarctica.
The UKAHT supports its sister organisation New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust, in protecting four historic buildings in the Ross Sea region of Antarctica on the opposite side of the continent to the Peninsula sites. It is active in promoting Antarctic public engagement and supports institutions which have a connection to Antarctic heritage through their collections or through education and outreach activities.
Tel: 01223 355049
British Antarctic Territory
The British Antarctic Territory is the largest of the UK’s Overseas Territories – covering around 1.7m sq km. The Territory has its own legislative framework and makes a range of legal and administrative appointments. It is self-financing and the modest income from stamp and coin sales, and income tax from over-wintering scientists is reinvested in the protection of the historic and natural environment in the region. Without an indigenous population, it is administered by officials within the Polar Regions Department in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Tel: 020 7008 2616 or 07785 608330