As you know we are in the process of launching a major conservation project on Horseshoe Island (Base Y). Conservation is often confused with restoration, whilst in fact, the two are very different.
As we embark on the programme at Horseshoe, we have to make a number of key decisions about how we are to care for the site into the future. The core decision to restore or conserve is fundamental to what our actions on site will be over the coming seasons. Restoration is when you bring a building back to a former condition. Conservation on the other hand, is when you aim to preserve the building in its current state and the only work you do to it is to prevent the historic fabric from deteriorating further. As well as this, any additions or modifications to achieve this should ideally be reversible without it having an impact on the original condition of the building.
Our flagship site, Port Lockroy, today looks fresh and well-maintained and is visited by 18,000 visitors a year. It is an old building that has been reborn following a major restoration project to bring it back to its former glory days. Horseshoe, in contrast, looks abandoned, untouched, and visibly weathered by the harsh Antarctic conditions and is visited only by the more intrepid cruises and hardy sailors. The decisions we make about how care for sites like that at Horseshoe are based on a great deal of research, survey work and discussion with a network of heritage and polar experts.
When the conservation team landed at Port Lockroy in 1996 their brief was to save the building as it was such an important historic site, but its condition at that time was such that just conserving it 'as found' was not appropriate. So the programme to restore the site to its 1950s condition was underway and the result was the site we know so well today. That curatorial decision to restore to a particular point in time and selecting that point is one which exercises the minds of curators and heritage professionals who look after historic sites with long histories, and it is never an easy decision to make.
Horseshoe on the other hand, is in a relatively good condition, however it won’t stay this way unless we do some work to prevent further dilapidation. The conservation project at Horseshoe poses many challenges and will inevitably be costly. This season (2016/17) our team undertook a detailed survey programme. They captured as much information as possible about the buildings, structures and artefacts; sampling the building materials ; wood, concrete and even the paint to discover the nature of the original materials and measure their condition now. All the data collected this season will inform our planning for the future care of the site even down to which nails we should source. Now that the team are back, the real work begins.
One of the main advantages to conservation over restoration is that in order to restore something you need to destroy it to an extent, and this can be at the expense of the original materials which often holds historic value. As technology improves, we will have improved conservation tools available to us, which will in turn improve how we can treat these materials. Therefore, where possible, we look to conserving and protecting as much of the historic fabric as we can before resorting to replacement or restoration.
Port Lockroy was on the brink of loss and the excellent work by the British Antarctic Survey team in 1996 and the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust since means it has been given a new life as the most visited site in Antarctica and along with that, of course, is the post office and gift shop, which directly support our heritage work. Horseshoe will be conserved and stabilised and for those intrepid few who do manage to get ashore, it will be a unique and remote time capsule of British Antarctic history.