British Antarctic Territory

British Antarctic Territory

The British Antarctic Territory is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom. It is situated in Antarctica from the South Pole to 60°S latitude between longitudes 20°W and 80°W. The Territory was formed on 3 March 1962, although the UK first claimed this portion of the Antarctic in 1908. The area now covered by the Territory includes three regions which, before 1962, were separate dependencies of the Falkland Islands: Graham Land, the South Orkney Islands, and the South Shetland Islands.

The Territory overlaps with Antarctic claims by Argentina (Argentine Antarctica) and Chile (Antártica Chilena Province). The Territory is inhabited by the staff of research and support stations operated and maintained by the British Antarctic Survey and other organisations and stations of Argentina, Chile and other countries.


The United Kingdom has had a continuous presence in the South Atlantic since 1833 when it reasserted sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. In 1908 the UK unilaterally extended its territory by declaring sovereignty over the territory that is British Antarctic Territory today, as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The territory was governed as three separate dependencies; Graham Land, the South Orkneys, and the South Shetlands, administered from Stanley by the Governor of the Falkland Islands.

In 1943, at the height of World War II, the UK undertook a military operation known as Operation Tabarin, to provide reconnaissance and meteorological information in the South Atlantic Ocean. This "secret" wartime project became the civilian Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey and later the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). BAS is responsible for most of the United Kingdom's scientific research in Antarctica.

Several other nations began to stake claims to Antarctica, and in the 1950s, a treaty was negotiated to demilitarise the region, and retain Antarctica for peaceful research purposes. The treaty was passed in 1961. In response the UK hived off all its territory below the 60°S latitude into the British Antarctic Territory, established by Order-in-Council.

France, Norway, New Zealand and Australia, who themselves have territorial claims on the continent, recognise the British Antarctic Territory, and vice versa. But neither Argentina nor Chile recognise British claims based on previous settlements in the area such as the Argentine Orcadas Base, founded in 1903.

In 2008, as part of the centenary of British rule celebrations, the British Antarctic Territory will issue its first ever legal tender coin.


In addition to continental Antarctica, within which the BAT claim includes the Palmer Land peninsula, and the Ronne Ice Shelf, Weddell Sea, the territory also includes the South Shetland Islands and South Orkney Islands.


It is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). A Commissioner is appointed and is always the Head of the FCO's Overseas Territories Department.

The Territory has a full suite of laws, and legal and postal administrations. Given the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty System, the Territory does not enforce its laws on foreign nations who maintain scientific bases within the Territory. It is self-financing, with income from the sale of postage stamps and income tax.

Nationality law

The territory is fully a part of the British Overseas Territories for nationality purposes. It is possible to hold British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) by virtue of a connection with the Territory. Additionally, since the relevant provisions of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 came into force on 21 May 2002, a BOTC connected with the territory would also hold British citizenship.

Although this territory's immigration laws would not allow for naturalisation, a person born in the territory before 1983 would hold BOTC (and British citizenship) on that basis. Emilio Palma is the only person known to fall into this category. British citizenship and BOTC would also extend to the first generation born overseas.

Changes to British nationality law from 1 January 1983 ensure that no claims to BOTC or British citizenship by virtue of a connection to the territory can be made by those born from that date.


The British Antarctic Survey has four permanently staffed research stations in the Territory:

Signy was operated from 1947 until 1996 and now is only staffed in the summer. There are also two summer-only forward operating stations, at Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu.

Faraday was maintained until 1996, when it was handed to Ukraine and renamed Akademik Vernadsky Station.

Since 1996, the historic base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island has been staffed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust during the Antarctic summer. Receiving about 10,000 visitors a year, it is one of the most visited sites on the continent. Visitors can tour the museum, buy souvenirs, post mail, and view the large gentoo penguin colony.

Postage stamps

Despite the lack of permanent inhabitants, the British Antarctic Territory issues its own postage stamps. While some are actually used by visiting tourists and resident scientists, the bulk are sold overseas to collectors. The first issue came in 1963, an engraved set with 15 values ranging from ½d to one pound, featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth overlooking various scenes of human activity in Antarctica. Several additional issues in the 1960s were followed by a decimalisation issue in 1971 produced by overprinting the 1963 stamps.


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