British Antarctic Territory
"Research and Discovery"
Anthem: "God Save the King"
Location of the British Antarctic Territory in Antarctica
Location of the British Antarctic Territory in Antarctica
Sovereign state United Kingdom
and largest city
67°34′06″S 68°07′33″W / 67.568417°S 68.125796°W / -67.568417; -68.125796
Official languagesEnglish
GovernmentDependency under a constitutional monarchy
• Monarch
Charles III
Paul Candler
• Deputy Commissioner
Jane Rumble
• Administrator
George Clarkson[1]
Government of the United Kingdom
David Rutley
• Total
1,709,400 km2 (660,000 sq mi)
Highest elevation
3,239 m (10,627 ft)
• Summer estimate
CurrencyPound sterling (£) (GBP)
Time zoneUTC-03:00
UK postcode
Internet TLD

The British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories, of which it is by far the largest by area. It comprises the region south of 60°S latitude and between longitudes 20°W and 80°W, forming a wedge shape that extends to the South Pole, overlapped by the Antarctic claims of Argentina (Argentine Antarctica) and Chile (Chilean Antarctic Territory). The claim to the region has been suspended since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961.

The Territory was formed on 3 March 1962, although the UK's claim to this portion of the Antarctic dates back to letters patent of 1908 and 1917. The area now covered by the Territory includes three regions which, before 1962, were administered by the British as separate dependencies of the Falkland Islands: Graham Land, the South Orkney Islands, and the South Shetland Islands. The United Kingdom's claim to the region has been suspended since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, Article 4 of which states "No acts or activities taking place while the present Treaty is in force shall constitute a basis for asserting, supporting or denying a claim to territorial sovereignty in Antarctica. No new claim, or enlargement of an existing claim, to territorial sovereignty, shall be asserted while the present Treaty is in force." Most countries do not recognise territorial claims in Antarctica.[3][failed verification] The United Kingdom has ratified the treaty.

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. There are no native inhabitants. In 2012, the southern part of the territory was named Queen Elizabeth Land in honour of Queen Elizabeth II.


The United Kingdom has had a continuous presence in the far South Atlantic since 1833 when it reasserted sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. In 1908, the UK extended its territorial claim by declaring sovereignty over "South Georgia, the South Orkneys, the South Shetlands, the Sandwich Islands, and Graham's Land, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean and on the Antarctic continent to the south of the 50th parallel of south latitude, and lying between the 20th and the 80th degrees of west longitude".[4] All these territories were administered as Falkland Islands Dependencies from Stanley by the Governor of the Falkland Islands.

In 1917, the wording of the claim was modified, so as to, among other things, unambiguously include all the territory in the sector stretching to the South Pole (thus encompassing all of the present-day British Antarctic Territory). The new claim covered "all islands and territories whatsoever between the 20th degree of west longitude and the 50th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 50th parallel of south latitude; and all islands and territories whatsoever between the 50th degree of west longitude and the 80th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 58th parallel of south latitude".[4]

The United Kingdom also claimed Victoria Land in 1841 and Enderby Land in 1930. However, all territory between 160°E and 45°E was transferred to Australia in 1933. 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. In the 1950s, the Antarctic Treaty was negotiated to demilitarise the region and retain Antarctica – defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude – for peaceful research purposes. The treaty was passed in 1961.[citation needed]


See also: Territorial claims in Antarctica

The Antarctic Treaty, signed by all relevant regional claimants, does not in itself either recognise or dispute any territorial claims, leaving this matter to individual signatories.[3] Most of the world's countries do not recognise any national claims to Antarctica.[5] Australia, France, New Zealand, Norway and the United Kingdom, all of whom have territorial claims on the continent, mutually recognise each other's claims.[6][7] Argentina and Chile dispute the British claim, and have their own claims that overlap both Britain's and each other's (see Argentine Antarctica and Chilean Antarctic Territory).


Panorama of Signy Research Station, South Orkney Islands
Map of the British Antarctic Territory


The British Antarctic Territory includes the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands and numerous other offshore islands, the Ronne Ice Shelf (Weddell Sea), and parts of Coats Land. A 437,000-square-kilometre (169,000 sq mi) triangle of central Antarctica converging on the South Pole was named Queen Elizabeth Land in December 2012, in honour of the Diamond Jubilee of Elizabeth II.[8][9]

Over 99 per cent of the territory's land surface is covered by a permanent ice sheet, up to about 5,000 metres (16,000 ft) thick.[10] The highest peak in BAT was thought to be Mount Jackson, on the Antarctic Peninsula, at 3,184 metres (10,446 ft).[10] However, in 2017 Mount Hope was calculated to be taller at 3,239 metres (10,627 ft).[11]


There are very few plants in the British Antarctic Territories; most of them are mosses and lichens, but there are also two flowering plants: the Antarctic hairgrass and Antarctic pearlwort.[12]


Many bird species, including seven species of penguin breed in the British Antarctic Territories. The British Antarctic Territories are also home to six species of seals.[12]

Oil and gas reserves

In May 2024, it was reported that Russia had discovered extensive oil and gas reserves in the Antarctic, with a significant portion found in areas claimed by the United Kingdom. The estimated reserves, totaling 511 billion barrels of oil, raise concerns about potential drilling in a region protected by the Antarctic Treaty, which prohibits mineral and oil developments. While the UK's Foreign Office has expressed trust in Russia's assurance of conducting scientific research, critics argue that Russia's activities resemble oil and gas prospecting rather than genuine scientific endeavors and questioned The Foreign Office's management of the United Kingdom's Antarctic interests.[13]


King Charles III is the head of state of the British Antarctic Territory.

The British Antarctic Territory is administered by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). A Commissioner is appointed and is always the Director of the FCO's Overseas Territories Directorate.

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.

The Royal Navy deploys the ice patrol ship, HMS Protector, in South Atlantic and Antarctic waters during the regional summer. The ship fulfills a variety of roles, including support for the British Antarctic Survey.[14] The British Antarctic Survey also operates the RRS Sir David Attenborough in the region during the Antarctic summer, a ship owned by the Natural Environment Research Council.[15]

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. British citizenship and BOTC would also extend to the first generation born overseas. Since Emilio Palma was born in the Antarctic territories claimed by the UK prior to 1983, he automatically had British nationality at birth. Since his parents were both Argentine citizens and he was born at an Argentine base, he was automatically granted Argentine citizenship by the Argentine government.

Changes to British nationality law from 1 January 1983 mean that a child born in the territory can only gain BOTC and/or British citizenship if his/her father or mother holds BOTC and/or British citizenship or if his/her father or mother is "ordinarily resident" in the territory in compliance with the relevant immigration legislation.[16] This effectively prevents any more children born in Argentine or Chilean bases within the area of the British claim being able to claim BOTC or British citizenship by virtue of being born within the territory.

Research stations

Rothera Research Station

The British Antarctic Survey has two permanently staffed facilities in the Territory: Halley Research Station and Rothera Research Station.[17][18]

Signy Research Station was operated from 1947 until 1996 and now is only staffed in the summer.[19] There are also two summer-only forward operating stations at Fossil Bluff and Sky Blu. Faraday was maintained until 1996, when it was sold to Ukraine and renamed Akademik Vernadsky Station.[20]

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.[21] Argentine presence in the territory dates to the foundation of the Orcadas Base, South Orkney Islands, in 1903. A number of other nations maintain bases in the territory, many in the South Shetland Islands.[10]

Postage stamps and coins

Main article: Postage stamps and postal history of the British Antarctic Territory

Further information: British currency in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic

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.

In 2008–2009, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the 1908 British territorial claim, the British Antarctic Territory issued its first ever legal-tender coin.[22]

Queen Elizabeth Land

Main article: Queen Elizabeth Land

On 18 December 2012, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office announced that the southern part of British Antarctic Territory has been named Queen Elizabeth Land in honour of Queen Elizabeth II in her Diamond Jubilee year. The area, the southern third of the territory, has an area of about 437,000 square kilometres (169,000 sq mi) – almost twice the size of the United Kingdom – and is roughly triangular in shape, with the South Pole at one apex and with the 20°W and 80°W lines of longitude forming the eastern and western boundaries. The northern boundary is formed by the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf on the west and by Coats Land on the east.

The name "Queen Elizabeth Land" will be used in future on all British maps, but due to the unique status of Antarctica, it will be up to other countries to recognise the name if they see fit.[23] Argentina, which lays claim to part of the area, criticised the naming.[24]

See also


  1. ^ "Who We Are". British Antarctic Territory. Retrieved 25 November 2022.
  2. ^ Hendry, Ian; Dickson, Susan (2011). British Overseas Territories Law. Oxford: Hart Publishing. p. 299. ISBN 9781849460194.
  3. ^ a b "The Antarctic Treaty". National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs. Archived from the original on 19 May 2019.
  4. ^ a b Casarini, Maria Pia (1996). "Activities in Antarctica Before the Conclusion of the Antarctic Treaty". In Francioni, Francesco; Scovazzi, Tullio (eds.). International Law for Antarctica (Second ed.). Kluwer Law International. p. 652. ISBN 90-411-0364-3. LCCN 96054217.
  5. ^ "The World Factbook — Central Intelligence Agency". Retrieved 19 March 2017.
  6. ^ Headland, Robert K. (1989). Chronological List of Antarctic Expeditions and Related Historical Events. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-30903-4. LCCN 88037622. Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  7. ^ Cahoon, Ben. "British Antarctic Territory". Retrieved 13 August 2012.
  8. ^ "UK to rename part of Antarctica Queen Elizabeth Land". BBC News. 18 December 2012. Archived from the original on 15 April 2014. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  9. ^ Rayner, Gordon (18 December 2012). "Part of Antarctica named 'Queen Elizabeth Land' as gift for Diamond Jubilee". The Telegraph. Archived from the original on 25 September 2015. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  10. ^ a b c British Antarctic Territory, Country Facts Archived 12 March 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
  11. ^ New satellite imagery reveals new highest Antarctic Peninsula Mountain British Antarctic Survey, 11 December 2017
  12. ^ a b Commonwealth Secretariat Website Archived 5 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Leake, Jonathan (11 May 2024). "Russia finds vast oil and gas reserves in British Antarctic territory". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 13 May 2024.
  14. ^ "HMS Protector (A173) | Royal Navy".
  15. ^ "RRS Sir David Attenborough". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 31 December 2022.
  16. ^ British Nationality Act 1981, s.1, s.15 & s.50
  17. ^ "Research Stations in Antarctica". British Antarctic Survey. Retrieved 7 September 2008.
  18. ^ Extreme Engineering: the challenges of working in AntarcticaArchived 2 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine, Ingenia, September 2005.
  19. ^ "Signy Research Station". British Antarctic Survey. Archived from the original on 3 March 2011. Retrieved 7 September 2008.
  20. ^ "Faraday Station - History". British Antarctic Survey. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 7 September 2008.
  21. ^ "Port Lockroy". UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. Archived from the original on 21 May 2008. Retrieved 7 September 2008.
  22. ^ "The British Antarctic Territory Currency". United Kingdom Antarctic Heritage Trust. Archived from the original on 19 April 2010.
  23. ^ "The Foreign Secretary has announced that the southern part of British Antarctic Territory has been named Queen Elizabeth Land". Foreign & Commonwealth Office. 18 December 2012. Archived from the original on 7 July 2013. Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  24. ^ "Argentina angry after Antarctic territory named after Queen". BBC News. 22 December 2012. Archived from the original on 15 January 2013. Retrieved 22 December 2012.

75°00′S 50°00′W / 75.000°S 50.000°W / -75.000; -50.000