Research project

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT)

SGHT aims to preserve the island’s natural and historical heritage for future generations

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Start date

May 2006

The island of South Georgia is a unique place; it is one of nature’s paradises and yet it is also rich with historical heritage. It is positioned in the Southern Ocean between the cold southern Antarctic waters and the warmer waters to the north. These contrasting influences contribute to the island’s exceptional natural beauty, creating a unique environment that supports an abundance of marine and terrestrial wildlife. This same abundance attracted humans to South Georgia, which became a centre for the unsustainable sealing and whaling industries. The island was also the gateway to the Antarctic for heroes of polar exploration including Sir Ernest Shackleton. While sealing and whaling practices have now ceased, South Georgia continues to suffer from the long-term impact of human inhabitation – the ongoing devastation of South Georgia’s bird population by the introduced Norway brown rat.

Aims and objectives

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) was established by the late Brigadier David Nicholls and Prof Elaine Shemilt. Princess Anne and Baroness Young are Patrons of this charity and Alastair Fothergill, the renowned producer of nature documentaries, is its President. SGHT aims to preserve the island’s natural and historical heritage for future generations. Its two primary purposes are:

  • To help efforts to conserve and protect those species of indigenous fauna and flora that breed and grow on South Georgia or in the surrounding seas and to raise awareness of South Georgia’s threatened species
  • To assist efforts to preserve the historical heritage of South Georgia, including selected historical sites of importance, and increase international awareness of the human history of the island through the South Georgia Museum.


SGHT supports government approved research undertaken on South Georgia which will benefit the island. In partnership with the Government of South Georgia, SGHT has supported the British Antarctic Survey in its studies of the biodiversity of the benthic floor of the Southern Ocean. The study undertaken by David Barnes and Oliver Hogg, created 14,000 unique records representing 1027 species of seabed life.

The Habitat Restoration Project is a groundbreaking project which will save native birds from extinction and increase by millions, the numbers of endangered seabirds on South Georgia, to restore the island to its status as one of the most important seabird sanctuaries in the world. This will be achieved by eradicating the millions of rodents which have devastated the flora and fauna of this fragile ecosystem after introduction by man.

SGHT is also supporting research to develop marine protected areas and to protect marine biodiversity. This is being undertaken by PhD researcher Claire Tancell at the University of Cambridge and the British Antarctic Survey. It involves the identification and characterisation of biological hot-spots in the South Georgia marine environment and their inclusion in a network of Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean.

In September 2011, a two-day conference, Managing Industrial and Cultural Heritage: South Georgia in Context, was hosted in Dundee in association with The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage and the South Georgia Association. The conference aimed to decipher the future for South Georgia’s industrial heritage, contribute to the future heritage strategy for SGHT and create a decision-making framework to assist in the management of South Georgia’s industrial heritage sites.


Project lead(s)

Professor Elaine Shemilt


Elaine Shemilt