Enabling frontier science at Bird Island

Image Joe Corner, courtesy of BAS - Aerial view of the completed Bird Island Research Station

Image Joe Corner, courtesy of BAS - Aerial view of the completed Bird Island Research Station


Dave Grove. Ramboll

Dave Grove

Director, Project Management
T: +44 7841 498 236
Ramboll. Kate Bunting

Kate Bunting

T: +44 7929 058 253

Located in South Georgia – one of the richest wildlife sites in the world - the Bird Island Research Station upgrade was the first project to be completed under the ongoing Antarctic Infrastructure Modernisation programme, which will transform how British Antarctic Survey (BAS) enables and supports frontier science. 

Bird Island is an important research centre for long-term studies of bird and seal biology. Tens of thousands of albatrosses, penguins and seals live on the island, which is a Specially Protected Area during summer and featured in the 2017 BBC Blue Planet II series.

The BAS technical advisory team led by Ramboll, which includes NORR architects and Turner & Townsend, are providing specialist engineering and consultancy services for the modernisation programme. At Bird Island this has included the design of a new increased capacity storage facility, a new fuel storage tank and improved energy monitoring, as well as new walkway and an extension to the jetty. This logistically complex project was delivered by BAS’s construction partners BAM after many months of planning and preparation in June 2018, following a tight 17-week construction programme. 


The modernisation at Bird Island has improved the facility and working conditions for research teams through increased storage, enhanced facilities and improved access and logistics. Kate Bunting, Ramboll Project Manager, visited the station to carry out site surveys for the redevelopment preparations. She added “During early discussions with BAS it became clear that they didn’t have enough storage space at the station. Bird Island is typically visited just twice a year with supplies, which means there is a huge amount of cargo, which needs to be housed. To ensure the storage building met the needs of BAS personnel, we identified that the new building needed to be around 30% bigger in area than the current storage facilities. The increased space not only provides greater capacity for storage, but also enables more efficient access to equipment and supplies”. As part of the design work, Ramboll was able to retain the location of the storage facility, accommodating existing service ducts running under the building and the adjacent stream.

Further modernisations include improved energy efficiency and waste management, enabling easier recycling and re-use. Rainwater harvesting has been installed as well as energy monitoring across the entire site and new bulk fuel tank storage that enhances the station’s resilience and reduces the frequency of re-supply.

The new extended jetty will accommodate the new cargo tender of the RRS Sir David Attenborough and increases flexibility in berthing. A crane positioned on the end of the jetty also reduces heavy manual lifting.

Construction logistics

The new storage building, named Beck House was constructed using pre-fabrication of building elements where possible. This compressed the build programme and provided increased programme surety. 

Access to the station is via cargo tender so space is limited. During station relief, items are often broken down into smaller blocks or break-bulk to ensure easier handling of items. The space on the cargo tender posed a logistical challenge for off-loading construction plant and materials, which was carefully balanced with providing programme efficiencies. 

All work was carried out in accordance with permission granted by the GSGSSI following submission of an Environmental Impact Assessment.

Following the completion of the work at Bird Island, Joe Corner, Infrastructure Project Manager for BAS said “The redeveloped station at Bird Island has been in use for more than six months now, and we have successfully berthed and efficiently unloaded cargo from the ship for the coming season. This has demonstrated what a great facility BAS has for the future of polar science at this important biological sciences location. The collaborative working between all partnership members has been intrinsic to this success.”

Upon project completion, Kate said, “Delivering the redevelopment at Bird Island has been a full partnership effort. Personally, I have enjoyed the engagement we, as Technical Advisors have been able to have with BAS to develop the concept, which will ultimately deliver key strategic benefits for the Bird Island Research Station. The location is incredibly challenging in terms of the environment and logistics and the careful planning of the Construction Partner, BAM has been instrumental in completing the project in the timescales available.” 


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