Skip navigation

News Story - Interview with Bird Island Base Commander

Date: 28 May 2014

We caught up with Adam Bradley who was living and working on Bird Island as the research station’s Base Commander when the BBC crew came to film Deadly Pole to Pole.

Adam Bradley, Base Commander at Bird Island

After spending last season (November 2013 – March 2014) on Bird Island, Adam is back for the UK summer, which is Bird Island’s winter season. During the Antarctic winter the research station is inhabited by a skeleton team of just four people.

What’s it like being Base Commander?

It’s tremendously varied work. I manage the base so I’m looking after people and infrastructure; I help out with all sorts of things. On one day I may be going out with the scientists to check on the birds. On another I may be packing cargo for the ship. It’s a great variety. When it’s raining I tend to stay in and do the paper work!

What’s the strangest thing about living and working on Bird Island?

That has to be the fur seals. We monitor their breeding success and our research station is right in the middle of the breeding colony. Sometimes we can’t even open the back door because there’s a seal pup leaning against it. The adult males can be quite aggressive. It can be quite strange sometimes when you go out to get food from the store-room and there’s a male fur seal in your way – you just have to leave it – I avoid getting close to one of those!

They are endlessly entertaining though; I could watch them for hours. But they do smell horrendous; you can even smell them from out at sea! It’s a real assault on the senses when you first arrive but after a while you shut down your sense of smell and get used to it.

What’s your favourite bird on Bird Island?

Skuas must be my favourite bird. They have so much character. They are very intelligent as well and seeing them hunt cooperatively is very impressive. It’s not unusual to see a pair hanging round at the entrance to a prion burrow, waiting for the unwitting occupant to emerge. Or they will go and have an exploratory peck at anything that hasn’t moved for a while – including us, if we sit down outside for a break!

Bird Island is all about the albatrosses, though. They are stunning in every sense – huge, graceful and very good-natured. My favourites are the grey-headed albatrosses, which have got this fine, very distinguished-looking plumage. Their chicks are very cute as well – like little fluffy skittles with beady black eyes.

Photo
Skua nest (Photo: Adam Bradley)

What did you do before working on Bird Island?

I was actually the Communications Manager at British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera research station, on the Antarctic Peninsula, for 18 months before I was appointed Base Commander of Bird Island. Before that I was working as a software engineer in London. I originally trained as a vet near the BAS office in Cambridge, and had always had it in mind to find a job there. My experience as a software engineer finally gave me the chance, getting me my first role based in Antarctica.

What’s next for you?

I really enjoy being Base Commander and hope to keep doing it for the foreseeable future. There was always something missing from my jobs in the past which I have found here at Bird Island. It’s inconceivable to me that I could go back to a desk job after this.

Bird Island Facts

  • Bird Island is a sub-antarctic island, off the north-west tip of South Georgia in the Southern Atlantic Ocean. It is approximately 1000km south east of the Falkland Islands and is accessible only by boat or ship supported helicopter.
  • The island is 4.8km long and up to 800m wide. Its northern coast consists mainly of sheer cliffs and sea stacks, rising to its highest point, La Roche, at 356 metres. The southern coast is more accessible with numerous small bays, beaches and tidal rock platforms.
  • Bird Island is one of the richest sites for wildlife anywhere in the world. It has diverse and concentrated populations of sea birds and fur seals, amounting to one bird or seal for every 1.5m².
  • The BAS scientific research at Bird Island focuses on seabird and seal population dynamics, feeding ecology and reproductive performance.
  • The station provides living accommodation, offices and 2 laboratories for 10 people.
  • Zoological assistants currently complete 2.5 years on station (without leaving the island!) and specialise working with either seals, penguins or albatross.
  • There is no chef on site so everyone takes their turn to cook evening meals and make bread on a daily rota.
  • There are no doctors or mountain leaders so we provide comprehensive training in advanced first aid and medical response, and in navigation and Search and Rescue techniques.