Scientific Exploration Society (SES) was founded in 1969 by Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE and his colleagues following the successful first navigation of the Ethiopian Blue Nile, to initiate a worldwide programme of scientific expeditions for the exploration of remote regions of the world; focusing on scientific research, conservation, education and community aid projects, particularly in developing countries. The Society is the longest-running exploration organisation in the world, with an unrivalled record of initiating over 200 expeditions since it began, achieving many ‘world firsts’ in exploration, pioneering and testing specialist equipment in the field and developing leadership skills.

SES today continues its work to promote exploration and to act as a portal to the world of expeditions involved in climate change, environmental protection, and conservation. Its membership is a unique community, including many famous explorers, dedicated to the challenges and satisfactions of exploration. SES supports and promotes expeditions through funding, mentoring, training, and endorsement. In the process, we collaborate with under-resourced communities around the globe, seeking sustainable solutions and highlighting the challenges faced by our wider community. Members and friends enjoy charity events and regular Explorer Talks and are also given opportunities to go on exciting SES Endorsed scientific expeditions.


1994-2012 FIRST re-tracing of trade routes using Reed Boats

Encouraged by the eminent anthropologist Thor Heyerdahl, the Society has undertaken 8 expeditions from 1994 in South America aimed at showing that ancient people could navigate from Bolivia to the Atlantic in traditional reed boats. After 2001, these expeditions became devoted to archaeological, geological and community aid projects in Bolivia.

1991-2012 FIRST discovery of giant elephants in Nepal

A Society backed expedition investigated reports of a giant mammoth-like elephant in the Bardia reserve of Western Nepal. This resulted in the first discovery of ‘Raja Gaj’ or ‘King Elephant’ and a series of 11 expeditions to date (the most recent in 2012) has enabled monitoring of the herd and encouraged the Nepalese Wildlife Department to give emphasis to the protection of the area.

1982 Operation Raleigh - FIRST major global expedition for young people

After the success of Operation Drake and initially, a 4-year project following in the footsteps of Sir Walter Raleigh, Operation Raleigh took over 4,000 young people around the world linking expeditions. It continues today as Raleigh International and over 36,000 young people have partaken in projects across the globe.

1978 Operation Drake - FIRST youth project to circumnavigate the globe

Founded by John Blashford-Snell and HRH The Prince of Wales, Operation Drake was the largest youth expedition ever to leave the UK. In its two years, 414 young people took part in the voyage, working on land-based projects in over 16 countries.

1974-75 - FIRST navigation of almost all of the Zaire River

John Blashford-Snell led a Scientific Exploration Society expedition navigating almost all the 2,700 miles of the great Zaire (now Congo) River whilst carrying out medical and scientific research.

1971-72 - FIRST crossing of the complete Darien Gap

The SES tested Range Rovers on an expedition from Alaska to the Cape of Good Hope, crossing the swamps and rain forests of the Darien Gap of Central America, the ‘missing link’ of the trans-American highway. This expedition has been well documented and attracted worldwide media coverage.

1968 - FIRST navigation of the Blue Nile

At the invitation of Emperor Haile Selassie, John Blashford-Snell led a British Army expedition on the first descent of the infamous Blue Nile. It was after the success of this expedition that he and his colleagues founded SES.


2007 - Paramotors

The FIRST use of motorised canopies for essential reconnaissance took place during an expedition to Bolivia in 2007.

1984 - Gore-Tex

The FIRST Gore-Tex anorak, tested by John Blashford-Snell in Tibet on Operation Raleigh is now in the Berghaus Museum.

1982 - Global Positioning System (GPS)

The SES FIRST tested GPS equipment in the Honduran jungle in 1982.

1971 - Range Rover

Land Rover’s new Range Rover was tested crossing the impenetrable rainforests of the Darien Gap in Panama.

1969 - Hovercraft

Sir Ranulph Fiennes’ SES White Nile Expedition trialled some of the earliest small hovercrafts.

1968 - Pioneers of White Water Rafting

SES designed an innovative vessel to ride rapids, survive impact, carry a heavy load (crew and essential supplies) – pioneering what has now become a worldwide sport.


Under the patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, SES initiated the first ever global youth expeditions Operation Drake in 1976 and Operation Raleigh in 1982 taking 4,500 young people on worldwide expeditions. This pioneering concept spawned what the world now knows as ‘the Gap Year’.

One of the greatest legacies of the SES is in developing leadership skills in young people worldwide, which the SES believes to be absolutely crucial in today’s uncertain political and economic climate, where these skills are much in demand.

This work continues today in many forms, two of the most tangible being: The Drake Fellowship was formed after Operation Drake specifically to carry on helping underprivileged young people; it ran from centres based in the heart of inner cities within the UK. The work of this invaluable organisation over the past 40 years was recognised by The Princes’ Trust, which went on to absorb The Drake Fellowship (which had joined with the charity Fairbridge) in 2011.

Raleigh International was set up to continue the work of Operation Raleigh. It is a charity which aims to encourage young people to volunteer for scientific, community and environmental programmes around the world. The ‘venturers’ work on projects designed to protect the environment and enhance community life whilst developing their personal skills, knowledge, leadership and sense of environmental awareness. To date, Operation Raleigh and Raleigh International have been responsible for encouraging over 36,000 youngsters worldwide.

These two institutions carry on the pioneering spirit underlying the ethos of SES, which is that today’s youngsters are tomorrow’s future. Teach them well - they are our legacy.


Honorary President: Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE, DSc (Hon), D Eng (hc), FRSGS

Chairman: Peter Felix CBE

CEO: Henrietta Thorpe

Honorary Treasurer: David Zeitlin

Honorary Solicitor: Jenny Wordsworth

Council Members: Peter Felix CBE (Chair), David Zeitlin, Diane Allen OBE, Barbara Jeffrey, Trevor Moss, Briony Turner, Jeremy Fish

Co-opted Council Members: Jane Davis FRGS, Dr Alexander Finnen, Lucy Shepherd, Jenny Wordsworth, Reza Pakravan

Honorary Vice Presidents: Phyllis Angliss, Wendy Bentall FLS, John Davies, Sir Ranulph Fiennes Bt OBE, Pen Hadow, Neil Laughton, Andrew Mitchell, Richard Snailham MA, FRGS, Rosie Stancer, Lucy Thompson

Advisory Board: Benedict Allen FRGS, HSH Duke Leopold d’Arenberg, Steve Backshall, James Balfour, Philip Beale FRGS, Mark Beaumont BEM, Dame Dr Claire Bertschinger, Colonel John Blashford-Snell, George Bullard, Preet Chandi MBE, Simon Chinn, Craig Cohon, Jane Davis FRGS, Robin Edwards, Peter Felix CBE, Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE, Dr Alexander Finnen, Ben Fogle, Dr Jane Goodall DBE, Bear Grylls, Pen Hadow, Annabel Heseltine, Sean Hotung, Neil Laughton, Jennifer Murray, Simon Murray CBE, Vanessa O'Brien FRGS, Reza Pakravan, Major Timothy Peake CMG, Ollie Phillips, Dr Mary Jean Reimer, Colonel Martin Romilly OBE, Neville Shulman CBE, Konstantin Sidorov, Rosie Stancer (Chair), Prof Mike Stroud OBE, Haydyn Tanner FRGS, David Taylor-Smith MBE FRGS, Douglas Thomson, Paul Turner, Per Wimmer, Levison Wood, Christopher Wright FRGS

SES Expedition Base: CEO Henrietta Thorpe [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.], SES Explorer Awards and Fundraising Nikki Skinner [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.], SES Membership & Finance Manager Gail Lloyd [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.], Executive Secretary Victoria Hankinson [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

Volunteers: Charlotte Austwick, Eleanor Drinkwater, Liv Grant, Greg Morrissey, Kirsten Braund

Voluntary Advisors: Anthony Belchambers, Julia Thorold

Honorary Logistics Officer: Dave Smith [This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.]

Honorary Archivist and Film Trusts: Ros Wardall

Overseas Representatives: Econ Yolima Cipagauta (Latin America), Major General Joe Singh MSS, MSc (Guyana), Professor Terbish (Mongolia), Captain John Hinchliffe (Myanmar), Ato Solomon Behre (Ethiopia), Jill Weir (Canada)


Registered Office and Charity Number: Mullins Mead, Donhead St Mary, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 9DS, Charity Number 267410

Bankers: Natwest Bank plc, The Commons, Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 8JY

SES co-operates with SES Jersey.

Governance & Policies Committee: Peter Felix CBE (Chair), David Zeitlin, Trevor Moss, Henrietta Thorpe

Events Committee: Peter Felix CBE (Chair), Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE, Barbara Jeffrey, Jane Davis FRGS, Henrietta Thorpe, Nikki Skinner

Awards Committee: Diane Allen OBE (Chair), James Borrell, Edward Cooper, Lucy Shepherd, Helen Spencer, Nikki Skinner

Finance & Fundraising Committee: Peter Felix CBE (Chair), David Zeitlin, Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE, Barbara Jeffrey, Jane Davis FRGS, Trevor Moss, Henrietta Thorpe, Nikki Skinner

Expeditions & Science Committee: Nikki Skinner (Chair), Trevor Moss

Learning & Development Committee: Charlotte Austwick

Independent Examiner: John Thackar FCA DChA, Chariot House Limited, Chartered Accountants, 44 Grand Parade, Brighton, East Sussex BN2 9QA