Welcome to Scientific Exploration Society (SES).

SES has been leading pioneering scientific projects around the world for over 50 years. Its reach and influence has been extraordinary in advancing discovery, research and conservation that has benefitted the environment, rare species and vulnerable communities. It is also responsible for inspiring and launching many an adventurer, scientist and explorer career, my own included.

I would encourage you to join SES to enjoy an active social calendar, listen to inspirational speakers and attend special events. We can also offer you the opportunity to join a scientific expedition in the field, safe in the knowledge that you are actively contributing something positive to our planet.

I look forward to meeting you soon!

Neil Laughton


SES was founded in 1969 by Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE and colleagues following the successful first navigation of the Ethiopian Blue Nile, in order to initiate a worldwide programme of scientific expeditions for the exploration of remote regions of the earth; focusing on scientific research, conservation, education and community aid projects, particularly in developing countries. The Society is one of the longest running exploration organisations in the world, with an unrivalled record of initiating over 150 expeditions since it began, achieving many ‘world firsts’ in exploration, pioneering and testing specialist equipment in the field and developing leadership skills.


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 an SES 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 world-wide 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 colleagues founded The Scientific Exploration Society.


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.

Pioneering Leadership Training

Under the patronage of His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, the 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 under-privileged 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 on scientific, community and environmental programmes around the world. The ‘venturers’ work on projects designed to protect the environment and to 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 the 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: Neil Laughton

CEO: Henrietta Thorpe

Honorary Treasurer: David Zeitlin

Honorary Solicitor: Jenny Wordsworth

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

Co-opted Council Members: Jane Davis FRGS, Dr Alexander Finnen, Lucy Shepherd, James Balfour, 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

Honorary Advisory Board: HSH Duke Leopold d’Arenberg, Steve Backshall, James Balfour, Mark Beaumont BEM, Dame Dr Claire Bertschinger, Colonel John Blashford-Snell, George Bullard, Simon Chinn, Craig Cohon, Jane Davis FRGS, Robin Edwards, Peter Felix CBE (Chair), Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE, Ben Fogle, Dr Jane Goodall DBE, Bear Grylls, Pen Hadow, Sean Hotung, Neil Laughton, Simon Murray CBE, Vanessa O'Brien, Major Timothy Peake CMG, Ollie Phillips, Dr Mary Jean Reimer, Neville Shulman CBE, Konstantin Sidorov, Rosie Stancer, Prof Mike Stroud OBE, Per Wimmer, Levison Wood, Christopher Wright FRGS

SES at 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

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: Neil Laughton (Chair), David Zeitlin, Trevor Moss, Henrietta Thorpe

Events Committee: Neil Laughton (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, Nikki Skinner

Finance & Fundraising Committee: Peter Felix CBE (Chair), Neil Laughton, 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: Briony Turner (Chair), Charlotte Austwick

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