British Exploring Society

The British Exploring Society is a UK-based youth development charity based at the Royal Geographical Society building, aiming to provide young people with an intense and lasting experience of self-discovery in wilderness environments.

British Exploring Society
FounderSurgeon Commander George Murray Levick RN
Registration no.802196 (England and Wales)
FocusYouth development
  • 1 Kensington Gore
    London SW7 2AR
    United Kingdom
Key people
Honor Wilson-Fletcher
Formerly called
Public Schools Exploring Society
British Schools Exploring Society
BSES Expeditions


The society began as the "Public Schools Exploring Society" in 1932 by Surgeon Commander George Murray Levick RN, who had been a member of Captain Scott's final Antarctic Expedition of 1910-13. It was later renamed the "British Schools Exploring Society", then became BSES Expeditions, before adopting its current name in 2012.

For 80 years, British Exploring has provided the opportunity for young people, aged 1625 years old, from different schools, universities and many other walks of life to take part in valuable adventure and environmental research projects in challenging areas of the world from the Arctic to the Amazon Rainforest. Led by experts drawn from a host of professions such as universities, teaching and the Services, all the expeditions aim to help in the development of young people through the challenge of living and working in remote and testing areas of the world.

Norwegian polar bear attack

In August 2011, a party of teenagers in Norway was attacked at night by a polar bear leading to the death of a seventeen-year-old boy and injuries to several others. Both the Norwegian authorities and a private enquiry commissioned by BSES and chaired by a UK high court judge criticized the expedition's defective gun, and inadequate warning arrangements, the judge ruling that the accident was preventable.[1][2] However, in July 2014, a coroner cleared the BSES of neglect as failure "was not total or complete."[3]


British Exploring is a society formed from those who have taken part in a British Exploring expedition. Typically, students aged 16–25 apply to take part in an expedition and are selected by interview. When a student successfully completes a British Exploring expedition and is recommended by the expedition Chief Leader, they are admitted to the society. Society members may vote in the AGM, and help to govern the future of the society. Another way of entering the society is by becoming a leader.

Expedition locations

British Exploring is most well known for its expeditions to the Arctic, but has mounted expeditions from The Amazon, India, Kenya and Papua New Guinea among many others.

Funding and charity work

Participants are expected to raise money to pay for expeditions through personal fundraising. A typical expedition may cost in the region of £4000 (excluding flights).[4] However the Society also works with a youth charity Catch 22 to enable young people "not in employment, education or training" to undertake a 3 week expedition. It claims that over 90% of them are in employment afterwards.[5][6]

Science projects

Early expeditions collected valuable fieldwork data and brought back specimens for the Natural History Museum and the British Museum. Currently British Exploring collaborates with a range of scientific research institutions from universities and world-respected scientists and in-country NGOs and conservation organisations.

The expeditions contribute to long-term research projects by:

  • Helping to gather objective scientific data
  • Involvement in local community conservation and education initiatives

Many of the Society's full members, who qualify as such by successfully completing a British Exploring expedition, have gone on to play a leading role in major international adventurous and scientific projects.

Notable members

The society has a strong record of developing young people, and its alumni include:

  • David Rhind, Vice-Chancellor of City University, London, began his early surveying with British Exploring as a Young Explorer in a 1962 expedition to Swedish Lapland. Prof Rhind was previously Director General and Chief Executive of The Ordnance Survey of Great Britain (1992–98).
  • John Chapple went on an expedition in the 1950s and went on to become the Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, between 1989 and 1992. He also served as Governor of Gibraltar from 1993 to 1995 - and then British Exploring president. Colin Tongs was a member of the 1954 Expedition to Northern Quebec. Royal Signals Radio Officer, he Became an adviser to the Reagan Administration in 1987.
  • Roald Dahl, author, joined a British Exploring expedition to Newfoundland at eighteen, instead of entering university.
  • Admiral of the Fleet Terence Lewin, Baron Lewin went to Newfoundland with British Exploring in 1938 as one of the first young explorers from a state school.
  • Tori James was a Young Explorer on a British Exploring expedition in 2000 to the Vatnajökull Glacier in Iceland. She went on to work in the British Exploring office for 3 years. In 2005, she joined the Pink Lady PoleCats team and became the youngest ever female to complete The Scott Dunn Polar Challenge, a gruelling 360-mile race to the Magnetic North Pole. On 2 October 2005 James became the "highest Welsh woman ever" having summited the world's sixth highest mountain, Cho Oyu (8,201m). James became the youngest British female and first Welsh woman to climb Everest when she summited in May 2007.


  1. James Orr; Richard Alleyne (7 August 2011). "Norway polar bear attack: failings that left Horatio Chapple at bear's mercy". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  2. Steven Morris (18 July 2014). "Horatio Chapple death: explorers' attempts to fight off polar bear attack". Guardian newspapers.
  3. Steven Morris (18 July 2014). "Polar bear death inquest clears Arctic trip organisers of neglect". Guardian newspapers. Retrieved 9 August 2014.
  4. Jo Becker (19 September 2007). "Student expeditions to the Amazon". The Guardian. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  5. Charlie Norton (15 April 2014). "The Icelandic trek unlocking the potential of troubled teenagers". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 29 September 2017.
  6. "Catch-22 Dangoor Next Generation Programme".

Charity Commission. British Exploring Society, registered charity no. 802196.

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