James borrell is a conservation scientist and science communicator, with a particular interest in how species adapt to changing climate.

What was the best decision you ever made?

It’s well over two years now, since I returned from my last expedition with BSES, and I still can’t grow a proper expedition beard.

The society has played such an important role in my life, and continues to provide fantastic opportunities to young people year after year. Applying for an expedition is a tough decision to make, leaving home for a month or more, travelling around the world to strange unfamiliar places, with people you might have met only once or twice. Not to mention months of hard work just to raise the funds needed to go. It’s certainly out of most people’s comfort zones, but I think that’s the point.

One of the biggest challenges that the staff at BSES face, is simply giving young people the confidence to get involved. Having taken the plunge myself, I now know it was the best decision I ever made, but how can you get all those experiences over to someone in just a few minutes? I’m afraid I don’t have any answers, but in the mean time, a friend of mine at the BSES office in London asked a few past expedition members to answer a some questions. The aim was to help anyone who might be considering an expedition, and here’s what I wrote…

What made you decide to go on an Expedition with BSES?

It seemed like an amazing opportunity, I was half way through year 10 at the time and I heard about an expedition to Madagascar and the idea of going to the rainforest just grabbed me! I guess I didn’t really know why at the time, but it all makes sense now.

Which BSES Expedition did you go on?

Madagascar 2007  and Norway Leadership Development Program 2008. I’m hooked now and will be going out to the Amazon this year as a Science Leader.

How did you find out about BSES?

Completely by chance! I was speaking to a friend one evening and she happened to mention that she wanted to go on an expedition to the Arctic, it sounded cool so I looked at the website. Up to that point, no-one at my school had ever heard of BSES, so it was very lucky!

What was your best moment of your expedition?

Wow that’s tough, I’m afraid I can’t pick just one best moment… but waking up on your first morning in the rainforest to the sound of lemurs calling above your tent was something pretty special. Or looking back more than three years on, and seeing David Attenborough hosting a BBC wildlife program in exactly the area of Madagascar where we worked.

How did you fundraise for your expedition?

Every way I could think of! I was fortunate that I signed up to my first expedition almost 18 months before it departed. This was great as it gave me loads of time to think about how I was going to raise the money. Some fantastic local trusts sponsored me and my school let me have the takings from the common room pool table for two weeks. I had a car boot sale and made £200, I went and spoke to my local rotary club about where I was going and they gave me £100. I also worked every Sunday on a checkout in Co-op, expeditions are glamorous!

What would be your best tip for fundraising to a future Young Explorer?

Try, try and keep trying. Be passionate about your expedition, and then you can infect all your friends and family with your enthusiasm. Expect to send 10 letters for every reply you receive. Lastly, be proud of yourself when you achieve it!

What do you think you gained most from your expedition?

I gained so much from my expedition. I came back knowing that I wanted to study biology so that I could go back and try to help in the future. It made me understand just how incredibly fortunate we are in this country, running water and electricity really are things we take for granted. I also gained friends for life.

What are your future plans?

Currently I am in my final year studying Biology at the University of Exeter. I hope to work as an ecologist on expeditions in the future and have plans to visit the Amazon as a science leader and get field experience in Africa later this year. I’m currently in the selection process for the ISCE and I also have a few crazy ideas involving bicycles and an expedition to Timbuktu (don’t tell my mum).

What single piece of advice would you offer someone who is considering going on expedition for the first time, but is a little unsure?

My simple advice would be that, so far, I haven’t met a single person that regrets going on a BSES expedition.


If you enjoyed reading about BSES then you might like to visit their website and perhaps read what the others wrote, then you might even fancy downloading an application form (why not!). I also give talks to schools and youth organisations about BSES and how to get involved. If this could be of interest, or you have any questions at all, then please contact me.