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Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE


Colonel John Blashford-Snell CBE is one of the world's most renowned explorers. He launched Operation Raleigh and, with colleagues, formed the Scientific Exploration Society, of which he remains president. He has led more than 100 expeditions and pioneered white-water rafting.

Invited by Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in 1968 to send a team to make the first descent of the Blue Nile, the British Army commissioned the then Captain John Blashford-Snell of the Royal Engineers to select, train and lead a 60-strong party.

Following its huge success, Blashford-Snell went on to lead even tougher assignments, including the first vehicle crossing of the Darien Gap in South America and navigating the 2,700 miles of the Zaire River (now Congo River). The latter required Blashford-Snell to invent a new method of negotiating white water using inflatable boats, now a worldwide sport. Each of these expeditions had environmental, medical and scientific objectives.

Following his education in Jersey, Blashford-Snell joined The Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst and served with the Army for 37 years, seeing active service in many areas. During his childhood Blashford-Snell was surrounded by a coterie of wounded and orphaned animals, which his mother cared for, and this generated his own interest in conservation.

On the back of the success of the Blue Nile expedition Blashford-Snell and his colleagues founded the Scientific Exploration Society "to foster and encourage scientific exploration worldwide". The SES became the parent body for numerous worldwide ventures.

Between 1978 and 1980 projects were arranged for 400 young people from 27 countries, working alongside scientists and servicemen in 16 countries as part of the newly formed Operation Drake. This led to the creation of The Fairbridge Drake Society, aimed at helping disadvantage young people, and later, after requests from the government and other organisations, a larger global youth programme.

Operation Raleigh was launched in 1984 and by 1992 more than 10,000 young people from 50 nations had involved themselves in challenges and expeditions around the world. Meanwhile, Blashford-Snell also created a special army unit, The Fort George Volunteers, in the Scottish Highlands to give the young a greater sense of purpose and responsibility.

Blashford-Snell retired from the Army and as Director General of Operation Raleigh in 1991 and has since used his vast experience to provide similar opportunities for adults, leading science and community-aid projects in remote areas of the world.

Since 1998, Blashford-Snell has led the major Kota Mama expeditions, navigating South American rivers in traditional reed boats, to find archaeological sites and provide support for people, fauna and flora in remote regions.

Blashford-Snell remains the President of the Scientific Exploration Society and holds a number of other top posts in other organisations. Throughout his career he has picked up a number of awards, including the Segrave Trophy in 1974, for the Zaire River expedition, and the Livingstone Medal in 1975, awarded by the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) for his leadership of the Blue Nile, British Trans-Americas and Zaire River expeditions. In 1993 the RGS awarded him the Patron's Medal and a year later the Institute of Royal Engineers awarded him their Gold Medal. Blashford-Snell was awarded Commander of the British Empire (CBE) in the New Years Honours list 2019 in recognition of his services to international scientific research and to young people in the UK.

John Blashford-Snell CBE is the author of:


  • Weapons and Tactics
  • Expeditions: The Experts' Way
  • Where the Trails Run Out
  • In the Steps of Stanley
  • A Taste for Adventure
  • In the Wake of Drake
  • Operation Drake
  • Mysteries: Encounters with the Unexplained
  • Operation Raleigh: The Start of an Adventure
  • Operation Raleigh: Adventure Challenge
  • Operation Raleigh: Adventure Unlimited
  • Something Lost Behind the Ranges
  • Mammoth Hunt
  • Kota Mama
  • East to the Amazon

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