From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

It was after midnight when we arrived back in Bishkek this Sunday morning.

When we left on Friday, we did not expect the unexpected when driving up the mountain pass road well in time according to the timetable set for preparing base camp. Road construction work was going on in the darkness of the tunnel, so it was closed for trucks, including ours!

Loaded truck
Loaded truck

Phil, Volodya, Emma, Isma & I passed in one of the expedition cars while Aman and Bekbolot stayed back in the truck on the other side. No information could be gained about how long the temporarily closure would last. So we just sat and waited, and waited, and waited, watching dozens of trucks piling up in front of us probably half way down the pass road. Four hours later, at 18:00, the worker’s finishing time, finally the orange & white NABU truck appeared out of the dark of the tunnel!

We drove on in convoy until about half past eight until we reached the place of a herder friend of ours, where we pitched a few tents for spending the night in.

In convoy
In convoy
Fuelling up
Fuelling up
Traffic jam
Traffic jam
Stopping overnight by the herder's yurt
Stopping overnight by the herder’s yurt

But we did not go to sleep before having a very basic but good dinner.


After another three-hour drive on Saturday, we reached last year’s base camp location and finally we scouted out a beautiful location close to Talant’s (another herder friend) yurt, about two km further up the Karakol Pass. The spot is at an altitude of 2,950 m and beside a stream supplying us with water and the opportunity for a very refreshing bath for the very brave. You may feel some shortness of breath when arriving, but don’t worry, we will take it slowly, and although altitude sickness can occur from 2,400 m onwards, medical evidence shows that it is not usually a problem below 3,500 m.

Base camp
Base camp
Unpacking at base
Unpacking at base

Talant and his family are good friends with the NABU staff and they have also been hosting expedition teams every year in their yurt for a traditional Kyrgyzs meal on the day off. Talant’s sons will also look after the camp during the week between slot 1 & 2, when everyone will go back to Bishkek.

I would not call base camp set-up a routine, but now in our third year, we are a well-oiled team. So the truck was quickly unloaded and the kitchen tent & cooker were set up first, so that Emma start weaving her magic in the kitchen. Because of the delay, we only had part of the day to set up and did so without allowing ourselves a break. By 18:00 base was set up sufficiently so that Phil, Aman, Emma & I could leave for another six hour drive back to Bishkek. Volodya, Bekbolot and Isma stayed back to finish setting up for our return on Monday. Team 1: We need lots of people to set up the yurt, so this will be our first activity after the long journey from Bishkek and before I’ll talk everyone through the risk assessment.

Whilst I write this, Phil has gone for some last minute shopping with Emma. It is sunny and warm in Bishkek and the 14 day weather forecast looks promising. The second expedition vehicle has just been delivered, I have printed some more paperwork such as a Russian translation of the interview datasheet, etc. and will finish up with office work today.

I hope you are as excited as we are, now that preparation is over and we are all ready to go! We are looking forward to meeting the first team tomorrow (Monday) morning at 08:00 at Futuro hotel.

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan 

Brexit statement aftermath


On 24 June 2016, a few hours after the UK’s Brexit vote, our executive director issued a Brexit statement. Over the next few hours and days, many engaged with us via social media and e-mail. An overview of responses is in section A below, in random order, but exactly replicating the ratio of supporters (80%) versus rejectors (20%). Section B is our executive director’s response of today.

Section A – REACTIONS (examples, sometimes abridged, in random order within categories)


I think Matthias has seen everything through rose tinted spectacles..”collaboration, common visions, shared values, working towards a greater good, compassion and kindness?” is all about the people of Europe and not a bunch of bureaucrats..ultimately I think we may have done the rest of the EU a favour as those un-elected fat cats who run the EU will now realise that they have to change the EU otherwise we will be the first of many leavers.

Good-bye then. Others will come in your stead.

This is what democracy is about and as much as we may or may not like the outcome I am saddened to read this response.

I voted Remain but now the British people have spoken I have to respect that and move on.You’re angry – yes I get that but this is a knee-jerk reaction. It seems to me you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. You are so angry that you want to move out – you mentioned Ireland – how about Germany? The fatherland is committed to the EU, you would be safer there surely.

I’ve just had an email from some guy in your company giving me his personal views on Brexit. Why would I care?

Very eloquently worded. The tone of the campaign has been vicious. Both sides have been guilty of lying, scaremongering and inciting hatred and it has been very derisive for the UK. Unfortunately the media focus was on immoderation without focusing on the other issues. I don’t believe people voted out because of racism or xenophobia. I believe in democracy and the EU is undemocratic. I don’t believe in centralisation but believe laws should be made at regional level. The euro will implode. Still believe we can have freedom of trade and movement without being part of the wider bureaucracy.

This email is really unnecessary and I am not at all impressed with it. Irresperc5tive of how anyone voted this feels like Biosphere throwing its toys out of the cot. I don’t want to be involved in an immature organisation that feels the need to send such a pathetic note.

Thankyou for your email but I have to say I am disappointed Biosphere has politicised themselves with the United Kingdom’s referendum decision. Your email says nothing about the environmental repercussions about Brexit. It seems your personal views and life history are central to your decision to move Biosphere’s operations, not the effect Brexit has on conservation.
Your email has made me question whether I want to go on the Sumatran tiger trip I have been saving up for. Biosphere should have a neutral stance on politics. Senior figures in the organisation should not be using the referendum to voice their views and change the organisation’s practice in an apparent act of revenge and defiance. I find your letter bizarre and am disappointed your personal views are affecting the organisation.

So sorry that you have seen fit to abandon us because you seem to think that we have done something terrible by voting to leave “an undemocratic behemoth in serious need of reform” (your words). Please remember that 48% of UK voters did not vote for this. Please also remember that the relatively recent armed conflicts in Bosnia & Kosovo, where unspeakable atrocities were committed, were not dealt with by the pathetic dithering EU but by NATO and the UN who are our ultimate arbiters of peace. I hope you will continue to regard us as your friends, as we do you. The UK has not voted to leave Europe, which we love, but the EU, which we do not.

I am struggling to respond to your e-mail.

I am a Yorkshre lass and proud of it. I support England, I support the UK, and in fact I voted to remain in the EU. You are entitled to your political opinion, and to give any press release you feel appropriate, but I am sat happily in my own garden in Yorkshre, England and I receive this e-mail from you which basically insults anyone English and forces your political opinion down my throat. I cannot get over the arrogance of this.

I am a member of Greenpeace, RSPB, 4paws, WWF and HSI all of which are concerned with conservation and/or animal welfare- some of these charities offered advise regarding the impact of in or out in the run up to this democratic vote, but none told me how to vote or made assumptions on who I voted for. It was their non judgemental information that helped me decide to vote in. It’s a pity you haven’t behaved in a similar fashion.

As I said I am not concerned by your press release, it is your opinion and you are entitled to that, but next time don’t send derogatory and judgemental emails to my home.

FOR (80%)

The decision to Leave appears to have been based on misguided self-interest, thinly veiled racism and fear of all things ‘foreign’. After everything that happened in the 20th century I find it appalling that this is what Britain has become and I am quite ashamed to be part of this country.

It feels like a terrible nightmare and one I hope we can wake up from – I know many (including myself) have signed a petition to call for a second referendum.

I just wanted to make it clear to you and others from countries in the EU and elsewhere that not everyone thinks in that way. The good core of people in the UK are welcoming and embrace people and ideas from elsewhere – it is one of the reasons I think make, or at least made, this country what it is, or sadly was.

That’s an excellent statement. Keep up the great work you do.

I have just read your Brexit statement and as a UK citizen I agree with everything you have written and I also am devastated and shocked by the referendum result. The vote was very close, 52% to 48% and we are now a divided nation as almost half of the population feel the same way as you and I. I understand why you want to move Biosphere from the UK, but I hope you won’t think this was a decision by the whole of the UK, or indeed the whole England, or Wales as this is most definitely not the case. I don’t know why people voted Leave. I think a lot of it was disillusionment with the establishment and feeling that they lacked a voice, so wanted to make themselves heard and protested by voting Leave, thinking this might solve their problems. It won’t. There was also a very effective campaign from the Leave politicians, while I think the Remain politicians didn’t take the threat of defeat seriously until it was too late. In the UK we will now have to live with the consequences of this decision, almost half of us disagree with which saddens me greatly.

Why don’t you move to the most European city in Europe: Amsterdam? Good luck with everything!

I undertook one of your expeditions to Ukraine while I was at university. I am from the UK and just want to apologise for the decision that has been made today. It is extremely worrying and a huge backwards step for the UK, the EU and the world generally. We tried our best, but obviously it was not good enough.

Well spoken and I think the people in Great Britain will have a long lasting hangover after this decison, especially as Scotland as well as N Ireland may now seek protection under the EU umbrella, ripping apart the UK.

Bravo. That is courageous, articulate, and shared by many on the continent. Congratulations for having the guts to change your headquarters. Hope many others follow suit.

Welcome to Scotland! But what a shock. I really didn’t think the public would vote this way; or at least hoped they wouldn’t. How the UK has changed in such a short time.

I agree with the philosophy of creating a world of collaboration, common visions, shared values, working towards a greater good, compassion and kindness.

How nicely said, Sir!

I just said to a colleague in the kitchen as we, in a very English style hovered near the ever boiling kettle ready for English tea, “It takes a German guy to speak proper English!”

I feel your comments are really well expressed. I feel also that I almost have to apologise to you and everyone that great leap away on the other side of the channel. What an awful morning this feels…

I am lucky to have foreign mates – be they German, French, Spanish, Polish, Portuguese and further afield from all around the world as a result of my peripatetic adventures as a teacher – I’m always amazed by how a commonality shines through – i.e. our desire as a species for fraternity, for solidarity, for kinship.

Somehow today feels that the U.K has taken a step away from this commonality. I must be careful not to be too emotional in any response as the shock of our exit is so new. Will these emotions die down? Probably, but then the intellectual upheaval remains…

Wow. Can’t agree more. More 50% of my fellow Britons have proved themselves to be ignorant, racist, economically unaware and lacking a sense of common humanity. Really, really sad day.

Disconsolate is the word. Suspect I’ll be moving to Belgium once my children finish their education here.

One of the best comments about Brexit I read in the last 12 h. I hope that Europe will be able to continue with the ideas behind the European Union. And of course I hope that Great Britain does well, no matter what decision they have taken/will take in future. I assume that especially for London, Scotland and Northern Irland the yes vote for Brexit is a nightmare and might lead to break the current structure of Great Britain. But that is difficult to judge while living in Germany and getting information only by media. All the best for your organisation.

Thanks for this statement. Very adequate reaction to the sad outcome of many years of populistic behaviour of many politicians.

The first of many. Wildlife conservation organisation Biosphere Expeditions makes plans to shift HQ as #Brexit unfolds.

A good, balanced and diplomatic statement. I too am shocked. Depsite all the prejudices and misunderstandings on both sides, I had not thought this possible. Unfortunately this will bring negative side effects, I am sure, to the UK and the EU. It’s a very, very sad day.

Very well written and I couldn’t agree more or be more troubled and saddened by this appalling choice…..

I’m too am sorry that the Brexit vote was passed. But it has happened and time to move on.

Should you decide to move your operations to my home country of Ireland, I hope you will be thoroughly happy with your decision. You can be assured that the Irish travel media will support you to every end. And I, as one of the travel media, wish you to extend you a warm welcome should that be your decision.

Thank you for your statement. It talks from my heart.

I and my family are totally reeling this morning. What a thoroughly depressing result that 48% of the population didn’t vote for! It was a dirty campaign which has resulted in this dangerous result!

Thanks for your interesting article.

So sorry to hear that you are having to relocate, but totally understand! As a British citizen I am embarrassed and appalled at yesterday’s events. I too am looking to leave. I work for the Environment Agency and much of the good work we do comes from EU directives and it has been a power for good. It could be improved, but only from within. I have admired your work for any years, I wish you all the best and hope you go from strength to strength.

As a fellow European, I agree with everything you have said and it is not either/or for me. Please dont forget that 48% of us agree with you as well!

I suspect there will be overwhelming agreement among Biosphere expeditioners in England and Wales for your sentiments. We can only now wait for the consequences to appear and to see what deal we can get from our former partners. It’s a sad day for for the whole of the EU – and a catastrophic one for the UK.

I do not live in England, but I can totally understand your arguments. Yes, lots of things are awry in the EU and yes, the EU is more than economics and banks. It stands for freedom, unity and peace on a shared continent. And Ireland is a beautiful country 😉

Understood! A lot of your thoughts are shared here. If you set up an office in Scotland, you can stop by (Edinburgh) for coffee anytime.

Choked on my brexfast this morning.. sad day.

Thank you for your great statement.

I really appreciated your personal essay / media note on Brexit. Articulate and personal. I felt it answered questions many in the US were asking.

Sorry to hear you’re moving the UK operations – everyone I know is utterly shocked and saddened by the referendum result 😦

Many Brexit-themed emails in my inbox: one of saddest is news that wonderful Biosphere Expedition now plans leaving UK, citing the moving reasons why.

I’m going to have to be apologising for the English for the next 50 years! Check the demographics – it’s mostly the over 50’s and “grey vote” that voted leave – so much for the 1960’s generation of “free love”! A terrifying lurch to the right by the UK public – My Brexit plan is to marry xxx and get a French Passport!

Again I’m so, so, sorry and I feel your pain

It’s a disaster and it is truly shocking, especially as our largest cities were massively in favour of staying. The pensioners have sabotaged their grandchildren. Cameron should have done his research before gambling with our future this way. I am appalled at the bigotry.

Hats off to the Scots and to London, Oxford, et al who voted with big majorites to remain… if only. 48% of the population desparately unhappy is hardly a result.

You are probably the first of many to relocate. I only wish I had mixed parentage and could leave myself.

Shocking, depressing and .. words fail me. Thank you for your statement.

Thank you Mattias for your clear statement. I am deeply ashamed and sickened by what Britain has become.

Thanks Matthias for your clear statement. I can’t really believe it…

Very well said … but also very sad.

A thoughtful statement from a man I respect

I am very shocked and dismayed by this too. I like us being part of something bigger, I like free movement of people, I like a multicultural society (it broadens everyone’s mind and helps us to understand each other – after all, under the skin and different languages, we are all the same), I like the protection afforded us against our own government having TOTAL control (big mistake!) and I just feel that this is another breaking apart of the whole world as well as Europe.

I, also like you Matthias, studied in the UK (zoology) thanks to the financial support of the EU (I am Spanish). The news of the UK exiting has been shocking and sad. Many people are going to miss out on studying and prospering in an incredible country. Thanks for your statement.

Even though I don’t live in the UK I still find it hard to believe that this actually happened, and I’m worried about the consequence and possible long term implications. But – if you do decide to come to Ireland, come to Galway – best place! Plus, I may even get a chance to get involved in something 🙂

I too am embarrassed by the outcome of the referendum and fear the future isolation of Britain that seems likely. I fully agree with your views and understand your decisions.

Thank you for sending your response to the result of the UK referendum on membership of the EU on behalf of Biosphere Expeditions.

Like you I was stunned by the result. I couldn’t believe that we were prepared to throw so much away because of the untruths that had been circulating.

Here in Scotland we voted by 62% to remain part of the EU.

I very much agree with the idea of people and nations working together for a common good which is why I voted for us to stay part of the EU.

However, what is encouraging is the very large number of others who voted to ‘Remain’. There are still some fantastic people working very hard to help make the world a better place which is why I continue to support Biosphere Expeditions. I have recently finished a series of talks based on my adventures with Biosphere Expeditions in the Altai Mountains in 2009. I was able to update on snow leopard conservation and give out information about Biosphere Expeditions.

I think it is very important to stay positive. There are plenty of others out there spreading ‘doom and gloom’ messages!

Should you decide to move to Scotland then I’m sure you will be very welcome as here we value our wildlife, environment and people.

Please carry on your great work and don’t despair as if you do that means the scaremongers will have won!

Please also get in touch if you think I can help with anything from here.

It’s a great descision that you have made to shift the operations to Ireland and Scottland.

Thank you for the statement. Well said. I was in disbelief when I heard the news and saddened watching it all unfold from Australia.

I understand the position you have to take for Biosphere. All the best with the move.

What a profound, frank and well-argued statement, Matthias.

I echo your sentiments. It is very sad but the decision has been made and I hope GB will move forward with its neighbours in a positive manner. It’s the best we can hope for.

Understand the sentiment and fully agree with your response to this most unfortunate Brexit decision. A Nation just voted to replace the Great in their name with words like self-absorbed, racist, angry, intolerant. It is sad and regressive. Pity.

Section B – Matthias Hammer’s response

Thank you very much for the many messages. Thank you also for the support, food for thought and challenging arguments. I really appreciate people taking the time to write in with their views. In response to the very many messages we have received (the above are just a cross-section), I would like to make the following things clear.

  1. I apologise if I appeared in any way xenophobic or anti-English/British, defeatist, aggressive, derogatory, judgemental, spiteful or unkind. This is certainly not how I feel or what I wanted to convey.
  2. Please allow me to reassure everyone that nobody is abandoning anyone and that my statement was not a knee-jerk reaction. I am sorry if it came across that way. We will retain an office in Norwich, but will move our HQ out of the UK. Our own exit plan was conceived over a period of weeks whilst the campaign was under way. It is as much a business case, as it is a personal conviction. Now that Brexit is a sad reality, our exit plan is simply being implemented.
  3. I agree with the person from the Environment Agency who wrote in to say that the EU was a force for good as far as the environment is concerned. Indeed I believe that Brexit is very bad news for the UK environment.

Finally, over the last few days, the statement that sums it up best for me is the one by Nicholas Barrett, who wrote:

“Firstly, it was the working classes who voted to leave because they were economically disregarded and it is they who will suffer the most in the short term from the dearth of jobs and investment.

Secondly, the younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of its predecessors.

Thirdly and perhaps most significantly, we now live in a post-factual democracy. Can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?”


Dr. Matthias Hammer
Executive Director
Biosphere Expeditions

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (


We’re leaving Bishkek tomorrow morning to set up base camp. The truck is loaded with equipment such as the yurt, stove & wood, kitchen, mess, toilet & shower tents, cooking gear, gas bottles, fuel canisters, tables & benches and a great variety of other farily useful things. Today Emma, Volodya & Phil spent most of day shopping. An infinite loop of filling basket after basket, passing the cashier, loading the car and going straight back in for the next run. I stayed back at the NABU offices preparing paperwork and equipment.


The datasheets are printed, the GPSs set up and the scat collection kits made up (you will learn what that is during the training days).

Emma & Volodya loading up
Emma & Volodya loading up

Keep your fingers crossed that the truck won’t get stuck or drive into the ditch as it did last year! Aman, Phil & I will return to Bishkek on Saturday. I will let you have the latest news before the first team meets on Monday morning.

And finally, a word on the weather: It has been raining in Bishkek almost every day, but when the sun comes out it is pretty hot in the city. The south side of Ala-Too range, where our study site is, is less cloudy, but the temperatures will be much lower. Please be

prepared for both rain and sunshine (and snow can fall even in summer). Temperatures in the mountains can be anything from 5 to 25 degrees C, sometimes even dropping to freezing overnight. More first hand info when we are back from setting up.

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan 

From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (

I have been here in the Maldives for 24 hours now and have seen all sorts of weather from heavy rain storms and high winds to hot, steady sunshine. The only constant is the temperature, which has remained at a warm but comfortable 30 degrees centigrade. The sea has been quite choppy with all the wind, so we may get some bumpy crossings.


Our evenings will be spent at quiet anchorages inside the atolls, so we will have calm evenings and overnights.

Arrangements are going well for everyone’s arrival on Saturday and with our usual boat being refitted, we have been given an upgrade so the accommodation will be very nice.

As expedition leader one of my main concerns is everyone’s safety and as part of this role, I have visited one of the main hyperbaric chambers on the Maldives and met with the manager.

Ahmed Wafir, Manager, Bandos Medical Centre sitting at the controls of their state of the art hyperbaric chamber
Ahmed Wafir, Manager, Bandos Medical Centre sitting at the controls of their state of the art hyperbaric chamber

They have a very good set-up here and I was impressed with the organisation. We have never needed to use these facilities as all of our survey dives are relatively shallow and we work well within PADI diving protocols, but it is important to be prepared.

Continue reading “From our scuba diving conservation holiday with whale sharks and coral reefs of the Maldives (”

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan (

Phil & I arrived in Bishkek on Sunday, where we were warmly welcomed by our partners on the ground at the NABU office and went straight to work. We fetched the expedition equipment, stored last year at the outskirts of Bishkek, together with Almaz and NABU staff. It was­ half a truck load of tents, the yurt, research and kitchen equipment, spare tyres and car boxes, water and fuel canisters, cookers, gas bottles, benches & tables, etc., etc.

truck at storage 3-7-16

In the afternoon we were invited to a meal with everyone.

NABU&BEstaff 3-7-16

Over the next couple of days we will be checking the equipment, writing shopping lists, going shopping for food and other supplies, and updating paperwork. Tomorrow will be the end of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, a public holiday of big celebration here in Kyrgyzstan. So we are hoping to find some Chinese shops open tomorrow morning, which means group 1 will be on Chinese food for a couple of weeks 😉

Volodya, our scientist, arrived this morning, completing the team. We had a meeting with Amadeus in the afternoon, talking through butterfly, birds & petroglyph data collection procedures using the newly created apps. Volodya was quite excited about how easy & quick data collection and processing could be, if modern technology does work out in the field. We will have old-fashioned pen & paper versions as back-ups too.

Tonight Emma kindly invited us to have dinner at her place. She cooked a delicious meal and made Phil & I eat an enormous amount of Tiramisu afterwards. In case any of you consider weight loss to be a possible side effect to the expedition, forget about it! 😉

Emma dinner 4-7-16

From our snow leopard volunteering expedition in the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan