Banter!- The key to elite team performance?

People seem to talk endlessly about leadership in work places, society, and sport, but what about teams, surely it can’t all be down to leadership ….. Can it?

In the UK we are currently immersed in a general election campaign, where a bunch of power seeking “leaders’ are trying to convince us in a variety of ways, nefarious or otherwise, to vote for them and their team!
So it seems timely to look at some tricky issues around leadership and team work,
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Recent team performances like England and South Africa’s finals appearances in the rugby world cup, have got us talking about team work, what about Japans amazing run in the same competition, the crushing of the seemingly invincible All Blacks, a team that has been the epitome of team work in elite sport for the last 10 years, or what about the amazing USA women’s football team becoming back to back world champions during the summer, or England’s Cricket team, outside of sport what about the top teams in business, Google, Java and historically Ford Motor Company and Disney?
All these team have and are creating greatness in their own arenas and prompt us to think about whether its teams or leaders who make the magic happen?

There is always the argument that is the combined factors in the make up a team that make the magic happen, or the old adage of “teamwork makes the dream work”, but surely its leaders who set vision, build the team drive it forwards, celebrate with the team when they all succeed?

This supposes that the team just follow what the leader sets for them, the players are just tools of the leader to achieve their aim or goal?

Looking at rugby coaches for example they build teams that match their vision, during the game they sit in the box passing tactical insights to the players, moving the chess pieces on the board and then celebrate when it all works out!! But is it this simple? I would suggest that its more complicated than this, to be an elite performing team requires individual players in that team to forge their own paths, to become the best at their specialised area, to know everything about their co-workers, work out where their skills sit and to commit to making the team work, they may place trust in a leader to set a vision but they need to commit to that to enable it to become reality, they have to take individual feedback and team discussions on board and amend behaviours and attitudes accordingly.

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But a team needs to find its own identity and the ability to give crucial feedback to each other for the good of the team’s development  so that it can succeed at its task.

I’ve been involved in a number of teams throughout my career either as a participant, player or colleague, as a leader and observer and as coach and trainer, all pushing towards achieving goals, whether that was on expeditions, undertaking military missions, in sports teams and in training elite athletes. In all of these environments and team I have noticed a number of common elements that when in evidence alongside more traditional team behaviours have helped ensure that the high performing teams have met their goals or have created a professional winning atmosphere and mind-set.
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Some of these behaviours that I have witnessed in high performing teams, and personally enjoy in the teams I  work in are-
1. Comradeship –  A critical component in teams. It engenders trust, safety and support, the concept that you are in it for each other and you will “die” to protect the person next to you!
2. Banter– lots of good and generally appropriate banter (not bullying) in a team means that they are comfortable with each other, that they can keep the atmosphere light, though when it really matters they can focus when needed. A bit of gentle sledging of each other can also ensure humour in the work place, kindness and demonstrate that people can smile with each other, and at themselves.
3. Family – Teams that consider themselves a family ensure that they develop their own identity and values, ones that they hold themselves accountable for and to, they commit to tasks and each other, protecting and nurturing each other.
4. Fight for Cause– Having purpose bonds people and therefore the team together, it means that they can face testing circumstances knowing that they have a joint mission and end goal, and give it meaning and importance.
5. Leaders across pitch– having many leaders, not just the main one but others who might be experienced, senior people who exhibit leadership skills and values throughout a team or organisation can lead to a supportive team, who can pick up issues throughout the mission or work and keep people on track, and develop the weaker or more junior members.  They know what needs to be done, what good performance looks like, how to keep people focused and moving forwards.
6. Honest feedback– teams that have confidence in giving, and receiving honest feedback always strive to do better, sometimes it seems brutally delivered, but carefully selected honest feedback delivered in a strong way is highly effective. This isn’t rude or bullying, it can be fair, equitable and clearly given to improve performance or review mistakes. No one learns if the feedback is week, in content or delivery!

High performing teams need more than just a good leader or a loose approach to team work, they need a deeper bond, a connection, a focus, a reason to keep pursuing excellence. In modern workplaces teams need more than just a financial or transactional incentive to push further, making people part of a team, immersing them in the comradeship, giving them a goal and reason to come to work, supporting them through key leaders throughout the team, having honest conversations about performance, and keeping the environment fun and in good humour can lead to developing and maintaining the organisation or teams excellence.

If you want to find out more about teams that I think adopt and live by these behaviours look at the All Blacks (check out the book Legacy by James Kerr), or Google the Royal Marines “ Commando Spirt” mantra and Corps Values, these give great insight into organisational cultures of excellence.

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If you or any teams or individuals you know that might benefit from working on developing their own values and behaviours put them in touch with me and I’d love to help them work on developing their own high performance!

info@james-dyer.org

Leadership- My Take…..

Leadership as a concept is HUGE!

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I have experienced leadership throughout my life, good and bad, sometimes great and sometimes atrocious,and in a range of environments from schooling, business, military, sport and expeditions.

As a leader it is important to recognise that leadership grows, it is not necessarily something that you are born with, you may have some great qualities and DNA but actual leadership is developed, either through training, life situations or a culmination of experiences.

“….leaders are neither born nor made- they grow.” Mary Cox.

So when developing as a leader what are the elements we need to look at and work on, either from a personal perspective or from a leadership development/ coaches point of view.

I get asked a lot about what I think are the elements of leadership, and as I have just spent a weekend discussing leadership with future expedition leaders and I’m now relaxing with a beer or 2, I thought I would suggest a starter for 10 list (though this is just a snipit of this massive subject!)

  1. On the Tools- this is a saying used in the construction industry, and is all about building a body of experience! Work in all environments, experience others leadership, take on progressively harder and more challenging tasks. Make mistakes, fail and learn, just like an apprentice.
  2. Elvis- Elvis once said that “Values are like fingerprints, nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do”. Values are important for leaders, having a strong set of personal values helps direct their behaviours and actions, these values lead them to develop strong relationships and to make their decisions based on ethical standpoints.
  3. Evolve!- be flexible, adapt and evolve. Darwin’s theory of evolution suggested that evolution is not about the strongest or fastest, it is about the species who adapts the quickest, and evolves to their situation. Leaders have to do the same, and do it quick, they have to respond fast and sometimes be able to learn and adapt as they go, to an ever changing environment and pressures.
  4. Tomato- There is a great pro-paradoxyism, which says Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit- Wisdom is not putting in a fruit salad!” Leaders need to build a body of knowledge, usually based in experience that can help influence their performance. This develops Professional Judgement or wisdom that helps them understand the landscape they operate in and to base their actions on a clear thinking process, even when the environment gets hectic and unsure.
  5. Making your mind up!- Not a Bucks Fizz song, but the concept that leaders need to make clear and good decisions. Good decision making is core to a leaders ability to gain the trust of those around them, weigh up the options and create clarity and direction. Decision Making is based on professional judgement, a leaders values and in the development of relationships with others. In the future, leaders will have to also consider the ethical concerns they are faced with in their practice and environments.
  6. Rocky- Resilience is key to a leaders performance, keeping themselves fit and agile, mentally and physically ensures that they can bounce back, re-plan, keep moving towards the vision or goal,  finding a route through confusion and multiple distractions. Rocky (the film boxer) once told his son that ” But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done!”
  7. Its Emotional- If you look at great leaders, particularly ones that you respect, you might notice that these people understood others, could motivate and inspire people, make crucial decisions and keep teams on track. This was down to high levels of Emotional Intelligence or EQ. Some of these leaders developed high levels of empathy and emotional awareness early in their lives, others grew their emotional capacity, either way it enables leaders to understand people!
  8. Aristotle- Leaders need their own take on leadership, they need to develop their own philosophy, based on knowledge, theory, experience and practice. Being a student of leadership they gather up the theories, the lessons and the little gems related to leadership and forge them into their own personal philosopy. They use this as the armour to base their style, practice and interactions on, it helps them make decisions and to set out a clear vision.
  9. Coach!- Be a coach, learn about coaching and use it in your leadership. remember all leadership is about people. People respond best to being coached. The Chinese philosophy Lao Tzu said it best in my mind and I aspire to live up to this in my own leadership practice –“A leader is best when people barely know that he exists, not so good when people obey and proclaim him, worst when they despise him. Fail to honour people, they fail to honour you. But of a good leader who talks little, when his work is done,his aim fulfilled, they will all say, we did this ourselves”.
    lao tzu (c. 450 bc).
  10. Back on the Tools- Do the hard work. Work on yourself, learn your craft, continuously improve, learn the technical skills related to your field, work on your leadership, and work on learning more about who you are. Great leaders understand themselves, who they are and what they are about. But they are always learning, reflecting on their actions and ensuring that they are consistant to their values, and ensuring that they put their people first, ensuring that they develop others, with one eye always on the task, and with consideration to the future. In New Zealand, the All Black rugby team have a mantra, that they don’t own the shirt, they have inherited it from those before, and their only obligation is to leave it in a better state, and never dishonour it. The same applies to leadership, you have to honour where you came from and leave in your legacy in a better place!

In this article I have tried to encapsulate some small gems of how I try to lead,as well as the lessons I have learnt from studying leadership.

As with all things everyone will differ, this may be due to opinions or experiences, and that’s great, it would be good to hear what people think. If you want to be a good leader you need to become a student of leadership, to pick through the theories and the chaff, to find what works for you, how it works in the settings you use it, adapt it if necessary and continually review how it works, and if necessary, change it again!!

Hope you found this useful, let me know your thoughts!

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Jungle Kit- top tips!

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A bit of a departure for this months blog.

Earlier this month I chaired the Tropical Forests planning panel at the Royal Geographical Society’s annual Explore Conference.

Explore is a great event for anyone interested in, or involved in expeditions, scientific research or exploration, it is a chance to access information, advice, guidance and resources for planning your own expedition or adventures.

My panel, made up of a team of field scientists,researchers, logistics specialists, safety experts and a doctor, with many years of combined experience operating in all  types of jungle and tropical forests across the globe, gave presentations and answered participants questions about anti venom’s, best clothing, research techniques, safety in the Democratic Republic of Congo (by the way…its not safe.. don’t go!!), looking after your feet and what to do if you encounter a snake in Africa!

The seminar seemed to go by so quickly and left me thinking about what it is that people planning jungle expeditions need to know, to help them plan?

Jungles are brutally beautiful places the world closes in on you as soon as you enter the jungle, you only see 10-15 meters into the undergrowth, the impending sense that everything around can see you way before you can see it creeps its way from the pit of your stomach up to your rational brain! You have to fight the heat, the sweat, the dehydration, mud, tangled, thorny plants, and a myriad of biting insects, all of which require you to face your fears and push down that urge to run as fast as possible to the nearest open space, so you can see the sky!

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Once you become accustomed to the environment it feels less daunting and stomach gripping, you learn to work with it, to open your peripheral vision, get your personal equipment and administration sorted and become tuned in to the noise, the heat, the constant hum of insects and the gloom of the canopy. You become able to survive and thrive, your eyes lift from the fear of things hiding in the leaf litter and you begin to look around and see the most amazing of all environments, not just the big ticket wildlife like the mammals, but the smallest creatures of all, full of amazing adaptions to live in this environments, the constant battle between the creatures that prey or parasite each other, the flora trying constantly to reach the tiny amounts of light that filters through the canopy, everything has to fight to survive in the jungle, and everything has to co exist. The jungle is one of the only environments along with the oceans where you can see all the strata of existence on a daily basis,and become part of it.

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If you are thinking about a jungle expedition, you will need some key bits of equipment to ensure that you can create a shelter, move around easily and to find direction, making your life easier and enabling you to explore and enjoy this environment.

  1. A Hammock- there is no better way to sleep in the jungle than in a hammock, swinging between the trees you can actually become part of the jungle! my personal recommendation is a Hennessy Hammock https://hennessyhammock.com/. This inovative hammock is an integrated system with hammock, tarp and mosi net all built in, this makes them easy to rig, a nice easy system and big enough to turn around in (I am a bit of a wriggler at night!). Though some people still like to have the 3 elements separate and build their own system.DSCF7840
  2. Machete- the best tool to use for clearing paths, campsites, making things, and keeping the nasties at arms length!! A machete is key kit, all the locals use them for every job, so why shouldn’t we! To keep it working for you at its best it needs to be kept sharp, so carrying a sharpening stone is important as most machetes you buy locally are of poor steel and need to be cleaned and sharpened regularly. It is also important that you carry a First Aid Kit with you whenever you are using a machete.. just in case (where there’s a blade, there’s a first aid kit!)
  3. Compass- Maps are either poor or no existent in jungle areas, and if they do exist then they are hard to use in heavily canopied areas, you can’t see very far, so you have to use the contours and landscape features, along with rivers and other permanent features. A good compass will enable you to keep direction, help map routes and keep you orientated. I always attach my compass to my shirt, so it is attached to me at all times rather than in a pocket, where it can fall out or a bag that can get lost.DSCF7986
  4. Boots- Wellies or Jungle boots? This is a regular question I get from participants, both have merits, wellies are cheap and can be bought easily in country usually, they are waterproof, high legged and can protect against most snake bites, but they can be sweaty if in them for a long time. Though I have used them on multi day treks, you have to ensure that you properly dry your feet every night and let to boots dry out overnight. I also use a set of cheap inner soles from Sports Direct or Decathalon, cut to shape in the bottom of the boots to make the trekking easier, again letting them dry over night. Specially made Jungle Boots such as the Altburg ones are great, purposely designed to be quick drying while wearing, they are comfortable and very protective, though can be expensive and need to be looked after, polished and cleaned regularly so that they continue to work well. On big trips which have base camps or if i’m working out of a field research base I use wellies, but for long trips with treks and fly camps I prefer to use boots. Dont go for cheap jungle boots though as they do not offer the same protection or last as long as the more expensive ones!DSCF7887

These 4 items are in my mind key bits of kit, along side these I would recommend lots of dry bags, both commercial ones for expensive bits of kit that needs protecting, along with Ziplock style ones for books, diaries and other items, to keep them protected and safe in your kit. I feel that a head torch is crucial in all environments, but in the jungle it is needed so that you can keep safe when the sun goes down early, and darkness sets in under the canopy, you can find your way about and work on tasks easily and they are also  really useful to find and view wildlife at night!

I mentioned the importance of foot care earlier, this is crucial to ensure that you can keep going in jungle environments. Time spent in the evenings inspecting, cleaning and drying your feet properly will ensure that they keep working for you, bacteria can’t get in and cause infections and the wet environment cannot cause fungal or painful problems that ruin your experience. I use Dactarin, antibacterial foot powder, and keep it in a large drawstring bag, either a pillowcase with a drawstring fitted or I personally use a drawstring sports style bag that I got my Mum to amend for me!!

I hope this blog is useful if your thinking about planning a trip to tropical forests or jungle environments, let me know what you think!

If you want to learn more about jungle skills and gain confidence in operating and exploring tropical forests, I am running a Jungle Skills course in the Amazon jungle of Southern Peru in October 2019, so email me to find out more about this exciting course.  https://www.james-dyer.org/expedition-opportunities/

 

Inclusion in Adventure

I read a lot about inclusion in the outdoors these days, and sometimes I find that it is not presented in the most positive or even inclusive way.
I just wanted to champion some people and projects that are doing amazing work (https://womensadventureexpo.co.uk/ https://www.loveherwild.com/ http://www.equaladventure.org/ http://outdoorafro.com/) to name a few, and to add my 5 pence worth to this wide debate.

 

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The adventure challenge today is not so much about climbing the highest mountain or the physical exploits of personal endeavor and hardship by super fit individuals but much more it is starting to challenge the status quo of “who” is being included in this!
The need for “adventure” and exploration to become more inclusive is paramount.
As a broad  society , made up of all types of people and cultures the challenge to adventurers, organisations and those that follow is to become more diverse in outlook, thinking and practically.
The challenges may be culturally, accessibility, social or even prejudice, but the sector and those of us in it must try to understand the “why” and well as the “who” and work really hard and a broadly as possible to understand the “how”, to ensure that the outdoor sector, how ever broad it is, is as inclusive as possible.
We need to explore and break down how other cultures see the outdoors, as well as looking critically at all our relationships with it, this needs to be historically, culturally and practically, we need to understand how all cultures and groups of people see the outdoors.
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In modern Britain we see the outdoors as a good place to go, a place to explore and be adventurous, to challenge ourselves physically and that it is acceptable to go into the outdoors and gain some positive benefits from it, educationally or personally.  But this wasn’t always the case. In Victorian times the mountains were seen as evil places, where dragons and demons live. One of my favorite mountains is the Cader Idris in North Wales, even here mythology from the 1700’s said that its is where the devil played cards with sabbath breakers on Sundays! This was how the Victorians saw the world, and it wasn’t till later when a few drug- addled poets and early botanists started to describe the mountains differently, and change people perceptions of them did they become more acceptable places.
But how do other cultures explain their relationship with the wider environment, and if they are then part of a migrant diaspora, how do they relate that to their new environments?
We need to understand what the barriers are or have been to people to access or go into the outdoors, disabled people have potentially avoided places due to rough surfaces or an in- ability to engage with the environment from a mobility perspective, people on low incomes cannot get to remote or outdoor places, some people view of the outdoors is that it is “NOT” for certain types of people (LGBTQ/ Transgender). But what other barriers exist for people that stops them engaging, is it attitudes, cost of clothing and equipment or not seeing enough people “like them” in the outdoor literature or on the media?
Even I’m not that sure I relate to Ben Fogle, Ran Fiennes or Ray Mears, and I am a white (nearly) middle aged male!!!!
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 We need real change drivers, adventurers, leaders in the industry, communities and through our media to change and develop our thinking of inclusion in the outdoors.
The western, white, middle class male-centric approach, with all its history, culture, outlooks and educational approaches must be challenged to find out ways to make the outdoor and adventure relevant, welcoming and open to change so that all can be represented at its broad church!

Through a Child’s eyes… Summer 2018

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The taxi pulled up at 2am and a bleary eye bunch of expeditioners piled in.

The journey to Gatwick was quiet, a strange silence almost tinged with trepidation, we had already lost 1 of our number to a family emergency, so the remaining 4 set out to complete the planned expedition.

We were heading to Northern Sweden to canoe a section of the River Harkan, we didn’t know what to expect, the pre expedition nerves seemed to punctuate the silence of that short taxi ride.

For me the trepidation was exaggerated as one of the party was my 15 year old son, Robert, heading of with us on his first overseas expedition.

What was he feeling, what thoughts and excitement was running through his mind as he awaited this experience, were his nerves anything like mine?

I have never been one to force my life and career choices onto my children, the option has always been there and at this point this growing young adult wanted to be part of this expedition. He is an experienced canoeist with an easy but level headed persona, someone who is calm and inquisitive, yet knowledgeable  for his age. A product of  his time, but starting to take those bigger steps as he develops into an adult, pushing his physical and mental boundaries.

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I work a lot with young people and I love being part of educational and developmental expeditions, but this was going to be a little different, Robert is part of this team, he has worked his apprenticeship, learnt how to navigate, and canoe, completed his Duke of Edinburgh Award, roughed it in tents and developed his Camp craft, he will have to fit in and earn his place on this team. Already, as we make out way North through Sweden he has shown how he can make decisions, share the load and join the conversations of those older and more experienced than him.

This summer I have had the opportunity to take all my children off on overseas trips, my youngest had spent two weeks travelling with my wife and I through France, learning about the Normandy landings, even camping on the cliffs above Omaha Beach, then on to the Bayeux Tapestry, before heading South to enjoy the sun and rest on the beaches and by the pools of an amazing little island called Ill de Re, just off the coast of La Rochelle. We finished our French sojourn in Paris, introducing them to the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triumph!

Watching my children exploring the world has really opened my eyes this year, I have seen them attempt to speak in another language, look in awe at an osprey catching a fish, enjoy French crepes, Swedish meatballs and the infamous Orangina! They grew in confidence, made new friends, visited unique places and challenged themselves outside their comfort zones!!

After all these years travelling and exploring, introducing hundreds of others to the world, truly believing that outdoor learning, expeditions and travel can make life changing impressions on people, I have finally started my own children’s journey.

 

Education or Travel?

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Counting down the last few days before the next expedition!

The living room is filling with stuff sacs and kit again.

And the list of jobs in my diary are gradually getting ticked off!

Its that time again to be heading off on the next expedition.

This time I head to the mountain kingdom of Nepal, the home of the highest mountains on Earth, and some of it friendliest people.

Nearly 20 years ago I led my first overseas expedition, this first expedition leadership job was for a group of 16 young people, it was a development expedition, aimed at building teamwork and leadership, as well as personal and social skills amongst the group.

Since 2000 I have led many expeditions like this, expeditions that I refer to a “Educational Expeditions”, and although I think that every expedition has a developmental purpose, I really feel that leading these style of expeditions for young people have many important outcomes and potential for change.

Young people having an opportunity to travel in this way can achieve so much, they embark on a journey that allows them to recognize their strengths, find out who they want to be, to touch the world, find out first hand what it is about, how it works, and develop their own ideas about a changing and often confusing world.

They develop their confidence, build resilience and motivation through engaging with physical and mental tasks, working in local communities, trekking in remote landscaped or undertaking scientific studies.

Personally, they get to find out who they are, what they like,what their views or values are and to have first hand experiences of the world. This important educational experience can lead to live changing decisions or to confirm the choices that these participants have made. Directing their futures and possibly influencing the future of their communities and the wider world.

This is education not just travel!

In the current world, where a new nationalistic politics is emerging, where neo-liberal policies are seriously impacting on the planet, the ongoing search for corporate profit and weakening governments which lead to environmental degradation, increased poverty and more conflicts , it is more important than ever to introduce Young people to both themselves and the world, these young people will be the future decision makers and voters, and the more they understand about the world and have personal contact with it, I hope will help them become better global citizens with more personal investment in helping create a better future.

So, in my mind my job on these ” Educational Expeditions” is to facilitate this experience, challenge and push the young people to look at themselves and the world differently. It is a crucial role to play and one I feel really privileged to undertake.

Over the next 3 weeks my team of 16 year old will go on a personal and social journey, immersing themselves in the communities they will travel through, but also challenging themselves to find out who they are, their values and their interests, with the hope that they will return home different, having been through a unique experience.

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Some of my teams initial thoughts about what they want to see and achieve on their expedition!

We arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday after a pretty long flight, and after a day or so in the City we travel to a village, where we will be based for a while, undertaking vital projects, both construction and educational where we will be actively involved with the school.  We will be delivering purposeful projects that benefit the local community (by improving their educational facilities) as well as the young people on the expedition themselves, through their engagement with the remote community and the projects that they will plan and deliver themselves.

Ill post again about the trip later in July…..

 

 

 

Into the Depths of the Amazon 2018-Expedition Return

Wow!

Just arrived home to the UK and now sitting in my car outside Plas Y Brenin, the National Mountaineering Centre on a misty Saturday morning, looking towards a hidden Snowdon.

Just starting to process the last few weeks on expedition.

The aim of the “Into the Depths of the Amazon 2018” expedition was to take “normal” people with an interest in expeditions; science and being part of a research expedition. These “citizen scientists” came together as a group to work together, alongside expedition professionals and zoologists to travel to a remote part of the Peruvian jungle to study the biodiversity , and in particular the weird and wonderful world of the insects, sometimes overlooked for more “gucci” wildlife.

After 2 weeks of living in our remote base camp the team left the jungle and returned to Cusco.

2 weeks of building the temporary camp, helping to do all the cooking, carry water from the water point, traveling out every day to monitor insect traps, camera traps and our survey sites.

Using all the skills in the group this group of people worked really well together and threw themselves into all aspects of the expedition. Meaning that they transitioned from individuals with different motivations and aims, into a functioning team collaborating and buying in to supporting each other and the expeditions vision.

And this is part of what expeditions do, they are about the participation of the people. And it’s the people who are the real success story of this expedition.

During our time in the field we have collected thousands of samples of bugs, beetles ( there is a difference!!) And flies. All of these will be sent to the Natural History Museum in London, where it is hoped that they will be studied and possibly we will find that some are exciting new species, or help us understand the range of other species, this is the legacy of the expedition and it is exciting to think that the work our participants undertook over the last few weeks will lead to broadening and widening our knowledge of the world!

In my slightly tired coffee addled brain this morning writing this post has made me realise how proud and excited I am by what we have achieved on this expedition, even before we have started the work of sifting through the collection from a scientific perspective, or reviewing our performance and logistics.

I am very proud that the idea that we proposed 18 months ago to engage a broad group of people who want to do something important and different in an expedition perspective, has proved successful.

And I am excited about the next steps, both the science findings, as well as the possibility of future expeditions in this style!! So stand by on both fronts.