Join us

Become a member and discover where geography can take you.

Join us
A large group of people gathered for a ceremony on a mountaintop as the sun is setting.

Neville Shulman Challenge Award

The Neville Shulman Challenge Award aims to further the understanding and exploration of the planet - its cultures, peoples and environments - while promoting personal development through the intellectual or physical challenges involved in undertaking a research project or expedition.

About the Award

The Neville Shulman Challenge Award was established in 2001 for the Society by Neville Shulman CBE.

Each year an award of £5,000 will be given to a challenging research project or expedition. Applicants must demonstrate how the project is challenging; intellectually, physically and in terms of the issue being studied. Projects should have elements of both local and global interest, a clear purpose to advance geographical knowledge through well outlined methods of data collection, and with opportunities to share findings widely.

Applications are invited from both individuals and groups. Project proposals directly relating to PhD or MSc research will not be accepted. It is expected that the grant will provide the majority of funding needed to undertake the project.

Deadline: 30 November


Apply now

All prospective grant applicants should read our Advice and Resources pages, which include more information about the grants programme, its conditions, how to apply for a grant and what is expected if your application is successful. Please read this information carefully and send your application, or any enquiries, by email to


Previous recipients

2024: Olivia McGregor

Following the Guyana government’s carbon credit deal with a major petroleum company, the indigenous Macushi people have been banned from traditional shifting cultivation in the intact tropical rainforest
biodiversity-hotspot that is their home. They have been forced into sedentary farming of the savannah, for which they now receive cash payments. This project will investigate the human story behind global carbon markets. This project will question, rather than preserving this fragile environment and their people, whether the carbon economy is actually putting them at risk? And for whose benefit? And how should this inform the way we tackle climate change?


2023: Michal Lukaszewicz and Karolina Gawonicz

The Barren Lands of Canada constitute the second largest area of uninhabited wilderness in the world. During their 60-day long unsupported canoe crossing that straddles over 1,000 miles, the team will connect Great Slave Lake with rivers Lockhart, Hanbury and Thelon through a series of portages. On top of that geographical challenge, the expedition will film local fauna as well as their own proceedings hoping to produce a documentary highlighting the importance of preservation of these lands in their natural state. 


2022: Eileen McDougall and Rejina Tamang

In 2019, it was estimated that across the Tibetan plateau around 400,000 people follow the Bon religion, a religion believed to have been practiced in the area prior to the arrival of Tibetan Buddhism in 7th century CE. There are around 13,000 followers in the high-altitude region of Dolpo in Western Nepal, an area with strong cultural and economic ties to Tibet. By trekking through Dolpo and visiting its Bon monasteries and villages, this project aims to document life in these communities, and in particular how they are being affected by climate change and the national-building of modern Nepal. Additionally, the project aims to document what mechanisms they are developing to help them cope with these changes.


2020: Toby Nowlan: Last of the Javan Rhino

This is a mission to photograph, track and survey the rarest large mammal on Earth, the Javan rhinoceros, thereby contributing to its long-term conservation. Poaching to supply the trade in rhino horn for Chinese medicine has driven all rhino species to the brink of extinction. Rhino horn is now the most valuable commodity on the planet. The Javan rhino is now the rarest rhino species, its entire population reduced to 60 individuals. It is also the least-known, and just a few images exist of this ultra-rare survivor. New images of the species may yield information key to its protection. The project was unfortunately unable to go ahead due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


2019: Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent: Naga tales

Former head-hunters embroiled in a decades-long fight for independence, the Naga tribes inhabit the remote, little-visited borderlands of north-eastern India and Myanmar. But today, the incursions of roads, mines and missionaries mean their culture is in danger of disappearing. In October 2019 travel writer Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent will visit the remotest Naga villages of both India and Myanmar, documenting the Naga people, their lands and their rich cultural traditions. Travelling by boat, foot and local transport, Antonia will meet shamans, Baptist preachers, opium farmers, jade miners, wildlife traders and Naga insurgents engaged in the ongoing struggle for independence from India and Myanmar. You can follow her journey on Twitter and Instagram @AntsBK.

Find out more


2018: Katie Arnold – 'Life on the Naryn: A River in Crisis'

The glaciers that feed Central Asia’s two major rivers are melting at an unprecedented rate, with scientists warning that they could disappear completely by 2050. By travelling the length of Kyrgyzstan’s Naryn River - by foot, horseback and bike - journalist and filmmaker Katie Arnold documented the social, economic and political impact that climate change is having on those living along its path. Her journey ended in the Fergana Valley, the largest irrigated area on earth, and a volatile region on the brink of an ethnically charged water war.

Find out more


2017: Leon McCarron – 'Life and Death on the Holy Mountain: The real story of the Good Samaritans'

In April 2017, Leon McCarron travelled to Israel to meet the Samaritans, the world’s smallest and oldest ethno-religious group. Despite once boasting over a million adherents, their population now numbers well under a thousand. Joining them for their week-long Passover festival, Leon's journey explored the Samaritans' rich past and the challenges they face in the 21st century.

Find out more

2016: Sam Jones – 'The Njesi Plateau Expedition'

Recent exploration of Mozambique's formerly off-limits mountains has shed new light on their biological uniqueness. Due to numerous new species being discovered and their unique species assemblages, these findings suggest that Mozambique's mountains may comprise a distinct ecoregion to other highlands of the East African Rift. Forming the key highland link to the north, the Njesi Plateau has escaped almost any biological attention. The expedition undertook the first biological exploration of the plateau, establishing the limits of this purported new ecoregion.

Find out more


2015: Tim Oakley – 'In Amundsen's Footsteps'

Throughout February and March 2016, Tim Oakley led a team of three men and 22 dogs across Arctic Canada and Alaska, sledging over 800 miles through what is one of the world's coldest and most remote wildernesses. The aim of the expedition is to retrace Roald Amundsen's sledging journey from Herschel Island to Eagle, to let the world know of his successful navigation through the North West Passage in 1905. 111 years later, the team recorded their journey to compare it with Amundsen's, and engaged with schools to highlight the changes that have taken place in this fragile environment.


2014: Daniel Quinn – 'Making Tracks: researching the mountains of Malaysia and Indonesia'

Daniel sought to explore and record details of major mountain ranges of West Kalimantan (Indonesia) and Sarawak (Malaysia). This information, including GPS tracks, will be made available to all, including flora and fauna conservation groups, eco-tourism authorities and local and international hiking clubs, on the Gunung Baggin website.

Find out more


2014: Andrew Whitworth and Christopher Beirne – 'Exploration Sira'

The Cerros del Sira is a rugged satellite of the Peruvian Andes. Isolated from the main Andean chain and with a high range in altitude, the area hosts a unique but poorly understood species assemblage. The Exploration Sira team performed a rapid-assessment scientific survey within the Cerros del Sira range, aiming to both document its species assemblage and use it altitudinal range to better understand the processes governing the diversity and distribution of the amphibians and birds which reside on its slopes.


2013: Patrick Le Flufy – 'Learning from local knowledge in the Amazon'

Patrick had a unique invitation from one of the last sabios, wise men, of the Ocaina to learn about local philosophy, traditional medicines and spiritual understanding. Learning 'from the inside' gave Patrick a unique perspective of an ecosystem immensely important in today’s world.


2012: Dr Duika Burges Watson and Dr Johanna Wadsley – 'Hugging the Coast'

An international team of six women sea-kayakers and social scientists traversed the 250km length of the volcanic islands that reach from the northern tip of Sulawesi, Indonesia, to Sangihe in the Celebes Sea. In addition to undertaking this unique kayaking challenge in a dynamic and changing environment, the team will observe, document and engage with life in the archipelago’s ‘liminal zones’: the rapidly changing, sensitive marine coasts from which people eke a living, increasingly through seaweed farming.

Find out more


2011: Horatio Clare – ‘In Search of the Slender-billed Curlew’

This project searches for the rarely sighted Slender-billed Curlew, from its wintering grounds in Thrace to its breeding area in Siberia, to understand the fate of the bird and the degradation of water resources across its migratory path. Listen to highlights of the journey on the BBC's From Our Own Correspondent.


2011: Tanzin Norbu and Paul Howard – ‘Ice River – A journey to Zanskar in winter’

For eight months of the year, the ‘Chadar’, a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon with temperatures as low as -30°C, is the only way in or out of the remote Himalayan kingdom of Zanskar. This team travelled through the Chadar in winter to document its role in Zanskar life and to start an educational radio service to enable the children of this isolated region to receive year round education.


2010: Nick Danziger – ‘Revisited: The Millennium Development Goals Project’

Renowned photographer Nick Danziger investigated the progress of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals in eight of the world's poorest countries. With only five years left until the 2015 deadline to achieve the goals, Nick travelled to Armenia, Bolivia, Cambodia, Honduras, India, Niger, Uganda and Zambia to see what impact they have had on some of the poorest communities in the world.


2010: Martin Holland – ‘Heart of Borneo Expedition’

A multidisciplinary research expedition to explore the rainforest on the island of Borneo. Combining research and educational strands, it focused on raising awareness of the conservation issues affecting the Heart of Borneo rainforest.


2008/2009: Will Millard – ‘The Jalan Raya: Uncovering the Secrets of Papua's Trade on Foot’

Following the course of an old-trade route the ‘Jalan Raya’ (Great Road) in Indonesian Papua, along the central mountain spine of the Papuan highlands, from the Kapauku Tribes of the Wissel Lakes in the West to the Dani Tribal territories of the Baliem Valley in the East, the team documented areas that have remained almost completely unvisited.


2007: Tom Parfitt – ‘From the Black Sea to the Caspian: On foot through the Caucasus’

A journey on foot of approximately 600 miles from the Black Sea to the Caspian, through one of the most linguistically and culturally diverse regions on the planet, this project examined the myths and realities around the real voices and stories of the patchwork of peoples living in the high mountains on the southern slopes of the Greater Caucasus.


2007: Hattie Wells – ‘The Kalahari Garden Project’

The team assisted the San, some of Africa’s oldest inhabitants, in improving their food security and nutrition through cultivating home gardens.


2006: Sue and Patrick Cunningham – ‘Xingu: The Cerrados to the Amazon’

Following the course of the Xingu River in Brazil by boat from its source in Xavante territory, through the Xingu Indigenous Park, to the town of Altamira where the river joins the Amazon - a total distance of about 2000 km. This expedition documented the current situation of the indigenous people, in terms of their health, education, culture and security.


2005: Damian Welch – ‘Exploring Lost Knowledge: Sailing and navigation in Post-Traditional Polynesia’

With a focus on the tradition of canoes in the Tokelauan culture, this expedition aimed to build and sail a traditional canoe from Fakaofo to Western Samoa, 300 miles and 5-10 days away. Unfortunately this project was not completed.


2004: Gregor MacLennan – ‘Manu UNESCO Biosphere Reserve: Uncovering the Amazon through Indigenous Eyes’

Accompanying the Nahura on their trips to the headwaters of the Manu River in Manu National Park, this project documented the cultural importance of the rainforest for indigenous peoples of Peru.


2003: Adrian Disney – ‘North Pacific Paddle: Inclusive Sea Kayak Expedition’

Nine sea-kayakers, including two disabled paddlers, became the first inclusive team to undertake the 1000 mile journey known as 'The Inside Passage.' Expedition challenges included open water crossings, restless seas and a harsh landscape for three months, paddling through the fjords and glacier draped mountains of the Alaska and British Columbia wilderness coastline.


2002: Dr Chad Staddon – ‘Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Mountain Communities in the Former Yugoslavia’

Compiling detailed case studies of local reconstruction in post-war cantons, this project served to make stronger linkages between Bosnian, Serbian and Croatian local leaders and social scientists and their Western counterparts. The project tested specific ideas regarding post-communist and post-war reconstruction in mountain communities.


2001: Dr Alun Hubbard (University of Edinburgh) – ‘Endless Summer: Antarctic Convergence Zone Expedition’

Over 18 months, a team of environmental scientists, mountaineers and divers, carried out glaciological studies around the coastal zones of the Antarctic continent, documenting Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) said to be 'one of the great environmental challenges the world faces'. Beginning in Auckland, New Zealand, the team sailed steel, ice-strengthened ketch, 'Gambo', via Tierra del Fuego and a number of sub-polar islands, to the west Antarctic Peninsula.


Other projects supported by Neville Shulman that resulted from the Challenge Award

2019: John Dyer – ‘Spirit of the Rainforest’

This project is a creative collaboration between artist and RGS-IBG Fellow John Dyer and the Amazonian Yawanawá tribe of Acre state in northwestern Brazil. A small exhibition of paintings from the project will be displayed at the Society's headquarters in London.


2014: Patrick Hutton and Richard Johnson – 'The first unsupported crossing of Papua New Guinea'

In June 2014 Patrick and Richard completed the first unsupported, un-motorised crossing of Papua New Guinea, having successfully navigated their way north to south. You can watch a film about their journey here.