Mountain protection worldwide through citizen science and volunteering by Biosphere Expeditions

Mountain Protection

2018 Nominee

Project Status: Ongoing
Location: Ireland. Operational: Worldwide including  Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Russia, Slovakia, Spain
Contact: Matthias Hammer
Email –  Facebook – Website

Biosphere Expeditions is a citizen science wildlife conservation non-profit first and foremost. But we also empower ordinary people by taking them on our expeditions worldwide to work hands-on in wildlife research and conservation. Biosphere Expeditions is also a multi-award-winning organisation, and a member of IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature), the UN Environment Programme, and the European Citizen Science Association (ECSA). For us successful conservation is the collective effort of individuals. We invite everyone to join us on our wildlife and wilderness projects all over the world, many in mountain environments such as the Altai, Tien Shan, Carpathians, Cape Fold Mountains, Dhofar Mountains and the Pyrenees. Biosphere Expeditions gives everyone, whatever their background, age or education, the chance to become a citizen scientist during their holiday time.

The foundation of our work is science and local need. We focus on sustainable conservation projects that target clearly defined, critical issues that humankind has the power to change. Our international volunteers work hand-in-hand with local biologists and communities to drive positive outcomes for biodiversity – the creation of a protected area in the Altai where snow leopards now thrive is just one recent example. Other achievements include the creation of protected areas on four continents, the implementation of our conservation recommendations and species protection plans by numerous national and regional governments and NGOs, scientific and lay publications, as well as capacity-building, training and education all over the world.


Local communities (tourism and otherwise) are at the heart of what we do. Because of this we work with local scientists wherever possible and publish our expedition reports and publications in co-authorship with them.

We hire only local services for the expedition logistics, be it porters, guides, cooks, horses, etc. Where local services are from companies, we seek out local businesses, rather than international corporations, for example for car hire, hotels, base camp equipment, onwards tourism services, etc.

We run a placement programme on all our expeditions, which integrates local people into the expeditions at no cost to them.

We also work with local communities on incentive-creation through nature. For example, in the Altai we have converted local poachers into conservationists by paying them for verifiable camera trap pictures of snow leopards surviving year-on-year.

We provide capacity-building and jobs. In the Pyrenees, for example, have helped to finance a field research station. This is now used by research bodies year-round as a centre for conservation & research, providing training for researchers, as well as employment for the local community.


We collaborate with governments, universities and other research institutions, NGOs, foundations and businesses all over the world.


Placement Programme and Capacity-Building

Our placement programme on all our expeditions, which integrates local people into the expeditions at no cost to them. This placement programme, amongst other things, seeks to empower local communities to establish their own conservation schemes. We also provide capacity-building and jobs as explained above.

Food Policy

The United Nations has identified vegetarianism as one of the major ways to reduce impact; it has also concluded that a global shift toward a vegetarian or vegan diet is necessary to combat the worst effects of climate change. In line with all of the above Biosphere Expeditions is, to our knowledge, unique in offering a purely vegetarian diet wherever possible on expedition.

Sponsorship Policy

Biosphere Expeditions will not accept support from corporations whose activities, services or products come with a persistent and large-scale negative impact on the environment or human health & welfare or corporations who Biosphere Expeditions judges to obtain their revenue by unethical means or who have a record of unethical conduct.

Awards and Accolades

The fact that Biosphere Expeditions goes well beyond “business as usual” has been recognised through a multitude of awards and accolades such as “Best Volunteering Organisation” (First Choice Responsible Travel Awards), “Top Conservation Holiday” (BBC Wildlife, UK), “Best Holiday for Green-Minded Travellers” (Independent on Sunday, UK), “Best New Trip” (National Geographic Adventure, USA), “Top Holiday for Nature” (P.M., Germany), “Environment Award” (from the German government), etc. A full overview is on


The organisation is headed by an Executive Director (Dr. Matthias Hammer) and management and support staff.

We have several ways of monitoring our successes. At the most basic level, Biosphere Expeditions will always publish a report for each expedition. Each expedition year is matched by an expedition report for that year, which deals with the two main areas that expedition participants contribute to: funding and data collection. Chapter 1 of each report, written by Biosphere Expeditions, reviews the expedition logistics and publishes an expedition budget, which shows in a clear and transparent way income and expenditure for each expedition and the percentage of income spent on the project. Chapter 2 onwards, written by the expedition scientist, shows who collected what data, how they were analysed, what the conclusions were, as well as the conservation recommendations and actions flowing from this, and what future expeditions should do.

In this way, each expedition comes full circle for its participants, stakeholders and partners. As far as we are aware, Biosphere Expeditions is the only voluntourism organisation in the world that has a direct and transparent link between the work done by citizen scientists and an expedition report.

On other levels we meticulously record the outcomes of our work in our achievements on several levels: wildlife and habitat conservation, capacity-building & jobs, education & awareness, reports & publications, awards & accolades.


Our volunteer guests are an integral part and the linchpin for our conservation efforts. Our expeditions with travellers from all over the world are not isolated luxury trips. Instead our guest are intimately involved in the expedition, often in remote and challenging environments and circumstances. We always work with local service providers, people and businesses and integrate local people into our expeditions, either as staff, scientists or through our placement programme. As such our expedition experiences are totally immersive for participants (local and international). Since wildlife conservation is at the very heart of what we do, this immersive experience automatically results in a very significant raising of awareness about wildlife conservation issues, especially because we do not pretend that the planet can be saved on a two-week holiday, or that field conservation always achieves and never goes wrong. Instead we expose people to difficult issues and the realities of field conservation – adventure, successes, warts, failures and all.

After the expedition experience we encourage people to stay involved through our Look Ahead programme, and – on demand – get them in touch with local conservation efforts to continue their conservation activities locally.

Finally, Biosphere Expeditions is very active in achieving decency in volunteer involvement and voluntourism. With no international standard in the sector and a host of charlatan profiteers jumping on the volunteering bandwagon recently, voluntourism has started to accumulate a negative reputation to the detriment of the many hard-working, non-profits in the sector, which are trying to alleviate a multitude of humanitarian and wildlife conservation issues in a ethical and sustainable way. Biosphere Expeditions’ “Top Ten Tips” campaign gives guidance to those considering a voluntourism holiday and in doing so has attracted the attention of the international media. It has also firmly established Biosphere Expeditions as one of the most ethical showcase voluntourism providers.


Our communication strategy has many aspects.

On the scientific side, we publish expedition reports as well as scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals (see We also attend exhibitions, conventions and scientific conferences and other gatherings.

On the layperson side, we have a very active media engagement strategy and frequently host journalist, bloggers and film teams on our expeditions. Resulting coverage can be seen at,,, amongst others.

We have a strong social media presence and campaigns (see for outlets), as well an active and popular blog

We also attend exhibitions, meeting and hold regular public events, talks and gatherings.

Winning the MPA award and featuring on the UIAA MPA platform would be a major boost for the organisation, driving more citizen scientists towards our projects and opening up communications with people connected to the UIAA, many of whom are likely to be interested in our participatory citizen science work, involving ordinary people in the protection of mountain wildlife and wilderness.