Robin Hanbury-Tenison

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(Airling) Robin Hanbury-Tenison OBE, DL, Dsc, Dhc, MA, FLS, FRGS (born 7 May 1936)[1] is a Cornish based explorer.[2] He is President of the charity Survival International[3] and was previously Chief Executive of The Countryside Alliance.[4]

Early life[edit]

Hanbury-Tenison grew up on an Anglo-Irish estate in County Monaghan in Ireland, the youngest child of five.

In 1959, Hanbury-Tenison married Marika Hopkinson, and lived with her in a 14th-century farmhouse on Bodmin Moor. Marika became well known for her cookery books, published under her married name. They had two children, Lucy (b. 1960) and Rupert (b. 1970). Marika died in 1982.

Hanbury-Tenison and his second wife Louella (nee Williams) own a farmhouse, Cabilla Manor, on Bodmin Moor, which is both their home and a bed and breakfast business. They have a son, Merlin (b. 1985).[5]

Notable Expeditions[edit]

  • In 1957 he was the first person to travel overland by jeep from London to Sri Lanka (Ceylon).[6]
  • In 1958 he was the first to cross South America overland at its widest point (with Richard Mason).
  • In 1964-65 he made the first river crossing of S America from north to south from the Orinoco to Buenos Aires (at first with Sebastian Snow).
  • In 1968 he took part in the Geographical Magazine Amazonas Expedition by Hovercraft from Manaus to Trinidad. Discussions with the ethnobotanist Conrad Gorinsky led to the foundation of the charity Survival International.[7]
  • In 1971, as Chairman of Survival (and with Marika), he visited 33 Indian tribes in Brazil at the invitation of the Brazilian government and reported on their condition.
  • In 1977-78 he led the Royal Geographical Society's Gunung Mulu expedition to Sarawak, the Society's largest expedition to date, taking 115 scientists into the rainforest for 15 months. This was the start of global rainforest movement.[8]

Other Expeditions[edit]

  • 1957: Round the world
  • 1958: South American East to West overland.
  • 1962-66: Saharan camel travels with Tuareg exploring Tassili n’Ajjer, Tibesti and Aïr mountains.
  • 1965-65: South America North to South by river.
  • 1968: Amazon Hovercraft.
  • 1969: Trans-African Expedition by Hovercraft (Deputy Leader). Dakar to Lake Chad to the Congo.
  • 1971: Brazilian tribes
  • 1972: member of John Blashford-Snell's British Trans-Americas Expedition. Researched Indian tribes of Darien in Panama and Colombia.
  • 1973: visited tribes of Outer Islands of Indonesia (with Marika) for Survival International.
  • 1974: first overland crossing of Eastern Sulawesi (with Hugh Dunphy).
  • 1977-78: RGS Mulu expedition.
  • 1980: walked across part of Kalahari Desert with Bushmen.
  • 1980-81: expeditions in Ecuador, Brazil and Venezuela.
  • 1981: lived for three months with Yanomami tribe in Brazil researching book for Time Life (with Bruce Albert and Victor Englebert).
  • 1984: rode (with his 2nd wife, Louella) two Camargue horses across France to Cornwall.
  • 1986: rode (with Louella) along the Great Wall of China.
  • 1987: led a mission for IUCN, FOE and Survival Int. to investigate the arrest of Malaysian environmentalists and Borneo tribal people for campaigning against excessive logging in Sarawak.
  • 1988: rode (with Louella) from South to North through New Zealand.
  • 1989: rode (with Louella) as pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.
  • 1990: mission to Eastern Europe to assess investment and environmental opportunities (with Robbie Lyle and Louella).
  • 1991: rode (with Louella) across Spain driving 300 cattle on the transhumancia.
  • 1992: visited tribal people of Kamchatka and Ussuria for Survival Int (with Paul Harris).
  • 1994: delivered Land-rover for Survival Int. to Udege people of Ussuria (with Louella).
  • 1995: visited tribal people of Arunachal Pradesh, NE India (with Paul Harris and Louella).
  • 1997: stayed with Innu people at Lake Kamistastin, Labrador (with Louella and sons Peter and Merlin).
  • 1998: first return visit to Mulu, Sarawak. Made film for Channel 4 (with Louella and Merlin).
  • 1999: rode by camel (with Louella) through Tenere Desert, accompanied by Tuareg.
  • 2003: travelled alone with Tuareg and camels through Aïr mountains of Niger for 40 days.
  • 2005: visited all remaining Bushman groups in Central Kalahari (with Louella).
  • 2006: penetrated the Kimberley region of NW Australia to seek prehistoric ‘Bradshaw’ rock paintings (with Louella).
  • 2007: rode on Albanian horses (with Louella) the whole length of Albania.
  • 2008: climbed Mt. Roraima, Venezuela (with Louella).
  • 2009: Maya forest research in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize (with Louella).
  • 2012: Visits to indigenous groups in Gran Chaco, Paraguay, and to Antarctica.
  • 2014: Returned to Mulu to make second circuit of Mt. Api.

Other Notable Work[edit]

In 1982 and 1983 he organised Capital Radio's Venture Days in Battersea Park. Opened by the Prince of Wales, they attracted the biggest crowds to date in London, other than for royal weddings.

From 1995 to 1998 he was CEO of the British Field Sports Society,[9] now the Countryside Alliance. He organised the hugely successful Countryside Rally, which brought 130,000 people to Hyde Park in July 1997, and the Countryside March when 300,000[10] marched through London in 1998, the largest ever peaceful demonstration in the capital to date. He was named Personality of the Year by the International Council for Game and Wildlife Conservation in 1999 and Patron of the Countryside Alliance in 2003.

In 2013 an exhibition of his collected photographs of tribal people and places from his earlier travels was displayed in the National Theatre for two months under the title 'Echoes of a Vanished World: A Traveller's Lifetime in Pictures'.[11]

In 2015-6 he celebrated his 80th year by undertaking eight challenges, starting with the London Marathon, which raised over £80,000 for Survival International.[12][13]

Awards and achievements[edit]

  • 1961 RGS Ness Award.
  • 1965-95 Commissioner of Income Tax.
  • 1968-82 RGS Council Member, 1982-86 Vice President.
  • 1969-81 Co-founder and Chairman of Survival International[14]
  • 1971- Winston Churchill Memorial Fellow.
  • 1979- RGS Patron's Gold Medal.
  • 1980- Winner Krug Award for Excellence.
  • 1981- President of Survival International
  • 1981- Order of the British Empire (OBE).
  • 1984-2015 President Camel Valley and Bodmin Moor Protection Society.
  • 1988-95 President Cornwall Wildlife Trust.
  • 1999- Chairman Friends of Conservation
  • 2001- RSGS Mungo Park Medal.
  • 2000- Pio Manzu Medal (Italy).
  • 2001-5 President Rain Forest Club.
  • 2003- 2011 Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Cornwall.
  • 2009- President Cornwall Red Squirrel Project.
  • 2014- Hon. Consul for Kosovo (Cornwall).


Since 1960 he has farmed over 2000 acres on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. In addition to conventional hill farming of sheep and cattle, diversification has been tried with Angora Goats, Red Deer and Wild Boar from Russia. Now farming energy from wind, solar, water and biomass. From 1993-1996 he was a member of the South West Regional Panel of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He was a founder member of FWAG, on the Cornwall Committee of the CLA, a member of Invest in Britain (formerly Think British) Campaign (1987-) and is an Ambassador for the Westcountry Development Corporation. In 1998 he was awarded the Farmers Club Cup for his outstanding contribution to farming, agriculture and the countryside and in 2000 the Contribution to the Countryside Award by the CLA. In 2012 Cabilla Manor was winner of the Best Large Scale Renewable Energy Scheme in Cornwall Award.


  • The Rough and the Smooth (1969)
  • A Question of Survival for the Indians of Brazil (1973)
  • A Pattern of Peoples: A Journey Among the Tribes of Indonesia's Outer Islands (1975)
  • Mulu: Rain Forest (1980)
  • Aborigines of the Amazon Rain Forest (Peoples of the Wild) (1982)
  • Worlds Apart: An Explorer's Life (1984)
  • White Horses over France: From the Camargue to Cornwall (1985)[15]
  • A Ride Along the Great Wall (1987)
  • Fragile Eden: A Ride Through New Zealand (1989)
  • Spanish Pilgrimage: A Canter to St. James (1990)
  • The Oxford Book of Exploration (1993)
  • Mysterious China (1995)
  • Chinese Adventure: A Ride Along the Great Wall (2004)
  • Worlds Within: Reflections in the Sand (2005)
  • The Seventy Great Journeys in History (2006)
  • Land of Eagles: Riding Through Europe's Forgotten Country (2009)[16]
  • The Great Explorers (2010)[17]
  • The Modern Explorers, with Robert Twigger (2013)
  • Echoes of a Vanished World: A Traveller's Lifetime in Pictures (2013)
  • Beauty Freely Given: A Universal Truth: Artifacts from the Collection of Robin Hanbury-Tenison, with Christopher John Bowden (2013)

For children[18][edit]

  • Jake's Escape (1996)
  • Jake's Treasure (1997)
  • Jake's Safari (1998)


  • A Time for Survival. Westward (1972)
  • Mysteries of the Green Mountain. BBC (1978)
  • Antiques at Home. BBC (1984)
  • White Horses over France. BBC/FR3 (1985)
  • Great Wall of China (1987)
  • Odyssey series, presenter BBC (1988)
  • Siberian Tigers (1994)
  • Collector's Lot BBC (1998)
  • The Lost World of Mulu. C4 (1999)
  • Reflections in the Sand. Discovery (2000)
  • Testament. Carlton (2000)


External links[edit]