John is the younger son of the explorer Eric Shipton, and was born in Kunming in SW China when his father was consul general there. John worked, travelled and sailed in many parts of the world, sailing to Greenland with Shipton’s great climbing partner Bill Tilman in 1975, before going on to teach English in Africa, the Middle East and Greece. Since then he has been running a plant and bulb nursery in West Wales with his partner botanist Alison Foot, specialising in native British bulbs and plants and plants for naturalising in British gardens. John has been leading treks in the Himalayas, China and South America as a part time activity. In the last few years John has taken a passionate interest in his father’s career, undertaking expeditions in the Himalyas, Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego to climb peaks and cross passes still unvisited since Shipton’s journeys. John’s travels in these areas have given him the perfect opportunity to study plants used in British gardens in their native habitat.
Below are some of the areas where he is currently leading tours:
South West China - Kham and Amdo Tibet
In the far SW of China lies the province of Yunnan bordering Vietnam, Laos, Burma and Tibet. The province contains a mosaic of ethnic groups, but the far NW is Tibetan and indeed was once part of the ancient Tibetan province of Kham. Further north Kham stetches into Sichuan and becomes the old North East part of Tibet, Amdo. This Tibetan province covers NW Sichuan and much of the Chinese province of Qinghai. Here the Tibetan grasslands stretch to far horizons across the Yellow river which meanders the first part of its course above 4000m. On school atlases the high altitude purple of the vast Himalayan range and the Tibetan plateau spills untidily south eastwards into China. From the heart of Tibet three great Asian rivers, the Yangtse, the Mekong and the Salween rush towards the sea, cutting their way through the highest mountains in the world. In SE Tibet and Yunnan, the rivers run closely parallel separated by highlands with peaks of 6000m and more, before going their separate ways, the Yangtse in a dramatic bend to the East to fertilise one of the greatest of all civilizations, the Mekong into Laos and Vietnam and the Salween into Burma.
This dramatic country has always been remote for Chinese let alone Europeans, and it wasn’t until late in the nineteenth centuries that intrepid westerners first penetrated the fastnesses of Kham. These were some of the great plant hunters in search of botanical wonders from the region which has one of the richest temperate floras in the world. The cool, temperate climate of the Yunnan highlands, along with plentiful summer rainfall means that plants from here are ideal for establishing in British gardens. The plant hunters, Ernest Wilson, George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward, had rich pickings. Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials hitherto unknown to science were brought back in abundance following their adventurous journeys in the early years of the twentieth century, and now are some of our classic garden plants.
Since 2001 John has been returning to the land of his birth to lead trekking and plant hunting tours in Sichuan and Yunnan in SW China. Two tours he has developed over the years feature with Naturetrek, and details can be seen by clicking on the following links to their website:
Bespoke Tours in South West China
With a group of intrepid Tibetan drivers and travel coordinators John has a team ready to go anywhere and explore the mountains forests and the great Tibetan plateau, and can lead bespoke tours in Yunnan, Sichuan and Qinghai.
Kazakhstan - In search of Tulip species
Tulipa species which feature in our bulb list make a fascinating story, and John has followed it in explorations in the mountains of Turkey and more recently in Kazakhstan.
The Tien Shan mountains of Central Asia are the evolutionary nexus of the Tulipa genus. John led a group there in 2008 and hopefully will be leading a group for Naturetrek in April 2014, see Naturetrek website for details. The following link is to John’s tour report:
Indonesia - The Spice Islands (Maluku - the Moluccas)
In the depths of our winter John has been exploring eastern Indonesia and recently the fabulous Spice Islands
Straddling the equator in East Indonesia, just west of New Guinea, lie a fascinating string of a thousand islands, the fabled Spice Islands. Maluku, formally the Moluccas, was fought over by spice traders from around the world. The magnet that drew them was the spices nutmeg and cloves growing on the volcanic slopes of the tiny islands Ternate and Tidore.
Today the islands are free from the avaricious gaze of foreign powers. The cloves and nutmeg are still growing in abundance but have long since lost their world shaking economic importance. The islands remain untouched by mass tourism, being far away from Bali and the few other tourist attractions of Indonesia. Coral fringes the islands and the pristine coconut adorned beaches are still, wonderfully, unexploited.
Maluku lies across a mosaic of moving tectonic plate boundaries and many of the islands are perfectly shaped volcanoes. A long term result of this geology is the biological fault line, identified by Alfred Wallace. Maluku lies in the heart of the biological region Wallacea, named after the great natural historian. The fauna and flora of this area is a fascinating mix of the Oriental and Autralasian regions on either side. Studying the wildlife led to Wallace’s world shattering “letter from Ternate” which launched Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’. Despite its scientific importance the region remains one of the least biologically studied places on Earth.
In partnership with Ilham Hi Abdullah from Jarajara in Halmahera (the following link is for his blog: http://ilhamtravelguide.blogspot.co.uk/)
John is organizing tours exploring the coral reefs, jungles and volcanoes of this extraordinary corner of the globe, the most romantic in the world.