No man's lands explored in 6,000 mile research trip


Researchers are setting off on a 6,000 mile journey marking the centenary of the First World War to explore "no man's lands" from England to Africa.

The expedition will travel through 18 countries from Nomansland, England to Bir Tawil, a disputed territory on the border between Egypt and Sudan, taking in borderlands and historic gaps in territories from the Western Front to the UN buffer zone in Cyprus.

It will also visit places which have become a legal no man's land for refugees and migrants gathering along borders and in countries as they try to make their way towards northern Europe, in a crisis that has unfolded since the trip was planned.  

The team aims to explore the origins and development of no man's lands - a term dating back 1,000 years in the English language to describe pieces of unowned or unwanted land, cracks between international borders or disputed ground between armies.

Driving a Land Rover Discovery Sport, they will drive through the landscape of the First World War's Western Front, trace the route of the Iron Curtain, and travel to Kosovo, Macedonia and Greece. 

They will end their six-week journey, funded through a Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Thesiger-Oman scholarship, in Bir Tawil, described by expedition leader Dr Alasdair Pinkerton as the "world's last truly unclaimed place on Earth".

Dr Pinkerton, from Royal Holloway University of London, said: "We often think about no man's land as to do with the First World War, but they exist in lots of other places, in buffer zones, security corridors, Bir Tawil, the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. 

"They are very different geographically, in different spaces, are produced for all kinds of different reasons, but when you look at them they are all linked by certain kinds of common qualities.

"They are states of in-between-ness, there are different levels of abandonment and different ways in which these areas have been enclosed." 

He said areas where refugees had been gathering in this summer's crisis were a no man's land where people could become trapped in a gap between legal regimes along borders or even within countries, such as in Budapest's international train station.

He added: "What's been really shocking is the realisation how quickly they can form and in what kind of unusual conditions they can form."

The researchers will be talking to people in the no man's lands, including refugees, mayors of abandoned towns in northern France's chemically-poisoned "zone rouge" which was planted with forest after the First World War and French farmers who still plough up the "iron harvest" of ordnance.

:: People can follow the progress of the expedition at