The Wilderness Foundation UK harnesses the positive power of wilderness to change lives and the positive power of humanity to save wilderness. Our dual goal is to preserve wild spaces and to enable people – especially the young – to experience their life-giving power.
We offer programmes through the UK and parts of Europe; our wilderness trails enable adults and youth to explore unspoilt wild places in Southern Africa and Europe.
Explore our history, our youth programmes, our trail experiences for adults and youth, and our corporate engagement. Check out our blog for the latest news on all of these offerings.
If you feel, as we do, that wilderness must be preserved and that more people deserve to experience the benefits of wild spaces, please join us! Volunteer with one of our youth or conservation programmes or donate to ensure that our children will always be able to find wild spaces to heal their souls and minds.
The Wilderness Foundation UK harnesses the positive power of wilderness to change lives and the positive power of humanity to save wilderness. The wilderness is an irreplaceable catalyst for personal transformation and growth. In the wild, people experience a deep sense of belonging, centeredness, and peace.
If humanity does not protect wild spaces, our children will never experience this transformation.
Every year, the Wilderness Foundation brings thousands of people into the wilderness. We do so not just to benefit the individuals – though the benefits are great.
We help people to experience wilderness because there is no better way to move them to preserve wild spaces for the future. When they do, then our children’s children will also be able to experience the positive power of nature to change lives.
That is why the Wilderness Foundation exists. Won’t you join us?
Jo has been a Director and Chief Executive of the Wilderness Foundation since 2004, but has been involved as Projects Director and Project Coordinator since 1998.
South African by birth, Jo has enjoyed a rich life of wild places in many parts of Africa as she grew up. She trained and worked as a Social Anthropologist during the time of Apartheid, working mainly with rural communities. Understanding and measuring the effects of value on wellbeing and encouraging people to respect and understand the value of wilderness and nature lies at the heart of her passion in her work.
Jo focuses on the effects of wilderness on developing sound youth leadership built on environmental awareness and ethics, and developing positive wellbeing and mental health in young people who are vulnerable or at risk.
Using the extensive wilderness network and her close link to South Africa and programmes running there, she merges best practice from around the world into creative programmes that suit British climate and culture.
Over the past 20 years, Jo has established a wide range of programmes within the Foundation to meet these needs of nature connections, individuals and society as a whole. These include Wild Swans women’s leadership, Sirius Environmental Leadership Programme, TurnAround Programme, Out There Programme and the Chatham Green Education Programme. Jo has been a passionate advocate for the Imbewu Programme in South Africa, and in 2014 launched a Scottish programme to mirror this. Jo also leads the South Africa wilderness trails out reach – keeping her love of the wild intact and sharing this with others.
Jo is a Master NLP Practitioner and Advanced Psychotherapeutic Counsellor. She uses her skills in behaviour change facilitation and motivation across the board, with a particular focus on the outdoors.
Angely has a Bachelor Degree in Business Administration from the University of Western Sydney. Before moving from Hong Kong to UK with the family in July 2014, Angely has been Human Resources and Administration Manager for over 15 years and has worked in different multinational companies such as DHL, Nestle, OOCL and Merrill Lynch. Angely joined the Wilderness Foundation in 2017 and manages volunteers, HR, and heads up the Foundation’s Administration functions. Angely is grateful to be part of the Foundation family which helps young people to overcome their difficulties in lives.
Rebecca has a Postgraduate Diploma in Counselling and Psychotherapy from the University of Edinburgh. Rebecca’s love for the outdoors has been a constant since a young age which inspired her to combine her passion for the environment with her professional calling as a counsellor. Starting as a volunteer on the Wilderness Foundations’ IMBEWU programme in 2016, she fell in love with the concept of fostering disadvantaged Scottish youths’ interest in nature.
As Wilderness Therapist for the Foundation she works in various locations throughout Scotland providing therapy outdoors using mindfulness based exercises, creativity and nature itself to help individuals to increase self-awareness and to find tools to feel more able to cope with the difficulties of life.
In her spare time Rebecca enjoys walking through woods, van life and burying herself in a good book.
Helen is an experienced consultant and project manager working For the Wilderness Foundation on a freelance basis since 2016 managing our Scottish Programme – Imbewu. Working with a wide range of Schools, Estates and and other key Partners Imbewu enables young people in Scotland to access and learn about rural jobs, connect with nature and develop their employability skills. When Helen isn’t busy working on Imbewu you will probably find her up a mountain or overseas somewhere.
Jenna has a BSc (Hons) Marine & Environmental Biology from the University of St Andrews in Scotland and has been working in environmental education for over eight years. Jenna started her career as marine biologist and wildlife guide in South Africa before moving to Ireland and working with migrant and refugee young people and families. She returned to her environmental roots by becoming an Environmental Education Officer with ECO-UNESCO in Dublin. Jenna moved to the Wilderness Foundation in 2016 and leads the educational delivery of the Chatham Green Project. She recently trained as a Forest School Educator and has introduced Forest School sessions on site, alongside very popular nature based holiday clubs for primary school children.
Jenna is deputy Safeguarding Officer and supports the management team on issues across our range of programmes.
Jonathan has been a key member of our team since January 2009. Initially brought on to project manage impACT – our environmental youth action group based in Chelmsford, Essex, Jonathan now manages and grows our Down To Earth programme as part of the Chatham Green Local Food Programme. This is based on six allotments on the Melbourne Estate in Chelmsford where Jon manages a range of volunteers who come to us with mental, physical and emotional issues . Jonathan is a keen naturalist and is passionate about wildlife and the environment. He comes to us with a many skills, including those of wildlife photographer and film maker, which gives enormous strength to our work in providing visual documentation of our achievements. Jonathan also has experience as a lecturer working in Chelmsford and is an active volunteer helping in the local community. Jonathan combines his Foundation role with running his own successful business.
The Wilderness Foundation UK has a collaborative approach and works closely with a number of partners, both within the Wilderness family and other conservation organisations.
Ian Player also founded the Wilderness Leadership School to bring people – especially young people – into the yet-untouched wild areas of South Africa.
The Wilderness Leadership School is our key partner in offering youth and adult trail experiences in several Southern Africa wildlife reserves. The school provides experienced local trail leaders who ensure that our participants stay safe and have a life-changing experience of wild Africa.
Our other partners include the following international conservation organisations:
We are honoured to include among our Patrons:
Our past Patrons include:
- His Grace The Duke of Wellington KG LVO OBE MC DL
- Dr. Ian Player DMS (Our Founder)
- Sir Wilfred Thesiger KBE DSO
- Sir Laurens van der Post CBE
- Colonel Norman Vaughan
- David Rattray
- Lady Diana Kemp-Welch
The Wilderness Foundation UK is governed by a board of trustees, who meet every quarter to monitor our progress and plan how we can better fulfill our mission. We are grateful to our distinguished trustees for their service:
- Stuart Kerr – Chairman
- Toby Aykroyd – Vice Chair
- Andrew Sheepshanks – Vice Chair
- Ed Posey OBE
- Jo Roberts – Chief Executive Officer
- Vance Martin
- Peter Davidson
- Olivia Shaw
- Peter Martin
Sub-committees of the main board will meet between trustee meetings to support the Chief Executive and Senior Management Team with areas such as Fundraising, Advocacy, and Strategy. Day-to-day management is the responsibility of the chief executive officer, working with the project managers who oversee activities and provide services to participants.
We are also grateful for the help of voluntary specialist advisers: respected professionals who provide advice on issues in their fields. Quarterly steering group meetings provide feedback on current activities and service improvements.
The Wilderness Foundation UK is a registered charity and company limited by guarantee.
The Wilderness Foundation UK was founded in 1976 by Dr. Ian Player, international conservationist, and Sir Laurens van der Post, writer, explorer, and philosopher. Ian Player, a native of South Africa, is best known for saving the white rhinoceros from extinction.
Player established the first two protected wilderness areas in all of Africa, iMfolozi and St. Lucia in South Africa. With his Zulu guide and mentor Magqubu Ntombela, he founded the Wilderness Leadership School. At a time when it was illegal for people of different races to gather in South Africa, they established a multiracial program that became a worldwide movement dedicated to preserving wild spaces and enabling people to experience them.
Ian Player died in 2014. His partner Magqubu Ntombela preceded him in 1992.
Their work lives on in Wilderness Foundation Global and the Wilderness Foundation UK, expanding to touch thousands more lives in many different ways.
We still take adults, and now young people, on once-in-a-lifetime wilderness trail adventures in Southern Africa—adventures that often inspire a deep connection with nature and a passion for conservation.
In addition—inspired by our founders’ belief in the healing and spiritual powers of wild spaces—we now have many programmes in the UK that bring young people and adults into the wild to experience nature’s healing and recover their own resilience.
When Ian Player looked for a symbol for the Wilderness Leadership School, Magqubu Ntombela gave him an erythrina leaf. That leaf became the symbol of Wilderness Foundation across the globe.
Using the Zulu word for erythrina, Ntombela said:
“The msinsi is a tree found in the wild and also in the settlements. It is our job to take people from the settlements to the wild and then bring them back again. The leaf has three points, and each point contains a message: Man to God, Man to Man, and Man to Earth.”
“Many years later I realised that the fourth relationship was the internal relationship of each of us to ourselves, and that was as big a mystery as the leaf itself.”
The goal of the Wilderness Foundation UK is to connect people—especially struggling urban youth—to these four essential relationships. Find out how you can help.
The Wilderness Foundation UK is a founding member of Wilderness Foundation Global, the international umbrella organisation supporting 60 years of wilderness conservation established by Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela.
Wilderness Foundation Global is the only international conservation organisation that
- Was born in and operates out of Africa
- Is dedicated explicitly to wilderness awareness and protection that integrates spiritual, cultural, and experiential values
- Has always respected the necessary role of indigenous people and communities in conservation
For nearly 40 years, Wilderness Foundation Global members have convened the World Wilderness Congress to bring together conservationists from across the globe. Our members have offices and daily operations in Africa, Europe, and the Americas, with emerging programmes in Asia and Australia.
The Wilderness Foundation organisations recognise the practical and spiritual importance of wild nature. We work to protect wilderness and connect it to the needs of people. We collaborate across cultures, institutions, and nations to build a broad social movement for conservation of the natural world.