Our History

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.”

Player added:

“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.