Imbewu means seed in Zulu. Imbewu Scotland sows the seed of a passion for nature and rural life in underprivileged urban youth. Weeklong trails in the most remote and beautiful parts of Scotland grow participants’ love of the outdoors and interest in rural careers along with their employability and social skills.
Supported in part by Scottish Land & Estates, the programme connects urban youth—most of whom have never experienced the natural world before—with the wisdom of people who live and work in rural Scotland. Aside from the many benefits to youth’s social and physical well-being, Imbewu also inspires young Scots to consider opportunities for rural employment.
“I want to…incorporate the ‘Leave No Trace Principles’ into everyday life and, in work, attempt to find ways to do things that are less damaging to the environment.” —Kirsty, 2013 Imbewu participant
Imbewu is open to young people ages 13–16 from one of our 40 partner schools in Scottish cities. Current funding enables us to run three or four Imbewu groups, each comprising up to 12 young people, each year.
Imbewu is a weeklong experiential learning course in rural Scotland for groups of up to 10 young people. The course features a three-day wilderness trail in Scotland’s wildest countryside. Led by professional wilderness guides, participants:
- Learn camp craft by hiking, camping in tents, and cooking outdoors
- Build problem-solving skills and grow their self-esteem by encountering and meeting challenges posed by the natural world
- Practice conservation and Leave No Trace principles
As in all Wilderness Foundation outdoor programmes, Imbewu participants enhance their well-being simply by being outdoors in the wild world.
Participants are inspired to preserve natural spaces and explore new career pathways. The curriculum includes rural heritage, conservation practice, estate management, and sustainable land management. Experienced gamekeepers and estate managers help supervise hands-on experience with rural jobs such as wildlife conservation, estate management, fishing and forestry, and renewable energy.
In the course of the weeklong programme, participants earn the John Muir Award and Leave No Trace accreditation. These recognitions enhance not only participants’ self-esteem but also their employability.
Following graduation, our education coordinator continues to help Imbewu participants explore rural careers. Our Pathways to Progress handbook guides them into further education choices, employment, and work experience in rural Scotland. In addition, our partner estates and other rural employers—the same ones who provide experience of rural careers during the Imbewu programme week—offer work placement and volunteer opportunities for many Imbewu graduates.
Imbewu is led by highly trained Wilderness Foundation staff members who are trained to keep young people safe, engage them in outdoor activities, teach them new skills, and help them build relationships with adults and with one another.
Imbewu participants learn how to do outdoor activities with local estate managers, countryside rangers, wilderness guides, gamekeepers, and the like. All such leaders are carefully vetted. These rural guides offer authentic experience of careers and activities in the natural world.
A two-year pilot, funded by Scottish Natural Heritage and the European LEADER Programme, studied the outcomes of six Imbewu trails. Of the 85 participants:
- 51% made curriculum course choices based on their Imbewu experience
- 34% were influenced by Imbewu in their further education choices
- 27% took part in rural employment
- 50% reported an increased connection to nature
Sean’s story illustrates how Imbewu helps young people find their place—and the possibility of meaningful employment—in the outdoors.
At 17, Sean was one of our older Imbewu students. Because he has dyslexia, Sean attended Hollybrook Academy in Glasgow, a school for pupils with additional learning needs. Sean always wanted to work in nature but never had the opportunity.
On the recommendation of his teacher, Sean applied for Imbewu and was accepted for the programme at the Douglas Estate, North Lanarkshire, in September 2014.
Sean took enthusiastic part in the three-day wilderness camping expedition, learning about wildlife and land use. During the following three days, he and the other participants worked with estate staff and local volunteers on conservation tasks such as making and erecting bird boxes.
Sean so impressed the Douglas staff that the estate manager offered him a week’s work experience. Following successful completion of a week with the Douglas gamekeeper team, Sean accepted another week’s placement on a different estate in spring 2015. The Douglas & Angus Estates then offered him a two-year modern apprenticeship in gamekeeping. Sean is considering further education at the University of the Highlands in gamekeeping.
“Sean said from Day One that he’d like to be a gamekeeper when he leaves school. I never thought there was anything we could do to facilitate this for a boy from a Glasgow scheme who attends an additional learning needs school. Through the Wilderness Foundation and the kindness of the people at Douglas & Angus Estates, Sean got to experience his dream job.” — Steven Lawrie, Hollybrook Academy