Prince’s Countryside Fund: Connecting with nature

PUBLISHED: 09:00 17 February 2014


In the latest of our series backing the work of the Prince’s Countryside Fund, NAOMI TOLLEY visits one of the charity’s beneficiaries, Running Deer

The vital grants

Giving grants to projects which support and care for the countryside is at the heart of the Prince’s Countryside Fund with £3.3 million donated to 70 projects across the UK since 2010.

Integral to the Fund’s cause is helping those who strive to secure a sustainable future for British agriculture and the wider rural economy. They provide grants of up to £50,000 to projects tackling one of five key issues which have a negative impact on rural Britain.

This vital work has so far helped 52,000 people, from improving service provision in rural areas to supporting rural enterprise, and providing training opportunities for young people to educating people about the value of the countryside.

Last year, HRH The Prince of Wales, pledged £560,000 would be given in grants to further help those living and struggling in rural Britain. This year marks the start of Devon Life’s commitment to visit those projects closer to home where the Fund’s money is having a direct impact.

THEY are all huddled around a campfire, cups of coffee in hand and deep in thought or conversation.

Made up of the long-term unemployed, young offenders and those on the brink of social exclusion or in isolation, the people here all want and are in need of a change. They have either chosen or been referred here on a six-week course in the belief that nature can help them to get back on track.

It’s not a scene you would expect to find here at Great Plantation, a Woodland Trust owned site on the rural peripheries of Dartmoor.

Little hand built shelters made from bent beech and traditional machinery handcrafted from green wood are scattered around a clearing. There’s a sense of community and catharsis as the group finish their break and head back to work in the thick of nature, while Wulf, Bailey and Red, Running Deer’s dear dogs keep the group company.

The sense of facilitating respite, learning, positive personal development and an understanding of the local environment is almost tangible here.

“Some of the young people we have on our courses have never been into the countryside,” says Paul Guppy, a Dawlish-based bushcraft instructor and tutor for Running Deer. “But when you see them on our courses and the change in their faces when they learn to light a fire in the wilderness on their own for the first time, their eyes light up. I never forget those moments.”

Joanna Winterburn, founder of Running Deer, a non-for-profit organisation based in Kenton which is run by a voluntary board of directors and members explains how the charity works: “We use nature as a tool to connect and work with children with learning disabilities, young adults at risk of exclusion, grown men on drug rehabilitation, as well as school groups and the unemployed or those in isolation who want to set up their own business.

“Through a range of courses, holiday activities, bushcraft parties and therapeutic horticulture we work to build their confidence, both as individuals and working as a team. From the basic skills of working with traditional tools, foraging, shelter building, green wood working and making stools, slowly their confidence grows and and they can create something which they can take home with them.

“Funding from the Prince’s Countryside Fund is vital to our work, paying the wages of all of our excellent instructors and tutors who make our work possible.”

Those instructors are Janey Fletcher, 27 from Tedburn St Mary and Tim Williams from Chorley.

“This really gives people the chance to connect and get involved with their natural environment,” said Janey. “Youngsters should be spending time in the outdoors and in touch with nature and less time looking at television and computer screens or sitting up on Facebook until 3am. Feeling like they are part of their environment can work wonders for confidence and identity, which is what we aim to do here, from teaching them basic manners to being part of a team,” said Tim, who is also a Ten Tors team manager with a lifetime spent working in outdoor education.

Running Deer offer several types of opportunities with a difference, some of which might be part of a specific project. These include rural skills short courses, day activities, day care opportunities, training including Awards and Apprenticeships, volunteering and work experience.

“It is recognised that everyone benefits from having access to nature and physical activity,” reads the project’s website “MIND’S Ecotherapy report 2007 revealed that a greener, more active lifestyle aids positive changes to our mental health. With this in mind all of our activities are outdoors and the benefits from participating could include: learning new skills; team building; active participation; self-esteem; confidence building; healthy eating and cookery; personal development; leadership skills; improved motor skills; observation skills and recording skills; and improved health,” it continues.

The scheme has recently partnered with the National Trust .

To donate to the Prince’s Countryside Fund please go to

How it helps-

Nat Oxer, 23, a Running Deer apprentice: “I was spending a lot of time at home as I lived in the middle of nowhere near Okehampton. I was down, I wanted to do something with my time but there weren’t any opportunities.

“If it wasn’t for Running Deer, there still wouldn’t be any opportunities and I don’t know where I would be without them. Just being around like-minded people, working as a team, and most of all just being accepted for being myself, I am thankful. I do still need to work on my own initiative but it will all come together as it is so nice just being able to be outdoors and to work.”

Paul Guppy, bushcraft instructor and tutor for Running Deer: “I believe we should all spend a little bit more time learning how to look after ourselves in the countryside or outdoors so that people as a whole feel more confident in an outdoor environment. But the way society dictates the way a lot of people live means that people have got no idea about nature or their rural environments, which might be right on their doorsteps, and that is tragic.”

Bringing Butterdon Wood Back to Life-

Running Deer recently purchased Butterdon Wood, part of the Fingle Woods woodland. The site is currently planted to Japanese Larch, a fast growing conifer harvested for construction, fencing, gates, telegraph poles and railway sleepers.

Replanted in the late 1980s, the woods have since been under managed, resulting in dense, dark conifer woodland with little growth at ground or shrub level. During the next 10 years, the non-for-profit organisation intends to gradually harvest the Japanese larch, which will change the structure of the canopy, gradually letting the light back in and allowing for natural regeneration of the broadleaf trees already on site.

“This will also benefit the woodland flora and fauna,” said Joanna Winterburn, Running Deer founder. “In areas without significant established broadleaf trees, we will re-plant with native hardwood trees. There are also a significant number of hazel, sycamore and sweet chestnut coppice stands which have been left unmanaged. This has resulted in trees in desperate need of attention. We will also restart the coppicing process using traditional methods, for the production of wood and charcoal, and to improve the health of the woodland. We will create glades and improve the habitat for wildlife, such as the Nightjar which used to be heard in Butterdon Wood before the larch plantation was established.”

As a result, Running Deer will have mixed loads of hardwood and softwood for sale, as well as cordwood, charcoal and tree lengths for construction.

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