Nurture through nature

Bridget Biddell will become the new Chairman of the CLA Charitable Trust in the autumn. Mike Sims finds out more about her thoughts on the role and on wider rural issues

What is your background and what are your main interests?

I live in the Surrey Hills AONB. Home is a very special place with beautiful countryside and gentle farming with pasture-fed Sussex cows and fuggles hops. Leafy Surrey, yes, but in contrast and much more hidden from view is the fact that 10% of Surrey’s children live in poverty, 10,000 suffer with mental health problems and only 7% of 16-24-year-olds access open space.

I have had a life saturated by countryside management, farming, forestry, rural communities, being outdoors, walking, cycling through the countryside, and oh yes dogs, donkeys and cold swims. So perhaps this explains my determination and passion to see the CLA Charitable Trust (CLACT) support people across England and Wales to access, enjoy and understand the countryside.

Why is the work of the CLACT so important, particularly in the wake of Covid-19?

'Nurture through nature’ is to me the all-encompassing phrase that covers the work that the CLACT has been supporting for the last 40 years. It is about giving people the opportunity to experience and learn about our countryside and to be nurtured through this. From care farms to camping trips, nurture farms to mentoring in allotments, outdoor education to high ropes courses, there is such a diversity of initiatives and opportunities.

We are seeing an extraordinary and accelerating need for, and a corresponding growth in, this arena – nature-focused, society-benefitting projects, and now with Covid-19 we are all more aware of the need and benefits of nature as a solution to healing and health. We are at the start of a cultural shift towards re-understanding the importance of nature and the huge benefits it can bring.

Bridget Biddell.jpg
Bridget Biddell
Case study: Returning to the outdoors post Covid-19

The pandemic has been a difficult time for rural charities, with most being forced to close temporarily and suffer a loss of funding. In parallel, the lockdown has highlighted how important the outdoors is for mental health and how much value these charities provide.

One of these is the Thanet Countryside Trust, which manages Monkton Nature Reserve near Ramsgate. Just before lockdown it was granted £2,000 by the CLACT to improve its trails and create educational signage for its visitors. With the paths cleared in early March and volunteers in April and May able to prepare for the signage installations, Dr Clive Nuttman from the Trust is looking forward to completing the project and welcoming back visitors who will greatly appreciate being able to access this natural oasis and learn about the natural environment.

Dr Nuttman says: “Thank you from all at Monkton Nature Reserve/Thanet Countryside Trust for your support.”

For more information about the reserve visit

What will you be focusing on as Chairman and what are your plans for the Trust?

I have been a trustee of the CLACT for the last five years. As trustees we have had the privilege of being able to award grants to charities and not-for-profit organisations who are providing the opportunity for nurture and education through nature in the countryside.

This work has only been possible because of the donations that you as members have made. We have continually received many more applications than we can fund and our grants have been restricted in size. It is therefore extremely exciting that, as from December 2020, the board has agreed that you will be invited to increase your annual donation from £2 to £10 per annum.

We now have the ability to make a significantly greater difference to the number and amount of charities and not-for-profit groups that we can support on your behalf, we can be more pro-active and ensure we lend support to the charities with best practise and best outcomes. The future is exciting and we shall ensure you are kept in the loop of what is happening both in your county and nationally.

We aim to make a significant difference in this field of work and to make sure that members are proud ambassadors of what is being achieved.

These are unprecedented times for rural communities and the country as a whole. Do you have a message of hope or any words of wisdom to share?

I am full of enthusiasm and will leave you with a quote from Rachel Carson: “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

Supporting the work of the Trust

The Trustees are pleased to announce that from December 2020, CLA members will have the opportunity to make a bigger contribution towards the work of the trust. With support from the CLA Council and Board, the annual trust voluntary donation is increasing from £2 to £10, greatly increasing its impact and reach.

In 2019, the CLACT was able to support 25 charities and projects, and three bursaries totalling over £68,000. The impact of these grants has been very significant and feedback received from the grantees has highlighted how valuable the work is.

However, the CLACT can do so much more to enable disabled or disadvantaged people to benefit from, and learn about, the countryside and the CLACT’s support is needed more than ever. The Trust has exciting future ambitions to benefit more organisations and contribute in a more meaningful way through larger donations.

For more information email

CLA members will have the option to adjust their contribution to more or less than £10 before their annual subscription is due.