In this latest blog piece from Bristol’s own Birdgirl, Mya-Rose Craig talks about being a young trustee and the lack of diversity amongst environmentalists in the UK
Mya-Rose Craig, AKA Birdgirl
I am half Bangladeshi and since I was a child I have been keenly aware of the lack of people like me out in nature in Britain. In 2015, when I was 13 years old, I set up Camp Avalon to engage inner city and Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) children and teenagers with nature. I decided to run this event, and eleven more over the next five years, because I felt other children and teenagers like me did not have the opportunity to experience and engage with nature and I wanted to give them the chance to do so.
On the very first day I learnt an important lesson. Five boys who were attending the camp were supposed to be birdwatching, but instead of looking through their binoculars, they were chatting and showing very little interest in the ducks. Then one of our younger volunteers started talking to them about peregrine falcons, describing the speed of one of these birds and comparing it to a Formula One car. The boys instantly perked up. I suddenly realised what should have been blindingly obvious: to engage people with the environment you have to make it relevant to them.
I try to help every single child and teenager attending one of my camps to engage with nature in their own way. To do this, I offer a wide range of activities from wildlife art and photography to bird-ringing. VME role models are also essential, who can understand their backgrounds and experiences, as well as being trusted figures in their communities. As well as myself, my sister and mum acting as ethnic minority nature-loving role models, I try to have others at the camps doing the same. Most of the children have never been to the countryside or a nature reserve before joining the camp.
Race Equality in Nature
I wanted to explore the barriers that discourage VME people from connecting with nature so in 2016 I ran a conference called Race Equality in Nature. The event brought together people from the big nature NGOs and race experts from VME communities to find out what the issues were. It highlighted a wide range of issues; from not having appropriate outdoor clothing to a feeling that being in the countryside put you at risk of hate crime. Everyone worked together to find ways to overcome these barriers and produced a list of action points. I then founded Black2Nature to fund camps and conferences and to campaign for VME people to have equal access to nature – in the same way we should all have equal access to health care and education and for the sector to become ethnically diverse.
0.6% of environmental professionals are Non-White“
VME people make up 13% of the UK population, according to government figures, yet the 2015 Labour Force Survey shows that a minute 0.6% of environmental professionals are Non-White. This makes the environmental sector the least ethnically diverse after gardening (which is 0.3%). This is particularly worrying because we are facing a number of environmental crises in the UK and globally, while an entire section of our population have been alienated by the very people that should be engaging with them.
In October 2019 I ran a second conference looking at the action needed to get young minority ethnic people working in the sector. My first proposal was that there should be zero tolerance to racism and that calling it out should be encouraged and supported. The second was that environmentalists need to acknowledge that almost everyone in their sector, as White British people, have benefited from racism in our society because it has given them privileges over minority ethnic people.
Funding Our Future
Unfortunately, getting funding for our camps has been a struggle as many funders have little understanding of our work or the communities we work with. The Institute of Fundraisers recognised the lack of ethnic diversity in their sector as a problem in August 2019, when they published their plan for tackling the issue. Also, we have had a lot of issues with the Charities Commission in terms of becoming a charity focussing on VME people even though there is a clear need for our work.
It’s a frustrating picture running Black2Nature but things are changing. Some organisations are thinking about diversity and taking action like training staff. The next steps are to make diversity a core value, employ VME people to coordinate projects geared towards their demographic and form mutually respectful partnerships with like-minded organisations with expertise in their communities.
If the environmental sector fails to become ethnically diverse it is failing to bring on board an increasingly large section of our society. It will not have the widespread support it needs to stop climate breakdown, create sustainable cities or save the million species that are predicted to become extinct. We have to engage everyone in our society if we are to succeed in turning the tide of the environmental crisis.
Mya-Rose Craig is a prominent British Bangladeshi naturalist, conservationist and environmentalist, is president of Black2Nature and writes the Birdgirl blog – http://birdgirluk.blogspot.com