Monday, 30 September 2019
A Summary of Black2Nature's previous conference – Race Equality in Nature 2016
The conference considered why there is inequality in access to nature by Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people by first identifying the barriers to BAME people accessing nature and secondly identifying who these barriers can be overcome, with a special additional focus on role models.
The conference included those with the expertise of those working in race equalities and BAME communities, including those working in physical and Mental Health, as well as those with expertise in the nature sector.
The Information available - the most important reports:
The Natural Environment White Paper (2011) sets out the Government’s ambition to strengthen connections between people and nature, and in particular ‘for every child to be able to experience and learn in the natural environment’. The White Paper acknowledges that the “opportunities to benefit from spending time in natural environments are currently not open to everyone”, which can contribute to the health and other inequalities.
The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Select Committee inquiry into the Natural Environment White Paper called for DEFRA to set a target to increase public engagement with nature and for the Department for Health (DoH) and the Department for Education (DoE) to define measurements which demonstrate how greater public engagement with nature delivers gains in public health and education.
So Natural England in partnership with DEFRA, Public Health England, Historic England (previously English Heritage) and King’s College London launched a 2-year pilot to develop a national indicator for children’s access to the natural environment. This led to the February 2016 report, confirming with statistics what was concluded before. The results highlighted “clear social inequalities in how children are accessing natural environments, with both their ethnicity and socio-economic status having a detrimental impact”.
It was assumed as a starting point that there is an inequality of access by BAME people to nature, as the February 2016 Natural England Report found that BAME children had an inequality of access.
Taking this into account, we think seeking equal access to nature for BAME is a valid and justifiable aim. We are not talking about racism being a factor although a lack of understanding of BAME communities can be a hindrance. Many of the issues are within the BAME communities but many working within those communities don’t have the experience to understand how people engage with nature themselves and so can not change things without support from the nature conservation sector. Hence, the idea that getting people together to talk and listen can only help.
We think it is important to attract political policymakers, as we need more detailed research in order to identify the barriers better and some of the work with the communities needs local and central government funding. It is not just the responsibility of the charities to fund the projects needed.
We were pleased to have 85 attendees from a good range of backgrounds, making it an exciting forum for discussion. A full list of attendees is attached.
We had a range of excellent speakers with much knowledge on the issues so that the workshops started with a lot of issues to discuss. We had lively and honest discussions in the workshops, which made a great starting point for change. 85 people attended from a wide range of organisations and communities.
It is apparent from the evaluation forms that those from the nature charities gained most from the first two workshops whilst who work in the communities gained more from the final workshop on role models.
Many liked the idea of a forum (probably closed due to racism on nature social media which would restrict open discussion but can be discussed further) so that contacts made can be nurtured and used to assist and help make a change in the future. There were many action points that came out of the workshops and so it was hoped that everyone present would go back to their organisations and ensure that steps are taken to make a change and that feedback was taken into account. A starting point may just be a Facebook page but it was acknowledged that many people did not use Facebook for work.
The discussions on role models were one that many felt frustrated by, probably partly because the issues are complex and difficult to overcome. We asked for further information and feedback on how we might get to a situation that we have BAME role models within our nature charities and nature media.
A Focus on Nature (AFON) is a group of young people interested in nature between the ages of 18 to 30 years old. They have a number of mentors available for those over 18 years old and their view is that you can not create role models but that when a person appears that they consider has the makings of a role model, then the idea is to support and nurture them so that they can become the role models of the future. We can see that this is a reasonable position to take, where sufficient numbers of potential role models appear.
In terms of role models for BAME people, we agreed that it was important to support young BAME naturalists as soon they show interest because support is needed from the earliest opportunity to help them overcome the barriers against them. Waiting for potential role models to emerge post 18 years old will probably not produce them in sufficient numbers. What we know is that of the few BAME young people that do become interested in nature at university [possibly through their friends], many lose interest within a short time. It is not known what the reason is (so far their young White naturalist's friends have failed to respond with feedback) but the fact that some of these young people have gone to the lengths of closing down their Facebook and social media accounts might indicate that isolation and racism plays a part. Certainly, racism and aggression is a substantial issue on social media for many BAME naturalists.
We discussed work that could be done with teenagers and their parents in order to get BAME young people interested in careers in nature and conservation. We will then need mentors and champions (who it would be preferable if they were BAME but can be non-BAME) who need to have training in issues that affect BAME people. Issues to be considered are how such a mentoring scheme would be administered and how we would obtain the necessary mentors and train them (although liaising with AFON mentors would be useful if possible). Most people working within BAME communities would say that it should be a specific mentoring scheme, aimed and tailored to BAME young people. This would mean that BAME people would not have to compete with non-BAME people for mentoring opportunities and even attention and support, which can be impacted by racism or a failure to understand barriers. It is not sufficient to say that mainly white organisations are colourblind, as we also see colour and so playing fields need to be levelled. Feedback has been, for example, not feeling equally supported on social media, feeling higher levels of jealousy from others, feeling that when others do praise you, people not allowing the praise to just stand but instead in effect saying “yes, but what about all my (white) friends… that is better”. In addition to non-BAME mentors from the nature sector, BAME role models from other professions will also be useful in supporting with issues such as careers advice, internships/volunteering, isolation, lack of family understanding, racism and prejudice.
In terms of BAME people in the nature media, since the conference, we have had an excellent series of BBC Springwatch with many BAME people (naturalists, journalists, poets, singers and Mya-Rose on a video clip) making the programme and nature feel diverse. Well done Springwatch as you have created a feeling that nature is for everyone. That is essential to overcome the feeling that nature is for white people which unfortunately also leads to a forum for racism. It would be great to see the same on The One Show which seems to be watched by more BAME people.
Many BAME people only watch satellite TV and so getting onto these channels to talk about nature and health is just as important, for example, Muslim Mental Health has produced videos about mental health and seeking treatment/counselling in different languages with Imams talking about the need to seek treatment and good health. It would have an impact if we can have people on these channels trying to educate people on the need to go outside and take your children with you.
The next step
The biggest step following the conference is how do we make a change? How do we set up a forum and how will it be run? Do we need to try and get funding (and if so from whom) to have part-time paid employers to attend meetings, liaise, discuss and make things happen?
We also suggest a group for BAME people interested in nature. Universities could be asked to identify BAME students in biology, wildlife or nature courses and encourage them to join. It would be important for BAME naturalists of all ages and experience and ages to be members for a supportive environment. AFON and NGB could be asked to contact their BAME members to also encourage them to attend.
We also need to find and identify mentors for at least 4 under 18-year-olds and a number of people in their 20 who might be interested and be in need of a mentor. There is one particular person who has finished a postdoc but can’t find work in research who would be helped by mentoring.
Steven Moss, Natural Childhood. https://nt.global.ssl.fastly.net/documents/read-our-natural-childhood-report.pdf
This article introduces the concept of Nature-deficit disorder. Alongside the proliferation of technology, the article looks at the decline in the use of local spaces by children. Fewer children are allowed to walk to school or go out in nature unsupervised compared with previous generations. As a result, children are living more sedentary lifestyles, leading to problems with their physical health, including deficiencies and obesity, which can be partly attributed to having less interaction with nature. Mental health is also proven to be affected by lack of nature interaction, mental health issues are becoming more prevalent alongside the trend of less nature interaction. Furthermore, there is declining mental resilience and ability to take risks among children who have little interaction with nature which can be problematic later in life.‘Nature Deficit Disorder describes the human costs of alienation from nature, among them: diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses.’( p.2.). The report also addresses the multifaceted benefits of interacting with nature. Both mental and physical health are benefitted simply by allowing children to play outside. ‘‘Children who don’t connect with nature before the age of 12 are less likely as adults to connect with nature. They, therefore, lose out on the resilience nature provides when you’re really stressed.’ (Dr William Bird Outdoor Nation Interview) p.9. Access to nature also bring educational benefits, by incorporating outdoor spaces into children’s learning, there is what Aric Sigman calls a ‘countryside effect’ – ‘children exposed to nature scored higher on concentration and self-discipline; improved their awareness, reasoning and observational skills; did better in reading, writing, maths, science and social studies; were better at working in teams; and showed improved behaviour overall’ (p.9). The report also suggests community benefits from accessing nature citing a study that suggests that as much as a view of green space from a window can reduce crime by 50%. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0013916501333002?journalCode=eaba) Finally, the environmental benefits of accessing nature are significant. In the wake of a climate emergency, we need children to be connected with nature at a young age. ‘If we are going to save environmentalism and the environment, we must also save an endangered species: the child in nature.’ (p.11).
Keeping It Wild Report 2019
About Keeping it Wild
London Wildlife Trust (the Trust) has been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant for the Keeping it Wild project, which is part of the national Kick the Dust programme. The project aims to engage young people from traditionally underrepresented groups, to take part in practical conservation projects in their local communities, with the overall aim of making nature accessible and relevant to young people living in London.
Shephard & Moyes Ltd was appointed to support a formative evaluation throughout the life of the project; from August 2018 to July 2021. This is our first annual evaluation report for year one of the project, from when delivery started in October 2018 to July 2019.
The project aims to engage 600 young people aged 11-25 to become actively involved in the protection and promotion of London’s natural heritage. The programme focuses on young people who are typically under-represented in the environmental sector by engaging young people from areas of socio-economic deprivation and BAME backgrounds.
In addition to the benefits to participants, the project also aims to change the way the heritage sector connects and engages with young people. A key theme of the project is communications, media and film, in order to ensure that wildlife is more relevant and accessible to a wider audience of young people and to ensure that project partners use best practice when engaging a young audience into their core activities.
There are five strands of activity;
Wild Action Days; one-off, informal taster days delivered at the Trust’s nature reserves.
Wild Action Programme; an eight-week skills development through conservation programme at one of the Trust’s reserves.
Social Action Programme; groups of young people design and deliver their own social action projects and receive a small grant.
Traineeships; a 12-week full-time traineeship programme with a bursary at the Trust.
Young Person’s Forum; a subcommittee of the Trust’s Board of trustees, with the remit of improving the Trust’s communications and engagement strategy for young people.
The project is delivered by a partnership, led by the Trust and includes London Youth, Headliners and the John Muir Trust. The Trust lead on the management of the project, as well as delivery of the Wild Action Day, Wild Action Programme, traineeship and Young People's Forum strands. London Youth lead on the Social Action Projects strand delivery. Headliners provide media training to young people taking part in Wild Action Programmes, Social Action Projects and traineeships, and the John Muir Trust also support these young people to obtain the John Muir Award.
“ I’ve realised at you don’t need to take kids to Lego land to have a good time – you can just go to the park and build a den – it’s much more fun and it’s free.” (group leader)
“ They’ve never done anything in terms of team bonding and only the occasional trip and never with a single focus like wildlife. And they’ve never done anything like this before – developing their soft skills has been great. They are becoming increasingly aware of the environmental impact of everything we do. Some have changed their eating habits or tried to influence their family about where they source their food. The kids are really getting into it.” (Social Action Projects group leader)
“ It’s our future – that’s why it’s important.” (Young People's Forum member) Page 2
Engaging under-represented young people
Across the five strands, 269 young people have been involved in Keeping it Wild in year one, with the majority of targets being achieved. The project has been able to benefit from existing contacts with youth organisations as well as creating links with new groups.
To date, two-thirds of participants (66%) are aged 14 or under. The Wild Action Days, Social Action Projects and Wild Action Programme strands mainly attract younger age groups (14 and younger), whereas the trainees and Young People’s Forum attract older young people (17+). Across all strands, the ‘middle’ age range of 15 -18 is least represented.
The project has been successful at engaging underrepresented groups;
79% are from BAME communities
37% have some form of disability
44% live in the 20% most deprived communities in the country
“ Many young people with moderate learning disabilities are often from families living in poverty. They have a lack of stimulation at home and don’t have the opportunity to just go to the park. They mostly spend their time indoors. Many of their parents will also have learning disabilities as well and when they are severe this affects the amount of money coming into a family.” (Richmond College teacher)
The project is also reaching young people without prior knowledge or experience of engaging with wildlife/nature;
40% had low levels of knowledge of wildlife/nature conservation.
29% had little experience of visiting greenspace.
32% of Wild Action Day and 40% of Wild Action Programme participants had no experience of using greenspace for health/wellbeing.
61% of Wild Action Day and 63% of Wild Action Programme participants had no experience of taking action to conserve or protect greenspace.
“ [They] need more hands-on, practical things where they can see they are making a difference. They want to do things that are ‘real’ not just things for fun – they want to make a difference. This has probably been the most enjoyable programme they have done.” (Wild Action Programme group leader)
The main strength of the Wild Action Day and Wild Action Programme sessions is the practical nature of the activities; young people feel they are helping to conserve the sites by helping with clearance work, habitat development and survey work. It is a different experience to one they would get on a school trip, where they would be passive learners or just there to have fun. The Wild Action Days are also really beneficial to the Social Action Project groups; by helping them to better understand what conservation means and inspiring them to come up with project ideas.
10 young people have benefited from a 12- week traineeship at London Wildlife Trust. As well as benefits to themselves, trainees have also been invaluable in feeding into the Keeping it Wild communications strategy and helping to produce youth-led content which has been shared via the Trust’s social media channels. Feedback from the trainees has been overwhelmingly positive about the experience, in particular, they appreciate the bursary, the variety of the placement and the opportunity to shape the traineeship to meet their own needs.
In particular, trainees have found the experience helpful in learning more about potential careers in conservation and helping them decide what area to focus on. Page 3
“ It felt like a real privilege to work with such a well-respected organisation and get paid. Some people say that jobs are a stepping stone, but this was more like a trampoline – it will open so many doors for a career in conservation. I enjoyed the focus on connecting communities to the site – I now want to work in a conservation role that also works with the wider community – so engagement or education and getting local people involved.” (Trainee)
Young People’s Forum
13 young people have joined the Young People's Forum, which acts as a consultative panel and sounding board for the project, with the aim of ensuring Keeping It Wild and project partners are more effective at engaging and meeting the needs of young people. In year one the forum met four times and discussed a number of topics related to communications and engaging young people.
Young People's Forum members are becoming Keeping it Wild ‘Ambassadors’ and will start to meet with groups taking part in other elements of the programme to help encourage greater connections between the strands.
One key aim of the Young People's Forum is to support partner organisations to embed young people’s views more effectively within their core business. The project is exploring how the Young People's Forum can have stronger links with the Trust’s Board of Trustees, and ideas on how to achieve this were discussed at the July 2019 meeting.
“ Feeling connected to an organisation, it feels like we are listened to - it’s different to volunteering as [we are] able to discuss issues and views.” (Young People's Forum member)
To date, 33 young people have achieved a level one qualification in media and three have achieved level two. Many more young people have received media training, however only young people aged 14+ can achieve the media qualification.
The media training is a valuable element of the programme; photography has worked well as a way to confirm what Wild Action Programme groups have learnt that week, and the trainees have benefited from learning how to use a range of media equipment and understanding the importance of media in a career in conservation.
“ It was really good as they were using cameras, making films and taking photos and discussing how young people feel about being in nature.” (group leader)
John Muir Award
So far, 41 Discovery Awards and 10 Explorer Awards have been achieved by young people taking part in Wild Action Programmes and by the trainees. In addition, approximately 10-15 Discovery Awards have been achieved by Social Action Project groups. The main strength of the Award is its flexible nature, allowing young people to develop their own ideas to achieve the four challenges of ‘discover’, ‘explore’, ‘conserve’ and ‘share’. This means it can fit within the Wild Action Programme and Social Action Project strands of Keeping it Wild and the young people do not need to do anything other than complete the Wild Action Programme or Social Action Project to achieve it.
Keeping it Wild has also provided a good testbed for trialling and developing the online John Muir Award record e-book, with the Young People’s Forum providing feedback, resulting in changes to the resource to benefit all users. Page 4
The difference Keeping it Wild makes
The evidence collected in year one of the project is demonstrating the difference Keeping it Wild is making against a number of key outcomes:
Increase in communication:
18 instances of communications content have been produced by young people.
The communications work is helping young people to develop skills in communications and media production and the content is helping to engage more young people and helping to inform partners’ communications strategies.
An enjoyable experience:
95% of Wild Action Day participants enjoyed the day, 24% of Wild Action Programme participants said it met their expectations and 51% stated it was better than they thought it would be. “ I thought Keeping it Wild would be disgusting, but it was fun. Better than I thought it would be” (Wild Action Programme participant)
Improving understanding and communication:
91% of young people have a better understanding of heritage as a result of taking part.
81% feel that heritage is now more engaging to young people.
“ I found three newts, that was the best bit. I didn’t even know what a newt was before today!” (young person)
88% of young people agreed that in Keeping it Wild there was something for everyone, regardless of their background.
85% agreed that the project was easy and affordable to get involved with.
Improving skills and employability:
95% said they have learnt new things about heritage in a fun and interesting way.
88% of Wild Action Day participants learnt something new.
81% will use what they have learnt.
In addition, three trainees have secured employment in the environment sector.
71% agreeing that heritage can be interesting to lots of different people.
80% are more likely to take part in other heritage activities.
59% are more likely to volunteer in future.
Increase in ownership and responsibility:
84% are more likely to visit their local greenspace more regularly.
61% have a greater sense of ownership over their local greenspace.
84% feel inspired to take action.
Overall, the Keeping it Wild programme has had a successful first year of delivery. In year two the partners have developed a set of actions to build on the strengths of the project and address some of the challenges experienced in the first year:
• Improve the project connectivity and partners; between the five strands • Increase the percentage of 14-18 age group;
• Build elements in more and pathways post-project; between project • Greater between clarity partners; over the responsibilities • Review non-graduate effectiveness trainee between cohorts; graduate and • Explore potential to identify/use other Trust sites.
How do we Change a Whole Sector? Colonialism in Conservation Nature is the cause of Institutionalised Racism – By Mya-Rose Craig https://cieem.net/colonialism-in-conservation/
Our communities love wildlife, nature and the planet as much as yours. So why is it that I am outdoors in Somerset and am the only person enjoying nature that is not white? Despite rural roots and a natural human love for nature, many people claim that Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) are not interested in nature. The question we should really be asking is why do the White Nature Conservation & Media and Environmental Sectors (NCMES) apply a colonial view to nature, excluding VME from ‘their’ space?
First, the terminology; most use Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) or Black Minority Ethnic (BME). However, this includes white minorities so I use Visible Minority Ethnic (VME). I prefer not to use the USA term ‘People of Color’ due to the negative connotation in the UK with the word ‘Coloured’. I also do not like the word ‘Black’ to describe people who are ethnically African or African Caribbean as they are not actually black. I feel it is better to use descriptions, not a reference to colour, which is in any event incorrect. Some prefer Global Majority, as VME people are a minority in the West. However, I do not align with this as we are talking about British people, not people living abroad. The only exception is that I use ‘White British’ as this is the only phrase I have heard used.
I believe that NCMES are unwittingly institutionally racist and contain only people who have benefited from ‘White Privilege’. There is a mono-ethnic view of how our society should engage with nature which excludes VME experiences.
NCMES must accept that their staff have an unconscious bias which results in racism. As well as others at Black2Nature, I have experienced racism, aggression and abuse from NCMES staff. The organisations must understand that they are experts in nature, not Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) and VME cultures and communities and the same goes for VME naturalists unless they can demonstrate EDI expertise. I get a huge amount of aggression on social media when I talk about NCMES and Race. People are not prepared to listen and are defensive as they see themselves as the hero and cannot understand that sometimes they are not. Most VME communities view themselves as urbanites who do not belong in the countryside but also worry about visiting this landscape because of a fear of hate crime.
NCMES have failed to engage VME people and are unable to connect because their staff cannot relate to, understand, target or include them. They must reach out and connect with communities in their own spaces and places. Inequality of engagement creates inequality of opportunity and an unequal planet cannot be a sustainable one. NCMES must not be given credibility, funding or support if they are not prepared to become diverse.
The Natural England 2016 MEME Report looked at how often children visited green spaces. 74% of non-VME children visited frequently, which drops to 56 % for VME. 77% of children from higher socio-economic groups (A & B) visited frequently whilst 65% for lower socio-economic groups (C & D). Therefore, clearly, race and ethnicity have a larger impact than poverty, although this does have an impact.
I have interviewed VME elders about their lives growing up “back home”. All talked about their rural childhoods, swimming, being out in nature and helping on family smallholdings. However, their grandchildren’s generation mistakenly thinks their heritage is urban, however, we can still engage them by referring back to their country of ethnicity.
83% of British people live in cities, with a disproportionate number of VME living in bleak inner cities. NCMES must step outside their echo chamber circles and communicate with people from all ethnicities and backgrounds. There is no excuse for NCMES’ HR, IT and Finance teams being White British, especially if their headquarters are within commuting distances of diverse cities. Diversity brings a wider range of people to organisations and leads to improved performance.
Only 0.6% of environmental sector professionals are VME, making it the second-worst sector after only agriculture. In my experience, there are significantly less VME people working in nature conservation compared to the environmental sector and most NCMES admit to having no VME staff. These shockingly low numbers mean that there is virtually no staff that can relate to, target and include VME people.
At the 2016 Race Equality in Nature Conference, VME Race experts identified barriers such as the countryside being elitist, fear of hate crime, lack of public transport, cultural fear of dogs and lack of suitable clothing.
Education is also a problem. Even if a VME child is interested in a career within NCMES, it is difficult for them to pursue it and their parents will not be supportive of a career they are not familiar with. Many NCMES jobs also require a large amount of unpaid work experience or volunteering – another barrier for people who are from-income backgrounds, do not have access to the countryside or lack direct contacts.
Images of and articles about only white people are very alienating, especially when entire programmes, websites and magazines are without a single VME face. This reinforces the idea that nature is not for us.
Some people tell me that it is impossible to interest young people, especially VME ones, to get out into nature. However, to interest them, you have to make nature relevant; this means packaging nature in a way that means that the person can relate to it. For example, at the beginning of our first camp, the teenage boys were restless and frustrated. A volunteer talked to them about the speed a peregrine falcon drops before catching prey and compared it to the speed of a Formula 1 car. The boys were mesmerised because they could relate a species in nature to something they loved and understood.
Another idea I had was that I identified that lots of teenagers want to learn how to use YouTube, so, I organised a free film-making workshop in an inner-city park for VME teenagers which was run by local TV film-makers. We used nature as a forum for the workshop, which was sold out, where the teenagers came to learn about something they were interested in. I call this ‘nature by stealth’. Many of the teenagers who attended this event, then came to our nature camp a few weeks later.
I have given talks to geography and science teachers at their annual conferences about how to engage their VME pupils in topics such as climate breakdown and wildlife and suggested that they related lessons back to their pupil’s ethnic origins. So, a teacher in Tower Hamlets in London might talk about the ways that climate breakdown was already impacting people in Bangladesh or about Bangladesh’s Sundarbans and the tigers that are still living there.
Many VME parents do not let their children attend school camps and so it is important that camps and events are culturally and religiously aware and appropriate. By this, I mean understanding the differences between the organisers and people from other countries or ethnic backgrounds, so especially differences in attitudes and values. In particular, for wildlife camp organisers, this would be understanding the different cultures and religious needs of the children and parents you are targeting, ensuring that they are met and communicated. For example, we stress that our camp is vegetarian, apart from one takeaway meal when fish and chips are offered, but we ensure this is halal. We also highlight that we have adults sleeping near the entrance of the boys and girls tents so that intruders cannot enter and the children cannot get together after dark. Our camps are successful because we are Muslim and can reassure parents with this. Many of our children have missed out on school camps. We also have to be open to mums coming too, as they want to come and understand how it all works, as they have never been out in the UK countryside before or camped.
NCMES need to:
Accept and acknowledge that they have an issue with Race specifically with Institutionalised Racism.
Obtain advice from VME Race & culture experts, such as Black2Nature, to formulate a Race plan that Black2Nature can assist with. But do not expect consultations to be free.
Make diversity an overriding core value (in the same way that health & safety was improved by becoming a core value in the industry).
Monitor, measure and publish diversity data for Trustees, employees, volunteers and members.
Adopt excellent equal opportunities and recruitment policies, targeting VME communities and ensuring unnecessary requirements aren’t included.
Train all Trustees, staff and volunteers on Race.
All media, whether printed or online, must be diverse in content and images should be reflective of UK society. Every document should pass a “diversity check” and VME role models should be visible on nature TV.
Make nature relevant, for example using “nature by stealth”, referring back to nature within the country of ethnic origin and offering camps that are culturally and religiously relevant and appropriate.
Provide information evenings targeting VME secondary age children and their parents, explaining careers in conservation and encouraging interest in relevant degrees.
Mentor VME students on nature degrees to combat racism and isolation. Provide scholarships and internships to VME students from low-income families, ensuring there are always VME Race experts on selection panels.
Extract from Chris Packham’s People’s Manifesto: Minister for Diversity in Nature Conservation, Mya-Rose Craig
Why is it that despite rural roots and a natural, human love for nature, many people claim that visible minority ethnic (VME) people are not interested? One issue is the mono-ethnic view of how we should engage with nature which excludes VME experiences and thus alienates them. Many in these communities view themselves as urbanites who do not belong in the countryside and worry about visiting this landscape through fear of prejudice and hate crime. Other barriers identified by VME experts include the countryside being elitist, the lack of public transport and cultural fear of dogs. Another reason the environmental sector struggles to engage VME people is due to the lack of diversity of its staff. Only 0.6% of people in the environmental sector are VME, making it the second-worst employer in the UK in this respect. These shockingly low numbers mean that there is virtually no staff to whom VME people can relate or be inspired by. It is also essential that we reach out and connect with communities in their own spaces, as 83% of the UK live in cities and a disproportionate number of VME people live in inner-city areas. The environmental sector must step outside of the echo chamber of agreement and communicate with everyone. Diversity brings a wider range of people to organisations and leads to improved performance. Diversity must be at the heart of their strategy. To protect the environment is to leverage the input and contribution of as many people as possible. Some argue that the issue is not one of ethnicity but of poverty. However, research has been published which shows that 65% children from lower socio-economic groups (C & D) interact with nature regularly, but this drops to 56% for VME children no matter their socioeconomic status. Clearly, ethnicity has a larger impact than poverty. Education is also a problem. Parents of VME children who are interested in an environmental career may not be supported due to a lack of familiarity with the sector. Also, many environmental jobs require unpaid internships, contacts, and access to the countryside, which create barriers. There are also opportunities in HR, IT and Finance, for instance, within the environmental sector which could be filled by VME people, especially with diverse cities within commuting distance. However, change is coming with VME people climbing mountains for charity, Rehan Siddiqui being British Mountaineering Council president, Mohammed Saddiq being Bristol Green Capital Partnership Chair and nature TV having both Liz Bonnin and Anita Rani. The National Trust is leading with their 2017 staff conference on diversity and events attracting 3,000 VME people. Acknowledge and address the low visible minority ethnic representation across the environmental sector The sector to obtain advice from VME Race experts and formulate a diversity plan suitable for all organisations including making nature relevant to the VME community by engaging them with nature in a way that they can relate to Environmental organisations to obtain advice on unconscious bias and how they can increase visible minority ethnic representation, publishing their strategies and progress in annual reports Environmental organisations to adopt excellent equal opportunities and recruitment policies including mandatory diversity training for all Trustees, staff and volunteers The sector to monitor, measure and publish diversity data for Trustees, employees, volunteers, applicants and members Online and printed environmental media to be diverse in content with images reflective of UK society and more VME role models visible on nature TV programmes The government to commission research into the barriers to VME going out into natural spaces, what can be done to overcome the hurdles and take action to make change The government to ensure regular cheap public transport from inner cities to the countryside especially National Parks and Nature Reserves Government departments to provide mandatory information evenings targeting VME secondary age children and their parents, explaining careers in the sector and encouraging an interest in relevant courses Universities to mentor and support VME students taking nature-related degrees in order to combat racism and isolation.
Natural England – Monitoring Engagement in Nature and the Environment
Since 2009, Natural England in partnership with Defra, has undertaken the Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment (MENE) survey. The main focus of the survey is capturing time spent in the natural environment. It also seeks to capture other ways of engaging with the natural environment such as time spent in the garden and volunteering, and pro-environmental behaviours such as recycling. The data enables users to:
Understand how people use, enjoy and are motivated to protect the natural environment
Monitor changes in the use of the natural environment over time, at a range of different spatial scales and for key groups within the population.
Key figures from the 2018-19 survey
Only 41% of adults from a black background and 38% of adults from an Asian background spent time outdoors away from home, more than once a week, compared with 69% of adults from white (British or Irish) backgrounds.
For BAME adults, being too busy at home and at work was a common reason for not spending time outside – for those that take visits outdoors less than monthly, 27% BAME adults suggested they were too busy at home, and 37% too busy with work compared with 15% and 20% of white adults respectively.
BAME adults were also less likely to engage with nature than white adults, with significantly fewer: watching nature programmes(32% v 48%); looking at books photos or websites about the natural world (19% vs 30%); looking at natural scenery whilst indoors or on journeys(24% vs 46%); spending time in the garden(38% vs 63%; gardening(33% vs 52%); choosing to walk through local parks/green spaces on the way to other places(40% vs 60%); doing unpaid voluntary work out of doors(2% vs 8%).
Furthermore, in terms of engaging with environmentally friendly behaviour, BAME adults also lagged behind white adults in every category that was surveyed.
Children with parents from BAME backgrounds were also less likely to spend time in nature – 56% of children with a BAME parent spend time outdoors at least once a week compared with 70% of children with a white parent. These children were also a lot less likely to visit the coast (5% of BAME children vs 19% of white children); the countryside (20% of BAME children vs 40% of white children) and urban greenspaces (64% of BAME children vs 71% of white children)
Black Spaces, White Faces – Carolyn Finney
Why are African Americans so underrepresented when it comes to interest in nature, outdoor recreation, and environmentalism? In this thought-provoking study, Carolyn Finney looks beyond the discourse of the environmental justice movement to examine how the natural environment has been understood, commodified, and represented by both white and black Americans. Bridging the fields of environmental history, cultural studies, critical race studies, and geography, Finney argues that the legacies of slavery, Jim Crow, and racial violence have shaped cultural understandings of the "great outdoors" and determined who should and can have access to natural spaces.
Drawing on a variety of sources from film, literature, and popular culture, and analysing different historical moments, including the establishment of the Wilderness Act in 1964 and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Finney reveals the perceived and real ways in which nature and the environment are racialized in America. Looking toward the future, she also highlights the work of African Americans who are opening doors to greater participation in environmental and conservation concerns
Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
This is a powerful and deeply necessary book in which the author explores what it is like to be a person of colour in Britain today. The book offers an eye-opening account of historical racism and asks the reader to question their own complicity in the institutionalised racism that still burdens ethnic minorities to this day. An essential read, very digestible and well researched.
Birding is Booming. So where are the black birders? Glenn Nelson posted Mar 20, 2019
Tiffany Adams grew up in the Chelsea-Elliott Houses, a sprawling, low-income housing project on the west side of Manhattan. There, cookie-cutter brick buildings are separated by modest courtyards with benches and tables. Trees and grassy yards enclosed by black, wrought-iron fences dot the fringes of the project. The scant open spaces could seem to confine, except to young girls with dreams of growing up to become zoologists or too tired, hungry birds navigating the Atlantic Flyway.
During her youth, Adams escaped to the natural world by watching National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. Five years ago—on a lark, so to speak—she attended a bird walk in Central Park. Looking up in the sky, she saw a world that she could not unsee, even upon returning to her housing complex. There, right outside her door, she saw an unexpected number of avian species—northern parulas, black-throated blue warblers, black-throated green warblers. She hasn’t stopped looking.
“Not too many people saw the value of birding in the projects,” Adams says. “But when they’re migrating, birds don’t say, ‘Oh no, those are the projects, I’m going to go to Central Park. I got to eat, I got to rest, and I got to find a mate. So whatever habitat is suitable for doing those things, I got to find it.’ Ecosystems don’t stop according to neighborhoods.”
A lot of people don’t get Tiffany Adams mostly because she’s Black, and, well, everyone knows Black folks don’t watch birds. Though the outdoor activity is booming in this country, birding is as White—93 percent, according to the most recent U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service survey—as the feathers of a whooping crane. The field markings of the typical American birder would be: White, female, 53 years old.
African Americans make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population, but according to Fish and Wildlife, only 8 percent of all African Americans admit to intentionally viewing feathered creatures, making the Black birder as rare a bird as exists.
One of the uncommon species, Adams now is a self-trained ornithologist who last year completed a master’s degree in urban environmental education at Antioch University in Seattle. She also has the special ability to create various species of birds out of pipe cleaners. Even so, many people refuse to take her ornithological pursuits seriously. Her bona fides still are questioned when she posts about birds on social media.
Or friends misunderstand her passion: One messaged her with a question about a sick cat.
“My friends think either I’m a veterinarian or I’m doing this as a hobby, or that I’m a hippie—and I’ve actually been told that,” Adams says. “For a while, I really felt insecure. Ultimately, I could not stop watching birds. I’ve learned to embrace my nerdiness.”
John Robinson, a Southern Californian who has birded and advocated for Black birding for decades, has a theory about that. He calls it the “Don’t Loop.” It’s simple: African Americans don’t bird because people don’t engage in activities in which they don’t see people like themselves. For Black people and bird-watching, it’s a self-perpetuating scarcity. Bird-watching is not ingrained in the culture the way it is for a lot of White families and doesn’t get a generational handoff.
Robinson surmises that he joined this rare flock because he was comfortable growing up as the only Black kid in a Jewish neighborhood. So it wasn’t a big leap for him when White friends took him out hiking and birding in college. Still, he hid his passion from Black friends who wouldn’t understand and White people who might be suspicious.
It was 1979 when Robinson, then in his 20s, picked up his first pair of binoculars. “I knew I was different,” says Robinson, whose book Birding for Everyone: Encouraging People of Color to Become Birdwatchers was published in 2008. “I felt like I didn’t fit in. I felt like I needed permission.” In public, he hid his binoculars inside his coat.
Few recognize this double dose of isolation better than Dudley Edmondson. He wrote and photographed a book, Black and Brown Faces in America’s Wild Places, published in 2006, about 20 African Americans with deep connections to the natural world. One of the stories is his own.
Nature, for Edmondson, provided refuge from what he calls “the trauma from my dad’s alcohol-fueled rages.” He also had a strong sense of being, as he put it, “an odd duck” while growing up in a Black, mostly blue-collar neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio. The kids teased Edmondson, calling him Euell Gibbons, after the celebrated outdoorsman best known for a 1974 national television commercial for Grape Nuts cereal, which he opened by asking, “Ever eat a pine tree?”
Edmondson hadn’t, and he wasn’t a 63-year-old White guy, either. His tormenters simply worked with the material that was available—and that was Whiteness. Edmondson now lives in Duluth, Minnesota, where he frequently comes across strangers who know him because he’s the area’s “Black guy who recreates.” It gives him the sensation of constantly being watched or monitored.
Not long ago, Edmondson was working on a book about Minnesota wildflowers. He was taking images of some invasive species in his own neighborhood, when a White woman challenged his motives.
“You don’t look like any nature photographer I’ve ever seen,” she said.
Edmondson replied, “I’m your neighbor.”
“I’m calling the police,” she said.
It was the first time Edmondson recognized the phenomenon “birding while Black,” the close cousin to driving, barbecuing, or sitting in Starbucks while Black.
Edmondson’s friend J. Drew Lanham has had a lifelong obsession with birds and describes himself as a “band geek” who played the bassoon. “I’ve always taken pride in being different,” he says. In exchange, he earned the mantle of the Black birder. His hilarious riff on the stigmatized experience of the African American bird-watcher, “9 Rules of the Black Birdwatcher,” first appeared in Orion magazine and later went viral as a video produced by BirdNote, a public radio series about birds.
A professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, Lanham, like Robinson, did not meet another Black birder until he was well into his 40s. He grew up on farmland in South Carolina, frequently encountering birds while passing between his parents’ and his grandmother’s houses. He liked to lie on the ground and gaze up at circling hawks. His grandmother told him they’d peck his eyes out, so when they came within 50 or so yards, he jumped up. “I liked my eyes,” he says. He grew up wanting to fly, tried often, and just as often hurt himself during the attempts.
J. Drew Lanham, left, a professor of wildlife ecology at Clemson University, watches a bald eagle with others at Seattle’s Seward Park. Lanham says he did not meet another Black birder until he was well into his 40s. Photo by Glenn Nelson.
“Birds made me feel good,” says Lanham, who in 2016 authored the book The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature. “They were going places that I couldn’t go. They were going places I wanted to go. I lived vicariously through them.”
These days, when he’s not flushing bobwhite quail, Lanham likes to talk about range maps for humans, linking the concept of showing geographic distribution of birds to the realities of race in the U.S.—where people of color like him can and cannot be. Not long ago, he added Seattle to his personal range map. That’s where he met Joey Manson in Seward Park, at an event for BirdNote, on whose board Lanham sits. While driving in, Lanham noticed Manson waiting to greet him, but it didn’t register that Manson, a Black man, was the director at the park’s Audubon Center. It was an emotional meeting for both. “This is a place that is willing to be different,” Lanham says.
Seward Park is in one of the most racially diverse areas of Seattle. Manson is the only African American director of any of the 41 Audubon Centers nationally. He grew up in Prince George’s County, Maryland, one of the most affluent African American neighbourhoods in the country.
Manson studied glass design at the University of Maryland and ended up in the Puget Sound region, where he got a job running the Audubon store at Seward Park. During his job interview, he stressed that he knew little about birds. Four years later, he’d absorbed enough to be hired as the centre’s director, positioning him to break Robinson’s “Don’t Loop” by introducing birds and nature, meaningfully and intentionally, in a highly diverse area of one of the country’s most White—and affluent—major cities.
“[Birds] were going places that I couldn’t go. They were going places I wanted to go.”
Manson had two epiphanies along the way. On a ride into work one day, he was wowed by a bald eagle snatching a fish out of Lake Washington. Later, he introduced a kid from his apartment building to the outdoors. Nati, who is from Eritrea, told Manson, “Birds are boring.” That attitude changed when, during an Audubon summer camp to which Manson transported him, Nati saw a pileated woodpecker for the first time. The Woody lookalike supplied an avian turning point for Nati, just as the eagle had for Manson.
Last summer, Manson led a bird walk through Seward Park for the Seattle chapter of Outdoor Afro, a national organization seeking to connect African Americans to nature. As part of the prewalk orientation, Manson screened the Lanham video, “Rules of the Black Birdwatcher.” Later, when Manson waxed poetic about hummingbirds and the J-diving mating manoeuvre of the males, Obra Smith, a teacher originally from Memphis, Tennessee, beamed at every word. Her enthusiasm never waned. “That was amazing,” she said while debriefing with other group members after the outing.
Earlier in the day, during the first bird-related outing in her 49 years of life, Smith had peered into a spotting scope, noted the iridescent throat of an Anna’s hummingbird, and pronounced it a male. She didn’t make such a declaration with utter conviction, but with a hint of doubting intonation. She would delight in being told that she was right as rain—well, it was Seattle, after all.
Two weeks later, Smith returned to Seward Park with Tsion Kahssai of Ethiopia, whom she met at the Outdoor Afro walk. Their second time out, the two Black women sampled the forest’s winged delights on their own.
The Mental Health Benefits of Nature Exposure - Psychiatry Advisor
With the vast range of therapeutic tools and techniques at our disposal, mental health practitioners often overlook a key resource that has a multitude of mental, emotional and cognitive benefits, is generally accessible to most people and doesn’t cost a thing: the great outdoors.
As humans become less connected with nature, we lose an essential health buffer. “There is mounting evidence that contact with nature has significant positive impacts on mental health,” said Mardie Townsend, PhD, an honorary professor at the School of Health and Social Development at Deakin University in Australia.
“It is associated with reduced levels of stress — which also has huge ramifications for physical health, reduced levels of depression and anxiety, increased resilience, increased engagement with learning for children and adolescents otherwise disengaged from the education system, improved self-esteem and increased capacity to engage socially,” she told Psychiatry Advisor.
Such effects have been found for not only being immersed in nature — like in the woods or a park — but also for looking out the window at natural scenes and even simply looking at photos of them. One recent study,1 published in 2013 in Environmental Science & Technology, investigated the impact of different types of images on stress recovery. Participants viewed slides of scenes from either nature or a built environment for 10 minutes, and then they completed a task designed to induce mental stress.
The researchers found that participants who had viewed nature scenes had higher activity of the parasympathetic nervous system — the “rest and digest” branch of the autonomic nervous system, which helps balance the activity of the sympathetic, or “fight or flight,” branch — than the other participants. Newer research suggests that the more awe-inspiring the scene, the better.
In a 2015 study,2 people who looked at scenes of awe-inspiring nature (grand mountain ranges and giant waterfalls, for example) had an even greater increase in mood than those who viewed “mundane” nature scenes such as parks and gardens. The awe-inspiring scenes also encouraged a more pro-social value orientation among participants.
These benefits “seems to be related to the visual structure of nature, which seems to be relaxing for our minds. The mechanisms behind this are not yet clear, although my speculation is that nature contains a lot of repetitive structure, which is ‘easy’ on our minds,” said study co-author Yannick Joye, PhD, a researcher at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. The mood improvement was found to be mediated by the feelings of awe, which can “pull you away from your daily petty concerns, and this could improve your mood — which is actually often determined by those small concerns.”
The sounds of nature appear to have similar benefits, according to a 2013 study3 showing that hearing recorded sounds from nature had similar effects on recovery from a stressful situation as the study involving nature images. As for time in the outdoors, researchers from Nippon Medical School in Japan compared the effects of walking through a forest versus walking through a city. Their results4 show that “forest bathing,” as they call it, not only led to decreased stress hormones but actually increased the natural killer cells of the immune system and the expression of anti-cancer proteins.
These effects may be linked with an inborn need for humans to connect with nature. The biophilia hypothesis by Wilson and Kellert claim that we “have an innate love for the natural world, universally felt by all, and resulting in at least in part from our genetic make-up and evolutionary history.”5 Our separation from nature has been relatively recent. In the last 250 years, Townsend points out, and we have not adapted to this division.
She believes that the growing disconnection with our natural environment is exacerbating the escalating rates of mental illness and that mental health professionals should be prescribing time in nature as often as possible, as well as advocating on the policy level to help ensure access to green spaces for everyone.
“For this to happen, high-quality parks, gardens and nature reserves need to be nearby, served by good public transport, affordable, safe, attractive, with good signage and interpretive information, well managed and maintained, and accessible to people with different physical needs,” she says. “If we are to prevent an upsurge in mental health issues, especially among children, we need to re-engage humans with nature as a matter of urgency.”
A review of nature-based interventions for mental health care – Natural England Commissioned Report
This report looks at the benefits of nature-based interventions to help with mental ill-health and looks at the growing evidence that accessing nature can help with the treatment of mental health issues
Where is the black Blueberries for Sal? – Ashley Fetters
Who Belongs in the Natural World? – Glenn Nelson
Lack of Diversity is impeding effective conservation efforts – Suzanne Goldenberg
Environment and Crime in the Inner Cities: Does Vegetation reduce crime? – Frances. E. Kuo, William. C. Sullivan.
This article investigates whether levels of vegetation have any correlation with the levels of crime in an area
From its findings, it suggests that areas with high levels of vegetation had 52% fewer crimes than the areas with low levels of vegetation
Although this is only a single study in one neighbourhood, it does offer a valuable insight into how simply being able to see nature can impact on behaviours and mental health.
Colorful world of birding has a conspicuous lack of People of Color – Martha Hamilton
Firms advertises for black applicants to fill the demographic gap – John Hyde
Night in national park ‘for every schoolchild’ – BBC News
A People’s Manifesto for Wildlife – Chris Packham
Ministry of Social Inclusion and Access to nature – Dr Amy-Jane Beer
Green and Black Ambassadors Project Pilot Report
BME in STEM Conference Report - Bristol University
Dorset Wildlife Trust - Wildpaths: Helping people into Conservation Careers
Imayla - Families in the Wild Report
Catalyse Change - So what was it like - a Catalyst Bootcamp Reviews
Catalyse Change - Do you want to help tackle the climate emergency & social injustice?
Catalyse Change - What is Mentoring & why is having a mentor important
The Dangers of Hiring for a cultural fit – Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Young environmentalist and birder Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig
Copyright Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig
Mya-Rose Craig is a 17-year-old young British Bangladeshi birder, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist, activist, writer and speaker. She is based near Bristol and writes posts about birding, conservation and environmental issues from around the world.
She has been involved in the UK organisation of the Youth Strikes encouraging young people from around the world to not go to school once a month and protest instead demanding immediate action to prevent climate breakdown. This is an interview in New Statesman.
She was a Bristol European Green Capital Ambassador along with Kevin McCloud, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Tony Juniper, Simon King, Miranda Krestovnikoff and Shaun the Sheep! See the full list of Bristol Ambassadors. She has also been listed with the singer-songwriter George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones as one of Bristol's most influential young people.
She organised four nature is helping to run four more in 2019. She also organised a conference, Race Equality in Nature, in June 2016 aiming to increase the ethnic diversity in nature and a second conference in 2019 which tackled the racism within the environmental sector. She has also set up Black2Nature with the aim of working with organisations to increase the access to nature of Visible Minority Ethnic people and is President. Please connect with her on LinkedIn (Mya-Rose Birdgirl Craig) so that she can invite you to join the Race Equality in Nature LinkedIn Group and be part of the change.
She has given over 50 talks, speaking at conferences such as being on a panel with George Monbiot and Caroline Lucas on Sustainability and the Future of Cities. She is a Minister in Chris Packham's Manifesto for Nature in 2018 and spoke in front of 10,000 people at the Walk for Nature. She has also appeared on TV and radio and is particularly proud of being in Silent Roars, a short film which was part of Listen to Britain 2017 https://player.bfi.org.uk/free/film/watch-the-silent-roars-2017-online.
She has been awarded the Bath and West Show Environmental Youth Award 2017 for Bristol for her Black2Nature work EYA 2017. She was also listed as one of Bristol's BME top 100 powerlist.
She loved seeing Mountain Gorillas in East Africa and Penguins in Antarctica over Christmas 2015, her 7th continent. She became the youngest person to see half the birds in the world in 2019 age 17. Please also like her Birdgirl Facebook Page and follow her on Birdgirl Twitter. If you would like to contact Mya-Rose about her work, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post has been produced by Black2Nature interns, Charlotte Martin and Emily Till.