It is a fact that nature sustains life, yet many people, for whatever reason, are disconnected from it, disengaged from it, and unaware of its important function in keeping them alive.
That’s where young nature guardian Mya-Rose Craig aka Birdgirl is aiming to increase access to nature to young people, particularly black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
The 16-year-old British Bangladeshi, who lives near Bristol in the UK, has been pro-active in engaging BAME groups in nature. For the last three years, she has organised Camp Avalon, a camp for inner city minority ethnic teenagers to connect with nature and to connect with each other.
She explains: “In 2015 I was organising a weekend camping and then read something about a lack of minority people getting involved in nature, so I changed the focus of the camp and decided I wanted to get some kids out of the city and into the countryside.”
Research carried out by Natural England – the UK government’s adviser for the natural environment in England – in 2016 found that BAME households were less likely to visit nature than non-BAME households.
According to Natural England, 74% of non-BAME children visited nature frequently compared with 56% of BAME children.
Mya-Rose Craig founded Black2Nature in a bid to get Black and Asian inner city dwellers involved in natural history and environmental issues through walks, talks and practical experience. She was awarded an Environmental Youth Award in 2015 from the The Royal Bath & West Society for her efforts, and has since worked with nature NGOs to increase the access to nature to BAME people.
Writing on her blog, Birdgirl Blog, Mya-Rose Craig said: “There are complicated reasons why BAME people don’t go out into nature. I’ve interviewed people and things that come up repeatedly are feeling the cold (lots of BAME people will say that they are genetically evolved to live in hot climates and therefore feel the cold more than non BAME people), lack of warm and waterproof clothing, crowded inner city parks in the summer with anti-social children hogging play equipment, poverty and lack of public transport, fear of gangs or that their children will be targeted as trouble-makers by the police, cultural fear and dislike of dogs, fear of racism in the (white) countryside and feeling that nature activities are for white people as these are the images used by nature charities and television.
“Once I’d started to think about these issues from my family’s point of view, I have realised that things will only change if we can help overcome barriers. We also need BAME role models within nature TV and then try to increase the number of BAME people who watch these programmes. I hope that one day, when I walk in the countryside it will be normal to see a BAME family walking along, enjoying the nature around them.”
Coming from a family who have a strong resonance for nature conservation, Mya-Rose Craig has been exposed to birdwatching and nature all her life. The fourth word that she spoke was “birdie” in fact. And her aim is to see 5,400 species of bird – half of the world’s identified species – by the time she’s 18.
In an interview with Friends of the Earth, she said: “I am a naturalist and love nature and wildlife, though my love of birds is the most special to me. If you spend any time with birds you will realise how special they are. Birds are amazing. They can fly, so how awesome is that? I get a thrill every time I see a new bird.”
Being a guardian of nature is a role that Mya-Rose Craig takes very seriously. A role in which she has been both recognised for and awarded for. Last September, she joined TV presenter Chris Packham for his People’s Walk for Wildlife through London to raise awareness of the catastrophic declines in Britain’s plants and animals. Publishing The Peoples’ Manifesto for Wildlife, Chris Packham also invited Mya-Rose Craig to contribute to the manifesto. The manifesto, conceived by 18 wildlife experts, details proposals to save nature in the UK.
She told Friends of the Earth: “I want to do everything I can to save the environment from damage and persuade people to do the same. I want to combine my passion for nature and wildlife with my love of adventure to become a nature TV presenter – going on expeditions to remote places, looking for rare or undiscovered species.”
Images Sources: Birdgirl and Chris Packham Twitter page
Rosa Medea is Life & Soul Magazine’s Chief @rosamedea