How Ethnicity and Wealth are Impacting on Children Going Out into Nature

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Camp Avalon
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Camp Avalon
Camp Avalon
Camp Avalon


I am a 14 year old birder, naturalist, conservationist, environmentalist and activist.  I have been going out into nature all my life visiting lots of different types of places like open countryside, nature reserves, the coast, country parks and urban green spaces.  On these visits, I almost never saw Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) people.  My Mum is British Bangladeshi and from seeing my Bangladeshi family’s lack of interest in nature, I assumed that BAME people didn’t go into the countryside because they didn’t like it.  However, this didn’t fit with why there are birders in Bangladesh but not here.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig on Somerset Levels

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Laila on Somerset Levels
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig with Laila on Somerset Levels
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Camp Avalon on Somerset Levels

Last year I ran Camp Avalon for young birders and used contacts in the community to get 5 inner city BAME teenagers to come.  At first they were bored and didn’t know how to enjoy nature.  Then over the weekend, they all connected in different ways, which was brilliant to watch

Camp Avalon
Camp Avalon
Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at Camp Avalon
Camp Avalon
Camp Avalon
Camp Avalon


Camp Avalon

That’s when I realised that anyone can engage with nature, they just have to be taken out into it and shown how to.  David Lindo, a well known British BAME birder, has called this “opening the door to nature” which makes a lot of sense to me.  After Camp Avalon, I wrote to the four biggest UK nature charities about getting more BAME people into nature.  All were positive and wanted to meet up, which is how I had the idea of holding a conference. The conference is called Race Equality in Nature and takes place this Friday on 3 June 2016 and aims to try a d get more BAME out into nature.

I am also running Camp Avalon again this year 15-17 July 2016 and want to take 10 BAME teenagers from the inner city out with us.

In 2011 “The Natural Environment White Paper” was published which said that the Government wanted 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 also confirmed that the opportunity to get benefit from spending time in natural environments (NE) were not open to everyone, which could contribute to 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 the number of people that engaged with NE and for the Department for Health (DoH) and the Department for Education (DoE) to set out measurements which show how more people engaging with nature would be better for people’s health and education.

So Natural England in partnership with others ran a 2 year pilot to develop a way that children’s access to NE could be measured.

The aim of this pilot was to find ways of measuring children’s access to NE.  The results from 2 years confirm that we can quantify and monitor the proportions of all children in England visiting NE’s by different measures and also consider any links between how often they visit and things like family income and ethnicity.

The Results
Natural England Report – Published 10 February 2016

Monitor of engagement of the natural environment: A pilot to develop an indicator of visits to the natural environment by children

The pilot stated that there were clear links between better health and access to NE across all socio-economic groups, so for this reason the review set out its role of increasing people’s access to NE.

The research relates to children under 16 in England only

How often children visited NE was linked to ethnicity and socioeconomic status, with those from BAME households less likely to visit
74% of non-BAME children visited NE frequently
77% of children from higher income households (socio-economic groups A & B) visited NE frequently 65% of children from lower income households (socioeconomic groups D & E) visited NE frequently 56% of BAME children visited NE frequently
11% of non-BAME children never visited NE 9% of children from higher income households never visited NE 14% of children from lower income households never visited NE 17% of BAME children never visited NE
As well as highlighting clear social inequalities in how children are accessing NE, this report also shows a strong link between adults visiting NE and children living in the same household visiting NE

In households where the adults were frequent visitors to NE, 82% of the children were also frequent visitors

In households where the adults rarely (or never) visited NE, the proportion of children visiting frequently halved to 39%

75% visited NE with a parent; 15% visited with grandparents, and another 15% visited with other family members that didn’t live with them
8% visited NE with their schools
10% of children in higher income households visited NE with their school
6% of children in the less affluent C2 and DE groups visited NE with their school
22% of children visited NE without adults (alone or with other children)
48% of children visited local urban parks

Analysis of other data has previously shown that adults are also more likely to be frequent visitors to NE when there are children in their households.

Variations by ethnicity and Socio-Economic Group (SEG)
The proportions of children visiting NE were lower amongst BAME and less affluent people.
More affluent socio-economic groups were also more likely to visit with Scouting or Guiding Groups and visiting with grandparents was noticeably higher among children from the non-BAME population (18% non-BAME vs 5% BAME)
Visiting with friends (with no adults present) was also higher among children in the
non-BAME population (15% non-BAME vs 8%)
Children were more likely to visit local places than places further away.
The highest proportion of visits by children to ‘non-local’ destinations was to urban parks and the beach/other coastlines (11% and 8% respectively).
Places visited most often by children were urban parks (48%), playgrounds (28%), playing fields (26%) and country parks (16%).
Of visits to a nature reserve in the previous month 7% non-BAME visited a nature reserve 10% of children from higher income households visited a nature reserve 4% of children from lower income households visited a nature reserve 3% BAME visited a nature reserve.
I think the results in this section show that we should focus on getting BAME into nature close to their homes in cities and that very few are visiting nature reserves, so work needs to be done in this area.

Reasons for taking children out was similar for all families for the top few reasons, however overall the reasons for BAME were more limited – to play with children, let
children play, get fresh air, spend time with family and relax and unwind.
There is a strong link between the visiting behaviours of adults and children within households. I, therefore, think that we need to focus more on getting parents out into nature and not just on the children.

The results of the report show obvious social inequalities in how children are accessing natural environments, with both their ethnicity and socio-economic background having a big negative impact.

I think these results are shocking and are what led me to go ahead with organising the “Race Equality in Nature” National Conference hosted by Bristol Zoo Gardens.  The event is supported by Bristol Multi Faith Forum, which is keen to support the conference.

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 realized 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 programs.  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.

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4 thoughts on “How Ethnicity and Wealth are Impacting on Children Going Out into Nature

  1. Fantastic post! I totally agree with you about getting the parents out in the field to influence the children. I have been trying to convert my Nigerian girlfriend to birding but she laughingly says "it's for white people." I havent given up! I'm trying to reach women my age and younger who reside in cities and think of hiking and outdoors as trendy–using birding as the gateway to care more about conservation. Your camp effort is tremendous–congratulations on your work and for getting started so soon. I too grew p birding but did not discover my utter passion for it until my late 20s (now I'm in my early 40s). I look forward to following you for years to come.

    1. Thank you for your support. It's great that you are trying to change things too. The thing I've learnt from our Conference last Friday, Race Equality in Nature, is that there are lots of ways to enjoy nature other than the scientific way of identifying birds, moths, butterflies, orchid etc. Try persuading your Nigerian friend to walk through an open green space with you, just taking in the beauty of your surroundings. Have you seen my recent posts about 30 days wild? There are lots of ideas there to try.

    2. I have indeed taken her out, and in fact she has thanked me many times over for our walks in nature. But what I have introduced to her is so unlike what she does with her other girlfriends so to her it's distinct to me, esp. as I am her only close friend who is white. She has great enthusiasm, she just needs more practice! I love your ideas for 30 days of Nature and those are so easy to bring into one's life. We just have to open our senses!

  2. That's brilliant. I think that people are very influenced by friends and this is the joy of having friends from a range of diverse backgrounds. I don't have much option for this, as my school is pretty much almost all white, but I do have friends who are the children of my mum's family and friends. It's hard making 30 Days Wild easy enough for people in inner flats to do but I'm going to keep trying.

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