Letter to BBC Wildlife Magazine on sexism in nature conservation

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig ringing
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig

My lovely friend Lucy McRobert wrote a brilliant article in the December 2015 edition of BBC Wildlife Magazine.  In it she talked about the sexism in birding and nature conservation. This was something raised by Matt Williams at the September 2014 AFON Conference in Cambridge.  It was a subject that I felt so strongly about, that I was prepared to speak up about it in front of all the delegates.

Lucy McRobert’s article in the December 2015 BBC Wildlife Magazine


This is a longer and amended version of the letter that I have sent about the article.

Dear BBC Wildlife Magazine

Lucy McRobert is exactly right in her opinion on sexism in nature conservation. Even at 13 years old, sexism brings me down.  It’s hard to talk about it without sounding like you have “sour grapes”, but I will try.  I go to Scouts and Guides; in the first, we roll around in the mud and make nest boxes; whilst in the other, we have movie nights and are told Guides aren’t interested in nature.  These stereotypes are ingrained before children even leave primary school.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig doing a Nest Box Survey and ringing as part of Scouts
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig


At age 7, I was in a BBC4 programme about birding, after which I was subjected to a lot of abuse on social media.  If I had been a boy, being out birding at the weekends would have been acceptable and people would not have been clambering to say that I was “clearly” uninterested in birds. A boy would have reminded male birders of their own childhood and would have been seen as normal.  As a girl, I was unfairly labelled as “bored and unhappy”.

Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig in BB4’s “Twitchers: A Very British Obsession”

Many male teenage naturalists have high profile male conservationist mentors, so when they do something good, they are hailed by them as the future of conservation. It’s much rarer for girls to have mentors championing them and when they do something great, they are not promoted in the same way.


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig at BTO Conference in 2014
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig


I have been subject to cyberbullying because of my sex, which no boys have been subjected to. When I was 11 years old, a secret Facebook group of middle-aged male birders targeted me and posted 150 comments about me, including a sexual remark made by a university lecturer. The very next comment was made by a teacher who ignored the remark. Screenshots were leaked and eventually, the group closed but just reopened with a new name. The attitude of other people in the group was simply that the comment should not have been leaked. I know that the group had previously done the same to at least one other prominent female birder who was also leaked sexual remarks.  She got the police involved and got the remarks removed.

Not long after this happened, I wrote a blog post with a paragraph about this bullying incident, the sexual remark and how bad that made me feel. The blog post was posted in a young birders group where instead of any sympathy, a young male birder made a comment making a false allegation about me and that actual paragraph, which was liked by eleven young birders who were mainly boys and were supporting the men in the group. Although this was a small minority of the group, I felt unable to interact with anyone in the group after that.

No boys have to put up with things like that.


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig ringing
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig


There are often comments appearing on social media about me from adult male birders who have never met me, disparaging my birding abilities.  These are comments because I’m a girl. It’s like, if a boy is a birder or ringer (bander) they tell everyone how fantastic they are and everyone accepts it.  If it’s a girl, it’s assumed by many they don’t know what they are doing, especially if they are more bashful about their skills (as girls often are).

Teenage girls obsess about what people think.  I give lots of talks, but never when there are likely to be any young male nature conservationists, as I feel that I would be judged negatively.  Recently, a young birders’ group held a Young Birder of the Year competition. I did not take part, as I felt I would have been criticized if I won or if I didn’t win. Boys don’t care about this kind of

To get on in nature conservation in the UK, as a girl you have to be five times better than the nearest boy.  So that’s what I try to do.

Mya-Rose Craig

Age 13


Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig birding
Photograph taken by and copyright Helena Craig


About The Author

Hi, I’m Dr. Mya-Rose Craig. I am a 19-year-old prominent British-Bangladeshi ornithologist, environmentalist, diversity activist as well as an author, speaker and broadcaster. At age 11 I started the popular blog Birdgirl, and at age 17 I became the youngest person to see half of the birds in the world.

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This is my story; a journey defined by my love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies.

Lyrical, poignant and insightful.’ - Margaret Atwood

This is my story; a journey defined by my love for these extraordinary creatures. Because large or small, brown, patterned or jewelled, there is something about birds that makes us, even for just moments at a time, lift our eyes away from our lives and up to the skies.

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79 thoughts on “Letter to BBC Wildlife Magazine on sexism in nature conservation

  1. I'm so sorry and disappointed that you've had to deal with sexism. I understand your frustration with constantly having to prove yourself against boys/men – I studied geology for 7 years at university and was surrounded by not just students but professors who were all male. I felt as though I had to always have the highest scores on exams to prove my worth. Please know that you are not alone and that many women deal with similar situations daily – a positive aspect is that you develop the ability, eventually, to not let things bother you so much. Good luck and keep up,the fantastic work!

    1. Please don't develop the ability to not let it bother you, there is nothing wrong with letting this behavior bother you as it is immature, sexist, archaic and absurd. Good on you for putting this article out there and calling out this bullshit. Never be afraid to call out people for being sexist, there will be people around you who will support you and be your allies, but sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to wake these allies to what's going on around them – and if you can't have inspirational female rolemodels, just think about how you want to be the role model to other little girls who want to get into birding, be the type of person you wish you could look up to!

    2. Thank you so much. In a way, I have to put on a hard front, otherwise I'd be called a "drama queen". It is scary having people read my post, as I'm worried about a backlash. When I've been bullied, the perpetrators have been really aggressive towards anyone supporting me so I don't want them to start up again. I think it's really important to inspire children to be interested in nature and I really hope that this will stay with me as an adult, whatever I'm doing.

    3. People who disagree with you will always find a way to belittle your beliefs or actions, or make light of your reactions, look up gas lighting if you want to learn more about this, but regardless, don't worry about anyone calling you a drama queen, they're just trying to reduce the importance of what you're saying. And yeah – bullies will bully anyone they can, and bully anyone that tries to stop them, it might be more adult related then suitable for you, but the gamer gate situation recently was a good example of this, when a journalist called out men for their sexism and then was subject to all manner of abuse and threats. It can get ugly, it's not a world that any 13yr old, or anyone else that matter should have to face, but we all have challenges we must face, including the ones that in a perfect world wouldn't exist.

      I wish you all the best for your battles and hope you only grow stronger though adversity 🙂

  2. Hey Birdgirl!
    I'm so, so sorry that you've had to ensure sexism and horrid comments at such an young age, but this early intervention will allow you to become a stronger and more motivated young woman as you continue to grow. Do not ever give up your passion, and let this be your motivation to succeed in everything you do. Please continue to not only bird, but to join in the competitions- don't ever miss out on something because of these insecure individuals. Know that there are hundreds of female birders out there in the world who are impressed with you and very proud of what you're doing and accomplishing. You may well be the trailblazer for young girls who will come after you- they may not have to endue what you've endured since you are speaking out. I admire you greatly, and am excited to see your future endeavors!
    -Fellow Birder, USA

    1. Hi, I really appreciate you urging me on. There are some amazing female birders out there on your side of the Atlantic like Debi Shearwater, Sharon Stiteler (Birdchick), Kimberly Kaufman and Charlotte Wasylik (Prairie Birder) and I seem to have a much warmer welcome there. I hope that I will always stand up against bullying of girls, rather than ignoring it and letting it happen.

  3. Mya-Rose, I think that many insecure men (and boys) feel threatened by intelligent, competent women, especially younger ones. I've seen many examples of this in the USA also. You are already accomplishing truly remarkable things – you are already one of the recognized leaders in this field, smart and articulate and well-informed, and some men still find it hard to accept that women can be superior leaders. Attitudes are gradually changing, though, and you are one of the individuals who will help to drive the change.

    I hope you know that there are many of us in the birding and conservation field, all over the world, who admire and respect what you are doing. I wish you all the best of success as you continue to change the world for the better!

    1. Hi Kenn, you and Kimberley have been amazing in what you have achieved in conservation and for young birders in the USA. You are such an inspiration to me, I really appreciate you taking time out from what be a very busy life to support me. It really helps knowing that you you appreciate what I am trying achieve.

  4. Very interesting, and unfortunate situation. I actually found just the opposite when I was growing up as a young male. I was often ostracized by classmates for liking nature and birds and things like that, because it was not "cool" – I was called a nerd, and belittled for not being like all of the other boys – I didn't play sports, I wasn't athletic, I didn't hunt or play video games. Even to this day, I find that a lot of the environmental educators I encounter are female, and I sometimes feel a bit out of place being a male environmental educator…. Sorry to hear about what you have gone through!

    1. Thanks Jeremy for your honesty. I get all the nature being "uncool and nerdy" as well at school. None of my friends are interested in what I do. That's just on top of what happens in birding.

  5. I see triumph after triumph in the attitude you took after each event you've just related. In the end, I can see that you are brilliant enough that you will look back on your early birding days in a positive way, because of the birds! That's what matters most. This is all a shame on my sex, but it is also part of a bigger pattern that is a shame on our species: the general fear of diversity. As a young childhood birder I experienced exactly the opposite of you from the birding community: I was embraced and mentors were easy to find. Birders took me seriously. But other kids thought I was a weirdo, and I lived in constant fear of the truancy officer. So some of it depends on which group you want to be accepted by.

    Things are not so easy nowadays, having developed a mental illness that leads me to make unfounded logical connections if I don't keep up on my meds. The reputation as a great birder that I enjoyed as a child is distant history, I am taken seriously sporadically (when I have photos), and sometimes I am downright ridiculed, just like you. I still love the birding community. Most are nice, some are totally rude sometimes and nice other days; probably all have their shortcomings.

    I think the mentor gap is hugely important, and older women make up a very large part of the birding community. At the risk of further dividing the sexes, I have to ask why women and girls do not seem to develop mentor-mentee relationships as often as boys and men in the birding community?

    I truly wish you better luck with the community and many great birds.

    Tristan McKee
    Arcata, California

    1. Hi Tristan, I really understand where you are coming from as someone close to me has severe mental illness. I do have a small number of people who re-tweet me and are supportive, who I am not forgetting. They are Alan McBride, Steve Hale, my ringing/banding trainer Mike Bailey and Mike Edgecombe from the Oriental Bird Club. Outside of this small group, I feel very isolated. There are few female birders here, although one high profile female blogger has been pretty mean about me in the past. Probably those women who are high profile are too busy fighting for their own careers, at the same time as looking after a family.

  6. I'm sorry that you have had to put up with such abuses from boys and men, in fact I am ashamed of my sex for how they often treat the opposite sex.

    I think as a man who has had a love of nature (especially birding) from a young age (like you I had a very interested dad) I was lucky that I never had to experience anything like you have, but I can honestly say I don't recall ever seeing any sexism from other people (not to say there wasn't any, as I am sure, sadly, there was), but then the young female birder was rarer than a hen harrier on an English grouse moor back then. I do think there are a lot more women involved in various areas of nature/conservation now, but still no where near enough.

    Believe me when I say that you are a role model for many, and my partner and I have shown you writings to, and held you up as a role model for, both my nature loving son (13) and daughter (6) as someone who is knowledgeable and passionate about nature, like them.

    Keep up the great work.

    1. Thanks very much Ashley. I am really proud that you show my blog posts to your children and I really hope that I inspire them to continue loving nature, especially with such big birding dad and grandad. My big sister, Ayesha, was really cool and a birder and inspired me to carry on loving birds.

  7. Hi Mya-rose,
    I could not believe what I was reading, when I saw what you had written on your blog about what a small minority of men and boys have been saying about you. Please don't let these idiots put you off doing what you love. A lot of these so called men are giving the rest of us male birders a bad name, and are probably jealous of your achievements. Keep going,you are better than that and I am sure you will you will win in the end. Good luck for the future. Mark

    1. Thank you Mark. I try not to let the cyber comments upset me, but sometimes its hard. There are lots of lovely male birders we know, but still some of them wouldn't have liked my parents doing anything about the bullies. I think it's the unfairness of things that bothers me most.

  8. I was a member of the long-gone RSPB Young Ornithologists' Club and even being a boy suffered for people calling me names for being "a swot" (what we'd now call "a nerd" or "a geek"). But I was a boy, so I was brought up to deal with such insults and they never went as low as targeting my because of my sex, obviously – although it did cause the bullies to target my sexuality, accusing me of being "gay" for being in a club. (I am gay, but being a birder when I was 10 was nothing to do with it, obviously!!)

    These bullies – and that's what they are – have very empty and sad lives. Later, you may even feel sorry for them, a bit, for just how sad they are. Most people leave this type of bullying behind in the playground, but some men, sadly, are insecure in their own selves and lash out. The internet makes this easier for them.

    The problem is theirs, not yours. The anger they turn on you is their own anger and isn't actually aimed at you. But that doesn't change anything: it must still hurt, because you're a human being (they've forgotten that; to them you're just lights on a screen).

    Remember that they are the ones with a problem, not you. They are the ones whose hobby is insulting people 'weaker' than them using a medium that lets them be anonymous cowards, not you.

    You are a strong, confident woman with a hobby that is not only responsible and fun and varied and so, so good, but also vital in an age where the climate is being changed by us and our lovely birds are the first to suffer.

    And I agree with the comments further up: stay angry. Don't let this beat you down, don't let this mess with your head, don't let this make you give up. Stay angry – such anger can be turned to so much good. Just look at Mrs Pankhurst, Rosa Parks, Simone Segouin, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi – all women who have succeeded, largely against sexist men, by staying angry and using their anger. You're already something of a role model, as people say above. Keep at it. You're a hero. Really. x

    1. Thank you Jamie. I understand being teased for being a "nerd", but that's just my "friends" at school. I do want to stay angry and keep talking about this issue and about the lack of diversity in nature, that I have also been campaigning about. Lots of people think I should shut about things and that it's going to get me in trouble. I don't care and I hope that being worried about what people think never stops me from speaking out.

  9. Really sad and disappointed to read about the treatment you've had. I'm a birder myself and have a two year old daughter who I'm hoping will be as interested in wildlife as I am (she's certainly showing promise already!). We need to be encouraging young people to get involved in conservation more than ever whatever their gender. Keep up the great work and don't let these idiots discourage you.

  10. Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep showing the world how wonderful you are. I sadly see many of my own experiences in your story, I started as a young birder too. You are doing great work, and I know it is hard but keep going. Don't let them win.

    1. Hi Jake, thanks for sending a link to your article. I had no idea that you had all of this on line abuse. It's really shocking what people will say setting at their computers, in their homes, TO CHILDREN! My mum checks all the comments for my blog now and deletes anything that isn't positive. That helps to protect me a bit.

  11. It is really disappointing to read about your experiences, but I'm heartened by the fact that you've managed to highlight this problem.

    I have an 18 month old daughter and it's people like you who will inspire her as she gets older. For too long, conservation has been dominated by males and it's time for that to change.

    Please don't be put off by the small minded who can't see past the end of their binoculars – we desperately need to change the image of conservation and birding in particular.

  12. I'm a 50-something male birder, and I have young, female birder friends to whom I go for advice, and who are better at bird ID than I am. They make valuable contributions to conservation work.

    The Dilys Breese Medal – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dilys_Breese_Medal – is named after a woman and has been won by other women, for their birding skills and contributions.

    It's shameful that you have had to experience hostility from other birders. They should be ashamed.

  13. Hi Mya-Rose
    I am so sorry to hear about the totally unacceptable treatment you have been subjected to.
    I am so glad to hear that you are brushing it aside and continuing with your interest because conservation and birding will be the ultimate winner. Stick to what you love – you rock!
    Best wishes.

  14. While I am sorry that you feel let down and unsupported as a female Birder, I think you need to be slightly careful with how you phrase some of your comments. You are judging all young male birders/conservationists as one. If you are not careful this may alienate you further from them and to claim no boys have faced bullying and negativity is very narrow minded of you. Many of them, as you, have grown up with bullying from peers and feelings of isolation and disregard from older members of the birding/Conservation world's.
    My son a keen naturalist and conservationist was dreadfully bullied at school and in the football club he played for, due to his interest in birds and the natural world. He had to leave the football team!!
    You have been very lucky and travelled the world and are a positive role model. Don't let peoples attitudes spoil your love of birds. You should be doing what you do because of your obvious passion, not because you want to impress people or be given accolades.
    Keep your head up high and enjoy being in the rise of the next generation of naturalists – whether female or male!! You guys all have the same passions and are on the same side. Work together to protect our natural world. Good Luck.

    1. Will, always a good link.
      Mya-Rose, please don't listen to that comment – the bullying this person's son received was obviously not gendered like yours is. You're obviously birding because of your passion, but it's natural to want to impress people and have your achievements recognised as well. Saying that prizes etc aren't important is a way of trying to minimise the way people are neglected by those systems – just look at how people are saying that the Oscars are silly and don't matter, so it doesn't matter that black people are being excluded from them.
      "You guys all have the same passions and are on the same side" is true when it comes to birding, but obviously not all birders are on your side. But I know you're going to prevail no matter what. Keep questioning everyone, no matter how important they might seem, and always ask yourself 'would this have happened to a man?', no matter how much people try to say that's not relevant.

    2. Hi Will, I understand the point you are making, but I don't think it's going to be too relevant in my case. Every time I go world birding, I meet lots of guides and birders who I get on really well with and who recognise that I'm a really good birder who looks and enjoys the birds, rather than just ticks them off (as if anyone really does this). I also know lots of local birders, ringers and twitchers (having been introduced to Britain's most prominent twitchers age 9 days old). I can safely say that I don't lump them together and lots of them respect me. I am really sorry that your son was bullied because of his birding but this seems to be a common thing. Thank you for your kind words and I will try and ignore the past.
      CJ, that you also for your lovely words and defence of my position. I will try to keep raising issues and will never be the person who stays quiet (which I know might not do good sometimes)

  15. It is sad that even today there is a stigma associated with wanting to be a 'naturalist' or 'conservationist' in schools. I remember years ago that my careers advisor tried to steer me away from my chosen path and many could not see how I could possibly make a career 'working with wildlife' . So, I too champion you in all your endeavours and wish you every success. You are young, keen, talented and already have the following deserved of your talents. I hope you find a mentor and one that will see you achieve your goals. Champions of wildlife, like you, are needed all over the world and I look forward to seeing you achieve such aspirations in years to come. Very best wishes to you! Dr Brett Lewis – Consultant Ecologist/Biologist

  16. Very brave girl. You are truly a role model for birdgirls all over the world. My daughter-in-law to be is one such like you, free and fearless. She had won the Pune bird race and chose hard bird research on large grey babbler movement patterns for her post-grad thesis. So there are other birdgirls out there. So take heart from them and also give heart to those who feel threatened and vulnerable out there. We root for you and hope you go on to acjieve any great things. Best wishes from India.

    1. Ashwin, thank you for your support. Your daughter-in-law sounds amazing and I hope she reaches the top of her field with her brilliant post grad. She is very inspiring.I really appreciate you leaving your kind words.

  17. Hello there! I don't know if it remained silent on twitter, but I came across a link to this on my FB feed today. When I read "a secret Facebook group of middle aged male birders targeted me and posted 150 comments about me, including a sexual remark" – my jaw literally dropped. I cannot fathom how any adult can in any shape or form harass another person this way, even less a child. Their behaviour was unsound to say the least, and I hope at least a few of them have had the intelligence to be embarrassed in retrospect.

    I am not active in the field of conservation, but as an adult I had to live through a period in which a number of supposed adults decided to actively turn against me. In doing so they used arguments that were astoundingly misogynistic (even the women did): I heard on the grapevine that I was 'insanely jealous', 'out of control', 'bat-shit crazy' etc. What I had actually done was to tell a lot of people that their behaviour was not ok. Which I was perfectly entitled to do. They were, of course, entitled not to agree with me. But they were certainly not entitled to spread unpleasant, wildly exaggerated things about me, which – in hindsight – rather revealed their true nature and that I had had a point when I'd originally criticised them for not being the best of people.

    Anyway – the MOST difficult thing was that many people who didn't know me, simply assumed it had to be true because they heard it from so many people. So for quite a long time I was living in a less-than-warm world… However, a year or two into it, I bought a narrow-boat and settled on the canal. This threw everyone. People simply couldn't put together the picture of a person being 'out of control' and at the same time being cool-headed enough to take on a whole new venture and doing so successfully. After that the rumors finally died away. During all of it, I had to pretend like nothing, of course and act very confident.

    So go out there, hold your head high and maintain a firm calm. By declaring clearly where you stand on this you will feel the opposition, but you will also attract those who think like you. You have a strong spine and a good head on your shoulders. That should be enough to attract a mentor ~ assuming there is a mentor out there that has a spine too!

    My very best wishes, Mya-Rose!

    1. Hi Anki, thank you for sharing what must be hard to talk about. It really helps me to try and be strong. I haven't disclosed the details of what happened to me and feel there is a bit of "we're ok" from a few other young female birders, so it must be a problem with you. Ultimately I may have to stop covering up for the people who have bullied me.

  18. Just keep doing what you are doing; no-one can take your 'pleasure' away.
    It's a sad world we live in now, but I have great hope for the younger generation like yourself to turn it around.

  19. It's great to see that the views of a smart young female birder are getting so much attention. 'Be the change you want to see in the world' Mya-Rose

    With all good wishes, BRIN BEST

  20. Hi Mya-rose. I'm afraid I'm an "old boy" ( 74 today in fact ) but also in the sense of being involved with birds all my life, including working for the RSPB. Don't give up, that's the main thing. Working in conservation for 20+ years and being associated with several Wildlife Trusts I was more than aware of how many girls are now employed in birding. The same goes for the BTO. I'm afraid I'll apologise for my gender as tribalism can be a bad habit displayed by some!!! Stick with it, you've achieved more than most of your critics already. Best of luck. John.

    1. Thanks John. I know that there are lots of women working in the main conservation NGOs and hope that one day these numbers are reflected in management (rather than the odd one or two like Stephanie Hilbourne who are amazing)

  21. Hey Birdgirl,

    Like everyone else, I'm sorry you've been treated that way, but it says more about them than it does about you – you're carrying yourself with dignity, while they're throwing their dummies out of their prams!

    I loved nature when I was a kid, and I used to spend ages pouring over my butterfly ID book (because that's clearly the only acceptable insect girls can be interested in!); however, it was never encouraged by my parents because they weren't interested in it, and neither were my brothers.

    You're completely right – my Rainbows, Brownies and Guides groups never encouraged girls into nature. It was the rare camping trip 10 minutes down the road, or making egg and cress sandwiches. It's shameful that it hasn't improved (Girls weren't allowed in Scouts then).

    I didn't really get back into it until I was in my mid 20's, and (hopefully) finishing my research Masters at the end of this year (7 years later!).

    What I have noticed is the number of females on wildlife or animal based degrees – far exceeding males; though their experiences may not be as far reaching as yours, you're not alone in your birding quest or in your future.

    Unfortunately, this sexism isn't going to go away overnight, but we're making changes every day.

    By turning up at your local nature reserve, you're making a difference – you might change the mind of a man who decides to bring their daughter/niece/granddaughter along for the day, which plants the seed for the next girl.

    It's Mother Nature at the end of the day!!


    1. Hi Mandy, thanks for your supportive words. There seem to be lots of women on courses and working for the NGO's so hopefully this will change things. I think it will probably be slow though. My Mum was a partner in a law firm and although there are more women then man coming in, it was still men promoted higher and faster, because they were better at selling themselves. I will try and be a role model for younger people, especially girls

  22. I'm really sorry to hear about your experiences, i can be really tough being a young, talented woman as people always seem to want to belittle women for what they do. I was in the young ornithologists club when i was a young woman. I was not popular in school, people thought i was weird because quite frankly, i preferred spending time with my parrot and watching birds, but i kept at it, and studying birds led me to become a wildlife artist.
    Never give up what you do, there will always be horrible people who try and drag you down, but keep doing what you love and you might well be the best out there someday 🙂

    It is a very much male dominated field but there are other women out there, its the same with wildlife photography, but don't let anyone put you off doing what you want to do

    1. Thank you so much, it's interesting to hear your story. What I have found is that there are some young women who like being in the boys camp and have the attitude that they haven't had any problems, basically pointing to that my concern is unfounded.