Race Equality in Nature Conference – Black2Nature
On 3 June 2016 I organised a conference at Bristol Zoo called Race Equality in Nature which was sponsored by Bristol Zoo Gardens, The Wildlife Trusts, WWT, Swarovski Optik, Opticron, AFON, Bristol Multi-Faith Forum (BMFF), Imayla, CASS and Brian Eversham. I am very grateful to all the sponsors and those who helped, without whom I could not have arranged the conference.
|Bill Oddie and Birdgirl Mya-Rose Craig|
The speakers were, including myself opening, Bill Oddie, Kerry McCarthy (Environment Secretary at the time), Stephen Moss (broadcaster), Dr Richard Benwell (WWT), Jini Reddy (naturalist) & Experts in Race Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Monira Ahmed Chowdhury (CASS), Lily Khandker (BMFF), & Rachel De Garang. The speakers had a wide range of expertise to contribute.
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.
85 people attended the conference from a diverse range of backgrounds including many of the nature charities, BBC NHU, Media, Universities, National Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund, BAME people, and those working with BAME communities such as housing, education and mental and physical health. It was the first time that so many people from such varied backgrounds and professions had got together to talk through the issues, with BAME led lively and honest discussions in workshops.
The conference came from the starting point that there is an inequality of access by BAME people to nature and that this was in addition to the effects of inner-city deprivation, as concluded in the February 2016 Natural England Report. It then considered how and why there are these inequalities by identifying the barriers to BAME people accessing nature, how these barriers can be overcome, with a special additional focus on role models.
The biggest challenge following the conference is how to make a change?
It was agreed, amongst other things:
- To set up a group, which has been set up in LinkedIn, Race Equality in Nature
- Ask universities, AFON/NGB, etc to identify BAME people studying nature subjects and members
- To set up a Whatsapp group of BAME naturalists, for mentoring & support
- To chose a snazzy project name (Black2Nature) and obtain funding
- To recruit an employee with expertise in race equality, diversity and inclusion and ideally nature to collaborate with nature charities & media, schools and universities, etc
- Where possible, initiatives are BAME led
- To promote the project with BAME led articles and workshops
- Nature TV needs to meet commissioners quotas (see Linkedin Group “The ‘D’ Word”)
- Nature NGO’s to prioritise recruiting BAME people for HR, Marketing & Finance roles
Seeking equal access to nature for BAME people is a valid and justifiable aim.
Due to nature organizations being almost all white, there was an ingrained lack of understanding of BAME communities and at times arrogance about this missing knowledge which acts as a hindrance. For this reason, projects need to be BAME led where possible, which can happen through collaboration.
Many barriers are within the BAME communities with those working within them having a lack of expertise in engaging people with nature. Hence, the need for collaboration with nature NGOs.
Nature charities/media need to engage in the project from the highest levels so that all staff can be trained and bought in. For example, preventing staff from stating unhelpful things, such as that the organisation is colourblind (we all see colour and so the playing field needs to be levelled to compensate for stereotypes).
It is important to involve political policymakers to highlight local/central funding needed
In terms of role models for BAME people, we agreed that it was important to nurture young BAME naturalists as soon they show interest because support is needed from the earliest opportunity to help them overcome barriers.
BAME mentors and champions are needed, be trained on the issues, to give a tailored scheme. Those from other professions can support with general careers advice, internships/volunteering, isolation, lack of family understanding, racism and prejudice.
Schools/universities need to encourage and educate BAME teenagers and their parents to choose degrees in biological sciences to gain interest in careers in nature and conservation.
Conference Documents Appendix 1.2 –
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 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”.