Race Equality in Nature: What’s Happening in Bristol

To begin the Cultures of Nature and Wellbeing project, I’ve been researching Bristol-based environmental activities, including local drives to get people out into nature. What I’ve discovered is a critical, multifaceted and lively conversation concerning race equality in nature being led by BAME naturalists and young people across the city. This first post is mostly a compilation of links to events and quotes from reports. I’ll be following this up with more reflections of my own soon!

In June 2016, Mya-Rose Craig led the first Race Equality in Nature Conference at Bristol Zoo, which featured expert speakers from various sectors, Kerry McCarthy MP and Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, Monira Ahmed Chowdhury, an expert in equalities, Lily Khandker, Bristol Multi Faith Forum (BMFF), Bill Oddie OBE, wildlife expert and broadcaster, and nature writer Stephen Moss (a colleague of mine at Bath Spa).

A summary of the conference was written by Helena Craig, Mya-Rose’s mother and founder of ‘Race in Nature’, and includes the introduction below:

The conference considered why there is in equality 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 expertise of those working in race equalities and BAME communities, including those working in physical and Mental Heath, as well as those with expertise in the nature sector.

Reports from the conference can be found on Bristol BME Voice’s website, and in this open access drive.

One of the major outcomes of the conference is that Mya-Rose Craig set up the organisation Black2Nature, and has committed herself to furthering race equality in nature across Bristol and the South West. Mya-Rose is a 14 year old British Bangladeshi birdwatcher who runs the successful Birdgirl Blog. In the last few years, she has co-organised Camp Avalon, a project to get young people, especially BAME youth, out into the countryside to learn about birds and their environment. The Camp Avalon blog has some extraordinary photographs of young people handling birds and looking on in absolute awe and delight (do look!). It’s clearly a hugely positive experience for young people, and a unique way of accessing the natural world for people who may have no experience in birding and camping whatsoever.

Mya-Rose has also recently compiled a report on BAME elders and their experiences of nature. As she notes in a recent blog post:

Many younger minority ethnic people haven’t heard anything about their heritage other than their knowledge that it is city based, like they and often their parents have experienced. So I decided to interview four minority ethnic elders who all came to Britain in the late 50’s and early 60’s and all have grandchildren living in central Bristol. I wanted to find out about their childhoods, especially about the ways in which they connected with nature and the outdoors.

Ujima Radio broadcast Mya-Rose’s interviews with BAME elders here and here, and she plans to upload more recordings of these conversations on her blog soon.

Ujima Radio has also been contributing to race equality in nature by appointing  Green and Black Ambassadors Zakiya Mckenzie and Jasmine Ketibuah-Foley. They are part of a five month initiative, which began in October 2016, to address BAME exclusion from Bristol’s environmental sustainability efforts. You can find out more about the Green and Black Ambassadors on Twitter and on their project page, which also includes information about the lead-up to the G&B Ambassadors appointment, including the 2015 event ‘Green and Black: An Alternative Green Capital’. At this event (report from Bristol Green Capital here), attendees debated the successes and failings of the 2015 Bristol European Green Capital campaign, and one contributor raised this important point.

… there was a belief that it was seen as an elitist campaign which directs its messages mainly to a white middle-class demographic. One attendee pointed out that, Gloucester Road is covered with Green campaign posters, Stapleton Road was left untouched. Why is it that the campaign is just aiming their agendas at the central zone of Bristol and neglecting the rest of its communities?

Lack of BAME representation on sustainability boards, a ‘zoning’ of green campaign posters, and a failure to appoint BAME role models for young people in environmental charities are all cited as part of the problem, and for this reason the Green and Black Ambassadors are engaging in the following activities

  • Conduct Community Action Research: to explore why exclusion exists in the sustainability agenda, and propose means for overcoming issues.
  • Collate Case Studies: to help establish learning lessons from local exemplars of inclusive green initiatives
  • Create Media and monthly Radio shows: to share learning and experiences, raising the profile of the Green and Black agenda
  • Undergo Leadership Development: receiving leadership training and mentoring
  • Advocate for ‘disruptive’ constructive challenge: better connect environmental and social justice, and promote engagement with more diverse communities.
  • Support an application for funds: to ensure the continuation and up-scaling of the pilot.

For World Wetlands Day, 2nd February 2017, they presented an episode of Bristol’s Big Conversation, an hour long report on BAME engagements with nature in Bristol. It is part of the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust Slimbridge and Ujima Radio green take-over, and brought together diverse voices from across Bristol to discuss obstacles to BAME people, and some of the positive steps being taken in the city. In the report, Zakiya and Jasmine reflect on the ‘internal and cultural issues that probably stop a lot of BAME people from engaging with nature.’

The short film Diverse Natures was produced for World Wetlands Day, and shows and some of the activities run at the wetlands wildlife reserve in Slimbridge to get young people out into nature. It also includes footage of a workshop with representatives of BAME communities and groups, who list obstacles to engagement including: weather and inappropriate clothing, feeling out of place, lack of BAME representation in environmental charities, lack of role models on TV, time, money, difficulties travelling, hostility and racism, and perceptions that nature is ‘for white people’. The conversation is really worth listening to, and highlights some of the positive changes that are being made in Bristol, as well as areas for serious improvement in order to really diversify access to nature.

Links and citations

Birdgirl. ‘Minority Ethnic peoples’ rural heritage’ Monday 23 January 2017. http://birdgirluk.blogspot.co.uk/2017/01/minority-ethnic-peoples-rural-heritage.html

Camp Avalon Blog. http://campavalon.blogspot.co.uk/

Diverse Natures. WWT Slimbridge and Ujima Radio. Thursday 2 February 2017. https://vimeo.com/202186827

Green and Black Ambassadors. http://bristolgreencapital.org/project_cat/greenandblack/

Bristol Green Capital. ‘The Green and Black Conversation’ 11 December 2015. Web: http://bristolgreencapital.org/the-green-black-conversation/

Ujima Radio, ‘Babbers (Bristol Ageing Better)’ Hour 1 of 2. Monday 23 January 2017. http://listen-again.ujimaradio.com/index.php?id=33588

Ujima Radio, ‘Babbers (Bristol Ageing Better)’ Hour 2 of 2. Monday 23 January 2017. http://listen-again.ujimaradio.com/index.php?id=33589

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One thought on “Race Equality in Nature: What’s Happening in Bristol

  1. I was privileged to be the presenter of the Babbers Show (see above) that Mya-Rose’s interviews featured in which followed a 7th Nov. show all about Mya-Rose, the Race Equality in Nature conference and Camp Avalon. (All on Ujima Radio 98 FM)

    We do have some more material to go out on my next show and I’m honoured that Mya-Rose will be a ‘roving reporter’ for us too, she has a great radio personality as well as being very knowledgeable about so many things. Thank you Mya, JK

    If you feel you could help present or contribute to the Babbers Show then please contact me, JK Kennington at Natural Opportunities, Ujima Radio 98 FM or via Bristol Ageing Better – we are actively looking for older people who like to chat about their interests on community radio so this could be your opportunity to share your views especially if they fit in with the article above’s viewpoint. JK

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