Mya-Rose Craig is no ordinary British teenager. She is one of the leading lights in a mission to bring equality to the appreciation of nature.
From an early age, she became passionate about conservation, in particular birdwatching. Helped by her father’s love for birds too, she quickly became bonded to the world outside her front door. At the age of seventeen she can now lay claim to being the youngest person to have spotted half the world’s known birds — amounting to 5,369 species.
However, it’s not her knowledge of the avian world that defines the role she is playing in the world of conservation. There’s a fire much deeper rooted inside her that has contributed to her being awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Bristol.
The cultural conservation gap
Mya-Rose is from Bangladeshi heritage. Her cultural background led her to question why everyone that seemed to be involved in the world of conservation within the UK was white.
Whilst she would perhaps not go so far as to suggest that conscious exclusion is at play, it was clear that non-white minorities were not being pulled into the natural world. “I personally felt that it has got to the point where being able to access and enjoy nature has almost become a privilege and I just find it completely unacceptable”
Widening things out
Mya-Rose’s first solution was to create the first “Race Equality in Nature” conference to highlight the lack of diversity in conservation and environmental work. It’s an event that brings together NGOs, academics, young naturalists and representatives from black, Asian and minority ethnic and faith communities.
The findings of this coming together have been as diverse as the subject they’re trying to understand. Issues such as the clothing required for English weather, a cultural fear of dogs in black people and simply the underlying disconnect through a feeling of elitism that is prevalent across the western world.
The environmental sector is among the least diverse in the UK —just over 3% of environment professionals identify as non-white minorities according to one study.
In 2016, Mya-Rose set up an organisation called Black2Nature. The idea is to enable inner-city teenagers to get away and take part in countryside camps where they can immerse themselves in the environment through workshops and talks.
“I feel like there’s this very old-fashioned picture here — it’s going out in your fancy birding clothes with your pair of binoculars, and a lot of people just don’t really fancy that idea,” says Mya-Rose.
Solving broader problems
The work that Mya-Rose and others like her are doing, extend beyond conservation. Studies have shown getting out into green spaces and getting in touch with nature is good for mental health. She also tries to lessen the impact of her overseas birding trips by choosing ecotourism that benefits local communities and by promoting biodiversity issues at home.
Furthermore, she believes that if the simple pleasure of spotting a bird can lead to political activism, then it stands to reason a disconnect from nature must be a factor in harming the environment and climate. “It’s increasingly important to make sure people really care and understand the environment because without knowing it and loving it, there’s no way that they’re going to be able to make the sacrifices to look after it,” she says.
How we are support conservation
Conservation is about how we treat and interact with the natural world in all its forms. We champion a number of amazing brands in the UK that are helping to address issues of biodiversity through re-planting and sustainability.
Thanks to dw.com for the original article and particular credit to Naomi Larsson as the first article’s author.