It was so illuminating having Helena Craig on the podcast to chat about the lack of equality, diversity and inclusion in the environment sector, and hear her ideas on what can be done about it. The evidence indicates that we have some way to go in living within a society where everyone is valued equally.
Why equal access to nature is important
- Natural environments can substantially benefit our health and wellbeing. They are places where we can relax and play, find solitude or share with others, and offer us the opportunity to be active or be still.
- If we appreciate nature and enjoying experiencing it, we are more likely to want to protect it. With our natural resources being depleted vigorously, we need as many people as possible to want to protect them.
What the data says
In 2017, the think tank Policy Exchange published a report entitled, The Two Sides of Diversity. It looked at ethnic diversity across 202 occupations; taxi driving and dentistry ranked as the most diverse. This is indicative of the pattern of occupations with the greatest diversity being either low-skilled jobs or highly professional. The environmental professionals’ category was second to last in diversity, with all minorities making up only 3.1%, beating only farming.
In a study by NUS and collaborators using 2016-7 academic year data, diversity was found to be lower within the six main subjects relating to environmental study, compared to the total higher education student population; minority ethnicities made up only 9% compared to 22% respectively. In this report, five environmental charities and NGO’s submitted ethnicity data, where their ethnic minority workforce ranged from about 5.8% to 16.6%; the national average was cited as 19.2%. Within the public sector (government and agencies), 16% of staff within the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs department are minority ethnics, with minimal representation in senior roles.
Barriers to accessing the natural environment
In 2008, Natural England (Government advisor for the natural environment) set up an Access to Nature grant scheme; here several barriers were cited:
- Less access to green spaces – research found in areas where black and minority ethnicities make up at least 40% of the residents, there is 11 times less green space, in comparison to areas where residents are mainly white.
- Economic reasons.
- Language issues.
- Poor access to information.
- Inability to travel.
- Feeling a lack of entitlement/unwelcomed in the countryside.
The NUS study also highlighted the lack of lived experiences by ethnic minorities in natural environments, such as woodlands and seaside; local parks were the only location where access was similar across ethnicities.
What can be done
Suggestions to improve diversity from the organisations involved in the Policy Exchange report included:
• Unconscious bias training for all staff in managerial positions
• Develop a network for minority ethnic staff
• Provide a Diversity and Inclusion Toolkit
• Review and develop recruitment processes and materials
• Develop a paid internship scheme
• Collect data to understand diversity and inclusion
The Access to Nature programme (referred to above) aimed to create high-quality environments to be valued and accessible; rich in wildlife and opportunities for learning, health and wellbeing; safe, clean and attractive and well used. Of these projects, 113 made diversity a goal.
Maxwell Ayamba, a black academic and journalist, wrote an article for CPRE, The Countryside Charity, indicating equality, diversity, and inclusion can suffer from tokenism, with funding for short-term projects that may not be sustainable. He sums up the issue nicely, with “We value biodiversity in our ecosystems, to support the web of life. Why can’t we value human diversity, and promote the things that give all of us, as human beings, a better life?”
Black2Nature (featured in Helena Craig’s podcast) is an organisation aiming to improve access to nature for visible ethnic minorities. In 2015, Mya-Rose (Helena’s daughter), then aged 13, set up her first nature camp to introduce kids to the natural world whilst enjoying fun activities. They also run conferences and campaigns. Helena believes the environmental NGO’s would benefit from taking on board advice given from those with expertise in race and with lived experience of racism.
As a white person, I don’t know what it is like to face bias based on my skin colour and have never received racist comments. I do believe dialogue is important to understand the lived experience of other fellow human beings, particularly those different to our own. A society where we are equally valued and heard must surely be something worth striving for.