I think we can build stronger and more inclusive communities around conservation. I’m 15 years old and currently doing my GCSEs. I picked the name ‘Birdgirl’ on choosing my first email address when I was 7 and it has stuck. It was my parents and my older sister that really got me into nature and birdwatching from an early age.
When I was about 11 I started a blog. At first, I didn’t know where to start so I just wrote about everyday birdwatching. But then it morphed into writing specifically about my love of nature and birds. I think we’ve forgotten that in the end we are all animals and so, by nature we should be outside more! We can’t just be cooped up in an office or school all the time. It’s important for your mental health to go outside and soak in nature and the sunshine and just relax. Personally, I find nature is a separation from everyday life and it takes me away from the stress of my exams. A green space of any kind helps.
I’ve developed a bit of a following on social media and I enjoy the conversations there. Twitter is renowned for being toxic and negative, but I like how concise and dynamic it is. In the environmental sector I think people can be too tied down, but I feel free to call out bad behaviour. I really speak my mind and I’m not afraid of being emotionally led.
In 2015, I was inspired by the American-style summer camps to set up a camp for young birders and naturalists here in Britain near where I live in Somerset. It is called Camp Avalon. I read an article in an American Birding Association magazine that talked about the lack of race equality in birdwatching.
I realised I wanted to engage minority ethnic kids that don’t necessarily have the opportunity to get out to nature. The focus of the camp became about getting inner-city kids out into the countryside, camping and doing nature activities. For some it is a chance to get away from city pollution, to smell the fresh air and to meet cows and sheep for the first time.
I’ve decided I want to make a bigger impact in this area. I thought: let’s get environmental NGOs involved and so I wrote to the biggest ones I knew and decided to have a conference. It was called ‘Race Equality in Nature’ and was all about trying to find out what the issues are with getting Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people into nature and what we can do about it. From there I set up an organisation called Black2Nature. I plan to work on it more when I’ve done my exams.
Groups are segregated in our cities for various historical reasons – migration, family ties – but there isn’t any reason for them to remain separate. They just need incentives to engage outside of schools, churches or workplaces and around similar goals and passions. Occasionally a particular issue does that, like fracking or litter, that local communities can unite against to contest.
If we are clear about the barriers I think they can be overcome, especially if we find the right role models. It’s also about engagement between different communities. That is what I like about the nature camps because new connections between young people of different backgrounds are made there.