Why is it that despite rural roots and a natural, human love for nature, many people claim that visible minority ethnic (VME) people are not interested?

One issue is the mono-ethnic view of how we should engage with nature which excludes VME experiences and thus alienates them. Many in these communities view themselves as urbanites who do not belong in the countryside and worry about visiting this landscape through fear of prejudice and hate crime. Other barriers identified by VME experts include the countryside being elitist, the lack of public transport and a cultural fear of dogs.

Another reason the environmental sector struggles to engage VME people is due to the lack of diversity of its staff. Only 0.6% of people in the environmental sector are VME, making it the second worst employer in the UK in this respect 1 . These shockingly low numbers mean that there are virtually no staff to whom VME people can relate or be inspired by. It is also essential that we reach out and connect with communities in their own spaces, as 83% of the UK live in cities and a disproportionate number of VME people live in inner-city areas 2 .

The environmental sector must step outside of the echo chamber of agreement and communicate with everyone. Diversity brings a wider range of people to organisations and leads to improved performance. Diversity must be at the heart of their strategy. To protect the environment is to leverage the input and contribution of as many people as possible.

Some argue that the issue is not one of ethnicity but of poverty. However, research has been published which shows that 65% children from lower socio-economic groups (C & D) interact with nature regularly, but this drops to 56% for VME children no matter their socioeconomic status 3 . Clearly ethnicity has a larger impact than poverty.

Education is also a problem. Parents of VME children who are interested in an environmental career may not be supportive due to a lack of familiarity with the sector. Also, many environmental jobs require unpaid internships, contacts, and access to the countryside, which create barriers.

There are also opportunities in HR, IT and Finance, for instance, within the environmental sector which could be filled by VME people, especially with diverse cities within commuting distance.

However, change is coming with VME people climbing mountains for charity, Rehan Siddiqui being British Mountaineering Council president, Mohammed Saddiq being Bristol Green Capital Partnership Chair and nature TV having both Liz Bonnin and Anita Rani. The National Trust are leading with their 2017 staff conference on diversity and events attracting 3,000 VME people.

MYA-ROSE CRAIG, PRESIDENT BLACK2NATURE

References:
1. Norrie, R. (2017). The two sides of diversity.
Policy exchange,March [Online]. Available at: https://policyexchange.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/The-two-sides-of-diversity-2.pdf (Accessed 11/09/2018)
2. DEFRA (2018). Rural population 2014/15
. [Online]Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/rural-population-and-migration/rural-population-201415 (Accessed 07/09/2018)
3. Hunt, A., Stewart, D., Burt, J., Dillon, J. (2016). Monitor of Engagement with the Natural Environment: a pilot to develop an indicator of visits to the natural environment by children - Results from years 1 and 2 (March 2013 to February 2015). Natural England Commissioned Reports, Number 208