Something important has happened. At least the start of something important. A few months back I got a call, from Chris Packham. We talked about the gender balance at BridFair, and on the judging panel at the Bird Photographer of the Year competition, and the damage done – the opportunities lost – by our failure in the wildlife and conservation sector to role-model diversity. We talked about the People’s Walk for Wildlife
– for which I was already signed up. Then Chris told me something more exciting still. That he was gathering a team to create something profound. A manifesto for wildlife.
At the eleventh hour, we have the solutions to so many of the crises facing us – we have the expertise, in abundance. But policy, and action are still mired, by party politics, by vested interest, by the need to oblige and appease stakeholders and memberships. So the ministers Chris was appointing, crucially were all independent. No politicians, no corporate voices, no NGO representatives. Not because there aren’t fantastic people among those groups, but because all of them are, to some extent required to toe a line of some sort. They would also, he promised, be gender balanced and multi-generational and not all white. Would I contribute something on the vital importance of equality and diversity.
And so, here it is, published today. My part of a very much larger whole, which you can download for free here. Its not perfect. It’s not complete. It is (as the cover makes clear), a first draft. Please comment, contribute, share. Because we all need wildlife, and right now, it needs all of us.
My ministry overlaps in areas with that of Mya-Rose Craig (Ministry of Diversity in Nature and Conservation – dealing principally with visible minority ethnic groups) and that of Robert Macfarlane (Ministry of Natural Culture and Education) and I commend them both – in fact I hope you’ll read the whole thing.
Ministry for Social equality and Access to Nature:
Nature is a human need – central to the quality of our fundamental physiological requirements (water, air, food), as well as our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Thus access to diverse nature should be recognised as a human right. Allied to this right is a right to fight for nature and to express an opinion about it, and if the naturally diverse opinions of a society are to be considered, representation matters.
You don’t have to be a white, able-bodied, middle-aged, middle-class, cis-male to write about nature, to photograph it or film it, present it on TV, or discuss it intelligently and passionately in a public forum. But you wouldn’t necessarily know that from media output, or from the speaker line-ups at many high profile wildlife events. The fact is that while women are catching up after centuries of overt discrimination, while they are pushing forward wildlife research and practical conservation, while they are participating in citizen science and campaigning for environmental causes with passion and courage, they are still widely, woefully, embarrassingly and inexcusably underrepresented in the public face of the wildlife sector.
There’s something else a majority of women from all social backgrounds do for most of their lives. Almost three quarters now do it alongside their paid jobs. Mothers are a group with responsibility for a majority of day-to-day consumer decisions and for shaping the world view of future generations. Let’s never forget their influence – or that of primary caring dads. Most don’t have much time for recreational wildlife-watching, but that doesn’t mean they don’t care, or that they won’t fight for the future their children are growing into.
Then there are the differently-abled. Six percent of children have some form of disability, impairment or a limiting illness and this rises with age to 45% of pensioners. We know they need nature as much as the next person – but nature also needs them.
Making people of genders, abilities and social backgrounds a proportionate part of the input and output of the nature sector isn’t political correctness, it’s a matter of necessity. We needdiversity. We need the engagement of stay-at-home and working parents, just as much as we need professors and professional commentators. We need wildlife-loving teachers, imams and local councillors, business leaders and farmers, allotment-tending retirees and streetwise teens, we need the employed, the self-employed the unemployed. We need the differently abled. We need all these people – their perspective, their energy, their compassion, their voices and their votes. Rather than consider inclusivity isn’t a duty, lets think about what we might gain by properly engaging a full cross section of society.
So let’s look closely and critically at our public face, and reduce barriers to engagement wherever we find them. Let’s recognise and expand our constituency, bring people from all walks of life to nature, find new and better ways of sharing our message, and ensure that when someone chooses to engage with the wildlife and conservation community, they feel respected, represented and valued, whoever they are. So for starters, some proposals for immediate change:
1. Recognise access to diverse nature as a human right, and reinstate that
access to all members of society.
2. Voluntary full- or part-time eco-community service for all, with a small
increment on benefit payments (from universal credit to pensions) in return for
hours worked on local wildlife conservation or environmental schemes.
3. Where wild areas are open to the public, ensure all people are able to
enjoy them, by providing adequate accessibility infrastructure.
4. Make reserves and natural areas more welcome to visitors with less visible
ability differences – for example autism-friendly areas, noisy sessions, baby-
changing facilities, Braille and signed guides.
5. NHS to work with environmental organisations to offer eco-prescriptions
such as shinrin yoku (forest bathing) – prescribed in Japan for conditions as
diverse as anxiety depression, obesity, heart disease and diabetes.
6. Create a network of neighbourhood nature ambassadors to inform, inspire
and encourage social integration in their communities and serve as a
connection with nationwide conservation.
7. Subsidised childcare at nature reserves and “green days” for mothers and
babies at Sure Start centres to facilitate access to nature for parents of young
8. Recruit, educate and inspire the next generation with all schools having a
Wild Thought for the Day – based on real experiences from outdoor trips and
9. Ensure there is a 50:50 gender balance among contributors to nature and
environment discussion panels, wildlife TV shows and other forms of
10. Zero tolerance for sexist or racist trolling in wildlife social media
discussions – perpetrators should be outed and penalised.