Mya-Rose Craig is a 15-year-old British Bangladeshi young naturalist, birder and conservationist. She writes the successful Birdgirl blog and was a Bristol European Green Capital Ambassador along with Shaun the Sheep. She has also been listed with singer George Ezra and actress Maisie Williams as one of Bristol’s most influential young people.
The article which follows is a contribution that Mya-Rose has made to NAEE’s latest journal, Environmental Education. The journal is free to members.
British Birdgirl introduces her peers to wildlife
I have been birding and been obsessed by nature all my life and it’s a huge part of me. When I go out into nature, no matter how I was before, I feel calm and peaceful. Since I have started my GCSE course, going out into nature has become even more important to help me deal with the pressures of school. The passion I feel about wildlife makes me want to get other young people into it too.
A couple of years ago, I saw that in the United States there are ‘birding summer camps’ for kids, as they have longer summer holidays and many parents only have two weeks’ holiday a year. In early 2015, I was looking up one of these camps and felt disappointed that I could not attend. Then I had the idea and decided to organise my own camp here – in the United Kingdom. The concept? It was to take place over a weekend, be affordable and be after GCSE exams.
So ‘Camp Avalon’ was born. Camp Avalon 2015 and 2016 took place at Avalon Marshes on the Somerset Levels, where the Somerset Wildlife Trust and RSPB have reserves. The camps were aimed at teenagers who were already interested in nature right through to those who had never set foot in the countryside. We camped in a nearby campsite and, as well as camp cooking, the young people took part in birding walks, wildlife photo-graphy, nature sketching by renowned bird artist John Gale, bird ringing, moth trapping, making nest boxes, pond dipping, looking for nightjars and lots of talks on different subjects like organising to go abroad to a conservation project during your gap year and a talk from the County recorder on what makes good birding records.
As a birder, I had also noticed that when I visited reserves or went on walks, I rarely saw any other ethnic minority young people (I am British Bang-ladeshi), even in city centre reserves. This is something that worried me, so I worked hard to get young people from ethnic minority and inner-city backgrounds to come to my camp. Camp Avalon is very important as there are no other opportunities for young people, whether into wild-life, birds or don’t know anything about nature, to come together on a nature camp.
It was interesting to watch the eight ethnic minority teenagers that came in 2015. Initially they did not know what to expect and felt ‘bored’ before something began clicking in their minds and they engaged with the natural world around them. For some, the ‘click’ was the idea of looking in a mammal trap, whilst for others it was holding a bird during bird ringing or wildlife art. It made me realise that anyone can connect with nature; they just needed to see how, and maybe be shown how. There is something special about watching a ‘tough’ 14-year-old boy from the inner city, seeing a bird closely for the first time and then his pure delight in holding it, releasing it and then looking at me and smiling from ear to ear. That was a special moment for me!
As well as the camps, I organised a conference in June 2016 called Race Equality in Nature, with the aim of trying to get more ethnic minority people out into nature. Our Key Speakers included Bill Oddie, Stephen Moss and Kerry McCarthy MP, who was Shadow Environment Secretary at the time, as well as 85 people attending from all backgrounds and professions including the BBC, and it was sponsored by Bristol Zoo. We looked at the barriers, how these barriers can be overcome and how we can create role models. I have now set up Black2Nature and am working with nature charities and community groups to try to over-come the barriers and create role models.