The Portsmouth coast is stunning. The salty tang of the ocean air sits deliciously on your tongue, and the crunch of cockles, mussels, and sand beneath your feet is a rhythm to calm the soul. But I’ve not always been this comfortable in nature. There was a time when my heart would beat faster and my instincts would sharpen as I stooped into a bird hide or passed others on a woodland trail. I would never have dreamt of going on these adventures alone so audaciously.
Nature is so often said to have a calming effect, but it is often forgotten that this narrative only exists because those who have narrated it feel this way. The views of the minority that feel uncomfortable in this paradise have generally been ignored.
I speak from experience. I would walk into a reserve and not once see a person that looked as I did. I would wander past couples whose smiles would turn down as they glanced upon my face and noticed the shades apart we were. The feeling of being different crept in every time.
And yet. Things are changing. I find solace far more in nature nowadays, I take pride in my difference and seek strength from the similar souls I have found and the sense that diversity and inclusion are top of the agenda. There is a drive now to make the world of nature a place for everyone, no matter who you are or where you hail from.
Writing this article, I talked to icons of the conservation industry, people at the forefront of research who are championing diversity, who have fought to get where they are, and have been fighting for others. What did they all have in common? They are like me: minorities, ethnically diverse people. Talking to them, I understood how we got to a place where the conservation and wildlife industry is, astoundingly, the second-least diverse sector in the UK, and – more importantly – how the tide is turning.
For many, connection to nature starts from a young age: our experiences as children shape the people we become. Anjana Khatwa is a British Asian earth scientist and television presenter whose relationship with nature was strained growing up. “There were eight of us in my house and the nearest green space was our back garden, which my dad concreted over, as he was a signwriter and needed the space to work,” she says. “The only other green spaces were a playing field and the local park.” Anjana would go on day trips with her family, but her childhood wasn’t one immersed in greenery. Her parents were hard at work, with little time for nature.
This is the reality for many people growing up without wealth, and with different cultural codes and stricter values to the rest of society. Immigrant families tend to live in urban areas in pursuit of jobs and others of a similar mindset. Like Anjana, I did not grow up with open wild spaces. I was weaned on the concrete of the city, with a constant shanty of lorries thundering past my bedroom window. It meant I didn’t recognise that I was as worthy of a relationship with the natural world as anyone else.
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