Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl, founded Black2Nature to inspire a new generation of birders

Sarah Barratt
·4-min read
Photo credit: Helena Craig
Photo credit: Helena Craig

From Country Living

Country Living talks to Mya-Rose Craig, aka Birdgirl. Mya-Rose is a British Bangladeshi ornithologist, campaigner and the youngest person in Britain to be awarded an honorary doctorate in science from the University of Bristol. We asked the teenage birder how she flies the flag for diversity in the nature world.

Have you always been a twitcher?

I’ve been birding since I was a baby: my parents and older sister Ayesha would take me to Chew Valley Lakes, near Bristol, to spot herons. Aged 11, I started my blog BirdgirlUK, which has had more than four million views. Now aged 18, I’m the youngest person to have seen half the world’s birds (that’s more than 5,000!). But my true mission is to make the ecosphere more diverse.

Tell us about Black2Nature

When Ayesha had a baby and couldn’t come birding so much, I wanted to meet other young naturalists. I was 13 and looked at the American Birding Association website and saw it ran summer camps for teenagers – my parents suggested I organise my own. I’m British Bangladeshi and it’s rare to see birders from minority ethnic backgrounds. I set up Black2Nature in 2015 – a not-for-profit organisation hosting camping excursions for Visible Minority Ethnic (VME) young people.

Did it take off straight away?

No! Enrolling campers from VME backgrounds was difficult. I put a call-out on social media to nature-loving teenagers from minority backgrounds, but no one signed up. Many members of VME communities are fearful of experiencing hate crime in the countryside. Conservation is a very white industry, which can make many feel excluded. Currently, 0.6% of those working in the environmental sector are VME, despite the fact we make up 13% of the population.

How did you win over the wary?

I spoke to inclusion experts, who pointed out that the event in June coincided with Ramadan, meaning Muslim children wouldn’t be able to attend. It also takes a lot of trust for parents to send teenagers out into the wild with strangers. We made sure it was Ramadan friendly (providing time for prayer and food after sunset) and I approached friends of friends and distant relations. Finally, we persuaded five teenage boys from Jamaican, Trinidadian and Bangladeshi backgrounds to give it a go.

Were they happy campers?

They loved it! Many came back the following year. Most came from inner cities and had never seen a cow or sheep before, but afterwards they all began to appreciate nature. Many have since become activists, passionate about protecting the environment.

How can you do more to help birds

Photo credit: Getty
Photo credit: Getty

How big is the project now?

So far, we’ve hosted nine weekend-long events in the Chew Valley and Somerset Levels, introducing 300 VME children and teenagers to the natural world. Weekends are packed with activities such as birding, mothing, bioblitzes (wildlife surveys), bat walks, sketching, photography and pond-dipping, as well as toasting marshmallows and sitting around a fire. We’ve even teamed up with the RSPB, who help with funding and provide volunteers.

What's next for you?

I finished my A-levels this year. Now I’m on a gap year and am currently on the Greenpeace ship MV Arctic Sunrise, heading for the Arctic ice shelf, as its media spokesperson. I was meant to go to the UN Convention on Biodiversity, but it was rescheduled, so I’m throwing my energy into Black2Nature. After that, I’ll read politics and international relations, although I already have an Honorary Doctorate from Bristol University for my work championing equality in the environmental sector. I couldn’t believe it when the vice-chancellor emailed me – I thought it was my friends playing a hoax. I’m the youngest Briton to have received one.

What YOU can do

  • Follow Mya-Rose on Twitter @BirdgirlUK and catch up on her blog, birdgirluk.com.

  • Donate to Black2Nature by contacting craiger@hotmail.co.uk – £20 pays for a child to attend a camp.

  • Volunteer at a nature camp or lend a hand with behind-the-scenes work – contact helenabcraig@hotmail.co.uk.

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