At the time I didn't have any understanding of the issue at all, it just felt like a real tragedy.
When Mya-Rose Craig realised that she never saw anyone who looked like her when she was out in nature it was no lightbulb moment.
“It was just a slow and really unpleasant realisation when I was about 11 or 12 - and it suddenly all came together for me," the founder and president of Black2Nature told a webinar on race and the environment organised by environmental think tank the Green Alliance.
"And at the time I didn't have any understanding of the issue at all, it just felt like a real tragedy.”
In 2017, a study by think tank the Policy Exchange found that the environment sector was the second least diverse in the UK, after farming.
The webinar heard views on why this was the case, and what the sector could do to become more diverse, and engage people from different backgrounds.
Craig created Black2Nature to help inner city children experience nature and to campaign for access to nature. In the four years since, Craig says the experience has been rewarding, but also painful. “Very much like shouting into the void”.
She has struggled to get funding for her work and to gain official charity status. “I keep on being told that black and ethnic minority people aren't going out into the countryside, so there's no need for my organisation,” she said.
Feeling as if they do not belong in a certain environment, and not seeing images of people like themselves is one reason why black and ethnic minority people have not engaged with the environment in the same way that white people have, she said.
For Charise Johnson, science and environmental policy advisor at the British Academy, access to education, as well as needing to volunteer, can be a real barrier to even getting a foot in the door of the profession.
“I ended up having to get a master's degree because that's the kind of thing that everybody was looking for, but not everyone can do that,” she said.
Sufina Ahmad, director of grant making trust the John Ellerman Foundation, said that organisations wanting to tackle the issue need all levels to commit, especially at board and senior level.
They also need to “embark on honest, difficult and uncharted conversations” about the role that individuals and organisations have played in either helping or hindering progress on equality, diversity and inclusion. It then needs to put in place a plan based on evidence and a clear analysis of the work it needs to do, she said.
Catherine Early is a freelance environmental journalist and chief reporter for the Ecologist. She tweets at @Cat_Early76.
A recording of the webinar is available here.