Dear Fellow Conservationist (Or Otherwise!),
I wrote this entry for Black History Month, thinking about this year's theme “Saluting Our Sisters” because I wanted to honour the many Black women throughout the history of conservation work, not just as warriors (which they are), but as genuine people with feelings, who have the ability to instil feelings and love into others.
My name is Cayla and I joined an Action for Conservation (AFC) Summer Camp in the South Downs in July of 2023 as one of the extremely fortunate campers able to witness the magic that AFC provides. I wanted to find a tribe of others who would share my love for the planet that we all share. Now I am an Ambassador for AFC! (Cayla pictured left).
Why do I care about nature?
I care about nature because it reminds me of what is important in life and to many others like me around the globe. Seeing trees and vast azure waves stretching farther than my eyes can see, makes me understand that we, humans as a whole, are so small and insignificant, yet we think we have permission to exploit our Earth’s resources, and root creatures (that actually give out a positive contribution to our planet), out of their homes and force them to extinction. I want to change that.
Top left clockwise: Gazi and Cayla take part in the Big Butterfly Count, they explore the South Downs National Park, a butterfly photo and a seagull photo taken by Cayla,
Why is this interview important to me?
The climate crisis is a massive issue. I think that many big company owners have turned a blind eye for long enough. For me, this is just as inhumane, and just as immoral as murder, because when you think about it, the act of ignoring the climate crisis as a whole causes extreme weather events that could cost people their lives. So I wanted to show that there are people out there who care and want to make a difference.
Why did I choose to interview Morgan?
Morgan, AFC’s South East Programme Assistant, understood my feelings and always had jovial stories to tell and to share on camp. So now I am sharing some of her wisdom with you through this interview. I asked Morgan some of my burning questions and you can read her answers below. All of this barely begins to recount all that Morgan does at AFC, but if I were to type up that list we would be here all day - let me just thank Morgan for taking the time to answer these questions.
Lastly, I am just going to say that everyone I know, and the whole world if we try hard enough, we can recognise our achievements and our growth. Hopefully, this blog will pique your interest and inspire you to aspire to an abundantly vibrant future.
Cayla: What was an obstacle you had to face when working with others (e.g. someone not listening to what you are saying/discriminating against you) and how did you overcome it?”
Morgan: Luckily for me, I do not think I have faced a direct obstacle due to my ethnicity, though this does happen regularly in the conservation space to my peers. For example, far too often people of colour are not included in opportunities (e.g. TV and radio interviews) and sometimes they might not be directly named alongside their white counterparts or their presence is tokenized. We also often see people of colour invited to speak on panels about "diversity", when their white counterparts are offered chances to speak about their "passions in nature". The sector still has a long way to go, it's not enough inviting us, you have to listen to what we have to say too.
Morgan in the South Downs National Park
Personally, I feel stronger barriers daily in regard to my cultural differences. The words I use, the TV shows I watch, the music I listen to, the sports I engage in. In the UK these things make or break workplace relationships. Since the conservation and environment sector is statistically very white and middle-class, it's hard to fit in as a working-class Black person from London. Code-switching (the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation) can be really hard! The bulk of the descriptive language I use with my family and friends is so different to how I feel I have to speak in conservation spaces. I obviously do not need to conform, but you are less likely to be understood or taken seriously in these spaces if you don’t. However, on the flip side, I’m expected to understand what words like “kip” “scran” and “tea” mean! Hah!
When colleagues, volunteers or even the young people we interact with are talking about something you don't understand it’s harder to build relationships. This is still something I am still learning to deal with, I have been in many conversations where I am so culturally lost in the context of the conversation that I just become a listener and a nodder which can be exhausting. The way I have learnt to change this has been by learning more about the natural world, I prefer to start conversations about nature as this is a topic I can follow easily. Nature creates an even playing ground and you can bond through a shared interest! Additionally, try to talk about things you are interested in and create a change of pace in your spaces.
Cayla: AFC provides opportunities for young people to get in touch with nature and learn about conservation. Do you think there are enough opportunities for young people to get in touch with nature/learn how we can preserve/conserve it? :)
Morgan: I think there are many opportunities, however, there aren't enough accessible opportunities. Scout, Cadet, and Brownie groups are easy to come by in the UK, but often you need a carer who can afford to pay for equipment and trips and also physically bring you to these places to participate. Additionally, you could go to a park for free and connect with nature that way, but typically only the young people who have experienced the outdoors in a positive way will think of those activities and choose to join in. If the only time you’re in a green space is to play sports, you may not see it as relaxing.
Morgan and AFC Ambassador Gazi taking part in a nature restoration activity
This is why I think it's important to share your love for the outdoors with others and friends who may not like it. As someone who loves nature sometimes it can be hard to believe that others do not enjoy sitting on the grass or spotting butterflies for example. However, once you understand their boundaries maybe you could share experiences. For example, "Let's sit on a bench instead of the grass" and maybe one day we will progress to sitting on the grass. Not laughing when friends or family are scared of a bee or insect and instead use that moment as an opportunity to talk to them about bees. Maybe the next time they see one they will be able to sit still when it visits and appreciate it. Access to nature is not equal at all and we can not wait for others to make it accessible for us. We need to guide our own. Because many of the young people who would benefit from the outdoors the most, do not even know that that is what they are missing!
There are loads of amazing organisations in the UK working with young people of colour, check them out below:
Cayla: Climate change unfairly impacts minority and island communities more than others. Is there anything we can do to lessen the risk factors of climate attacks/provide aid via voluntary services or spread a sense of urgency?
Morgan: Good question! With anything like this, I think talking about it is step one. We live very privileged lives and most people do not even think about where their rubbish goes when they ‘throw it away’, can we ever really throw anything away? It has to go somewhere. I think compassion needs to start on your doorstep for people to care about problems so far away. Many people do not worry about indigenous communities in regard to climate change simply because they can not or have not empathised with people who look and live differently from them.
Marginalised communities suffer the brunt of the climate crisis everywhere, even in the UK. With recycling centres and dumps appearing in working-class communities and the most polluted areas of London being heavily populated by Black and Brown communities. By recognising that it happens on our own doorstep we can teach others and protest these changes that are quietly made behind closed doors. Did you know that the first person to die in the UK due to pollution was a 9-year-old Black girl from Lewisham called Ella Kissi-Debrah? The organisation Breathe London focuses on understanding and monitoring the impacts of air pollution on public health, we need more collaboration with organisations like this and we need to come together to tackle these environmental issues and collectively design and deliver the solutions!
Thanks for reading!