Groups working to improve diversity and accessibility in the UK outdoors
The UK's rich and varied landscapes belong to everyone. Here is our expert guide to the groups who are working to improve diversity and accessibility in the UK
There is a rich and diverse natural landscape within the UK that's wonderfully matched by the breadth of the animals, plants and fungi that inhabit it.
In 2019, the Landscapes Review showed that certain groups within the UK’s society were especially disconnected from National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONBs). The majority of visits “are made by the same (better off, less diverse) people repeatedly, and those who miss out are the older, the young – especially adolescents – and those from lower socio‐economic groups and black, Asian and minority ethnic communities.”
Some statistics from the report include:
- 18% of children living in the most deprived areas never visit the natural environment at all.
- 20% fewer Visibly Minority Ethnic (VME) children go out into green spaces weekly compared to white, middle-class children.
- The groups which visit the countryside least are those aged 65 and over, members of the black, Asian and minority ethnic population and residents living in the most deprived areas of England.
Writer and activist Jasmine Isa Qureshi wrote about the lack of diversity in the conservation sector in the February 2022 issue of BBC Wildlife, including some of the barriers faced by themselves and others from minority ethnic backgrounds.
“As humans, we see others doing what we love – or what we want to love – and that inspires us. But lack of representation, of seeing others like ourselves, is one of the very basic reasons for lack of diversity, as well as an effect of it. As a child I would watch countless programmes fronted by David Attenborough, Steve Irwin, Chris Packham, Jane Goodall, Steve Backshall. I wanted what they had – the chance to explore the natural world and tell its stories. But I'd never been shown it was possible to someone who looked like me, or who had my life experience, to fill their shoes.”
Founded by Soraya Abdel-Hadi, All The Elements is a community that connects individuals, groups and organisations in the UK that are working to improve diversity across a range of outdoors activities, including cycling, climbing, hiking and conservation.
"After discussions with different individuals, groups and organisations working in the outdoors, I realised that there was actually very little sharing between activity areas and targeted community groups in the UK, despite the fact that they often faced similar barriers and challenges.”
Initially set up in 2000 as the ‘Disabled Birders Association’ by Bo Beolens, the charity changed its name to Birding For All in 2010 to become more inclusive. The charity aims to improve accessibility to reserves, facilities and services for birding for those with mobility issues or facing other barriers. They provide an access assessment form for nature reserves and a best practice guide.
Black2Nature is charity set up in 2016 by the young British-Bangladeshi birder, activist and author Mya-Rose Craig, also known as ‘Birdgirl’, which runs nature camps and activities such as tree planting days to enable visible minority ethnic (VME) children and teenagers to access green spaces and learn about wildlife. In January 2022, the charity took around 100 Afghan asylum seekers on a day out to Chew Valley Lake. Black2Nature has also organised conferences on how the environmental sector can become more ethnically diverse, and campaigns for equal access to nature for all, concentrating on VME communities.
Boots and Beards is a charity co-founded in 2016 by Kashif Butt, Zain Sehgal and Naveed Bakhsh. It has a variety of programs for people, particularly from under-represented backgrounds, to get outside and be active, using “nature to explore, discover new experiences and mindset.”
Described as a ‘birdwatching collective for people of colour’, Flock Together hosts monthly birdwatching walks and was founded by Ollie Olanipekun and Nadeem Perera. The two first met virtually and bonded over their love of birds, and within a few weeks had organised the first walk for the group.
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Alongside the walks, Flock Together has also set up a Flock Together Academy to connect children with nature, worked with both outdoor gear and fashion brands, led events as part of Coventry's UK City of Culture 2021, and Nadeem has written a guide for The Guardian on 10 beautiful winter birds to spot in UK towns and cities.
Focused on birdwatching, the Gay Birders’ Club is a group that has been organising events for the LGBT community since 1994 which has including day events, and holidays to international destinations. Since 2002, it has donated over £5,000 to conservation projects.
Muslim Hikers was set up by mountaineer Haroon Mota during lockdown, who says that when growing up, he didn't experience visiting national parks and going hiking. Muslim Hikers is part of the Active Inclusion Network set up by Mota, to champion diversity in outdoors and fitness, which also includes Muslim Runners and Muslim Cyclists.
The OutdoorLads charity runs sociable outdoor activities for gay, bi and trans men with activities including hiking, climbing, running and more.
This community is aimed at inspiring women to get outside and to get active, no matter their age, experience or ability. It was founded by architect, runner and swimmer Sarah Gerrish.
Main image: A couple with binoculars in the forest. © Getty