Somerset environmental campaigner 'BirdGirl' calls for better rural public transport

A teenage environmental campaigner from Somerset has called for rural public transport to be improved, to encourage more ethnic minorities to enjoy the countryside.

Famous birdwatcher Mya-Rose Craig, known as BirdGirl, said she believes some black and minority ethnic people view the countryside as “elitist and possibly racist”.

The 19-year-old has said that much more work is needed to overcome barriers and make the countryside more accessible.

During an event at the Cheltenham Literature Festival, Miss Craig recalled bunking off school but being unable to travel the shops from her home in Compton Martin.

"I remember being 14 and me and my mate bunked off school because we wanted to go to town to go shopping," she said.

“We didn’t even do it because there wasn’t a bus – we were just stranded in the countryside.

“It shows there is a wider issue of a lack of public transport in the UK – loads of people don’t have cars, our train systems have been dismantled.

"People don’t have enough time, enough money and resources," she added.

The teenager has been a keen ornithologist for almost all her life and is the youngest person to see half of the world’s bird species.

She also has a large following on Twitter, where she posts as BirdGirlUK, and began running nature camps when she was 13.

Miss Craig has set up the organisation Black2Nature, organised two conferences, given more than 50 talks and written articles in her fight for equal access to the natural environment for all communities.

Speaking at the Festival, Miss Craig, who is of British-Bangladeshi background, spoke of the challenges she faced in confronting racism in her work.

“I think it’s been quite a rough journey, to be honest, and I think it’s really important to acknowledge that,” she said.

“I think to acknowledge as well that I came in and I started this whole conversation around race and engagement.

“But retrospectively, it probably is to be questioned why a 14-year-old girl needed to come in to change the whole conversation around race in the first place and why there wasn’t someone already doing that.”

The teenager attended a Youth Strike 4 Climate march in Bristol when Greta Thunberg visited the city in 2020. Credit: PA.

She added that the conferences she held have thrown up a number of challenges black and ethnic minority people face to access nature, such having the right clothing or being worried about dogs.

“We had mothers talking about how they didn’t want to let their teenagers, especially their sons, hanging out in green spaces with their friends because they were scared about them getting profiled by the police as being involved in gang activity,” she said.

“They saw it as elitist and possibly racist, and they were scared. There’s this massive range of issues that we have going on and we are slowly dealing with them and pushing back against them.”

The 19-year-old became the youngest person in the UK to hold an honorary doctorate, after the University of Bristol congratulated her for her campaigns to improve diversity in the conservation industry.

Miss Craig has now begun studying at the University of Cambridge, but continues to campaign.