By James de Mierre (@naturejnature)

Accessibility and EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) are relatively young topics in the environmental sector. Whilst most agree that making sure everyone has equal access and inclusion to the benefits of nature, (including opportunities and events regarding nature and climate) and not just people who are most able to access them, the environmental movement can sometimes feel like a place of privilege. If we genuinely want to engage more people in nature, we must embrace a range of approaches and accessible support. We have to be radical about access.

I’m a young carer, neurodivergent. and from a single-parent, low-income family, and on the 17-18th of February this year, I went to the Youth In Nature Summit. It happened in Cambridge, and I met some of my incredible colleagues from my YVFN project (in which we made the film “Our Beautiful Wild”), heard from some inspiring speakers, and gifted with amazing opportunities and networking – It was so incredibly well put together.

But what did it really take for me to get there? It was a huge team effort because firstly, I’m under 14 so needed a parent with me – an extra challenge for any single-parent family. In addition, my sister has 24-hour 1 to 1 care needs and is non-speaking, so usually her care team is me, my mum and my brother, and any carer hours we can afford. Taking me and my mum out of the picture for the weekend was therefore a practical and logistical challenge. My mum used savings to pay for a hotel and for extra carer hours for the weekend, my brother took time out from studying for his A levels to do extra care work, and we had a couple of family friends come and stay overnight whilst we were away. It was a great break from being a young carer as well as a great weekend. But it took a team effort, a whole lot of organisation and drawing on our savings considerably to do it – at least the summit was free so that was one less cost. But I wonder how many people could just get up, leave their house and go there without any of those challenges, realise what it would take for others like me to be more involved.

When talking about accessibility, we have to understand privilege. This is a quote by Mary Beecham of the “Know Better Do Better” podcast:

“Privilege isn’t the presence of perks and benefits. It’s the absence of obstacles and barriers. That’s a lot harder to notice. If you have a hard time recognising your privileges, focus on what you don’t have to go through. Let that fuel your empathy and action”

Privilege may be a big topic to think about, and it is, but recognising privilege is key to realising what is needed to reach more marginalised people.

Privilege isn’t a one-dimensional thing. You can be privileged in different ways. For example, though I have less privilege because of my neurotype and family circumstances, I have privilege in other ways, like my race and my gender.

When we ask the question “How do we get more young people engaged in nature” we tend to subconsciously suggest people who can already readily access nature. It’s really important to be aware of a range of disprivileges affecting people, not just things like poverty, but also people with little time or encouragement to engage.

So, say you wanted to be more diverse or accessible to a group of people in your campaign or organisation – First of all look around. Do you have people with lived experience in your leading team? Yes? The best advice and information come from the actual people – empower them access to share their story. No? What approach can you take to reach people in that group – how can you provide support and access for them to share their experience?

Going and reaching out where less privileged young people are, such as schools, is important. Some people are excluded in the environmental sector, and it’s from those people we can learn weaknesses and learn how to do better if we only give them access so we can listen to their voices.

There may be young people who love nature, and aren’t only interested in their phones (as young people are often stereotyped), but can’t get engaged in it because they are young carers, or their parents aren’t able to support them in opportunities, or are marginalised in many other ways. This thought makes me want to reach out further. Rather than ask “How can we get young people off their phones and into nature?” it should be “How can we reach and provide the needs for young people to access nature?”.

James is a 13-year-old, young, autistic nature activist and writer from Suffolk, who is part of the Suffolk Wildlife Trust Youth Board and the upcoming podcast Generation Nature. He enjoys writing poetry about the world around him while walking to school, is passionate about access to nature, and thinks trees are really cool.

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