If you are wealthy you are more likely to have green space near you. A report from Natural England in 2014 found that the richest wards in England have 5 times the amount of green space. In my local town of Bodmin, a large public green area close to several housing estates has just been leased by the town council to become a car park for a commercial venture.
Parents living in deprived areas are nervous about safety of their local green spaces. With a shortage of green space, youth services, mental health services, housing etc. parks can become a place for some “anti-social behaviours”. Go to any council estate and there are kids playing out in the street, but that’s the point, they are in the street, close to home. A friend of mine offering free/affordable sessions to families who couldn’t otherwise access it (at her own expense) used a local green area, now less cared for by the council and had to contend with used needles, condoms and broken glass bottles.
Nature taught in school is more often about nature found somewhere else. Rainforests are in the curriculum and robins, snails and nettles are not. This is backed up by the media, nature is only sexy and film worthy if it is an exotic beast most of us will never see in real life.
An alarming rise in poverty means more people are worried about feeding their families and adequate shelter than teaching their kids what nettles look like. Not having enough food is a barrier to participation of all kinds. Food is social currency, without it you can’t take part. Kids who are hungry can’t bounce about in nature or concentrate on learning anything.
Alternative education trends such as Forest School, do teach kids about local nature, but are often a middle-class opportunity and not accessible to families living in poverty. Those FS leaders who want to work with families who can’t pay for it, struggle to find funding. When leaders work in schools they may then be working with a wider range of kids but then often feel unsupported and are asked to work in ways that undoes the ethos that underpins their practice.
A Level Biology students need to know about digitalis but do not have time or opportunity to learn to identify a foxglove. While Biology is all about the natural world, passing exams are mostly paper based and indoors.
Environmental movements are not aimed at certain groups such as those living in poverty or BAME, in fact some seek to exclude through their choices of campaign strategy. XR specifically had a strategy to achieve as many arrests as possible on their protests but arrest is something that is viewed very differently by different communities.
“What you can do to help” suggestions for encouraging nature, such as plant a bee friendly flower garden, plant a tree or build a pond, neglect to acknowledge that many people do not have gardens at all or need permission from landlords/housing association/council to make even minor changes, assuming they could afford it. These suggestions exclude so many people who are then left feeling that they can’t be a part of the solution. Sadly, these items are written and designed by those who fail to understand that some people live in circumstances that don’t reflect their own.
A “broification” of the outdoors means that images of outdoor activity promote use of exotic locations, specialised outdoor activity and expensive technical kit. Many families in poverty do not have bikes, wellies or even coats.
Nature is not free. The U.K. has a very long history of land ownership practices that exclude ordinary people and marginalised groups from accessing natural and beautiful spaces. Many people then, understandably, do not even think that nature is for them.