Mya-Rose Craig is a second year HSPS student at John’s. Beyond that, though, she already has a memoir and an honorary doctorate to her name.
Also known as ‘Birdgirl’ – a nickname taken from a ‘cheesy sixties superhero’ she came across – Mya is a prominent conservationist and racial activist, starting her blog Birdgirl in 2014. Nature has been important throughout her life, together with her parents and sister are keen bird watchers and this gave her a keen awareness of environmental issues from an early age: “if you love nature and the outdoors, you should also care about environmental issues, otherwise it feels a bit hypocritical.’
“No one in the West seems to care”
After an oil spill in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans mangroves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mya’s campaign took off. She remembers being “incredibly frustrated because nobody in the West seemed to care about it,” so she took matters into her own hands, raising $35,000 for the cleanup in just three days.
Since then, Mya has campaigned tirelessly on both environmental issues and equal access to nature, particularly for Visible Ethnic Minority (VME) children and teenagers. Black2Nature, her VME-led organization, serves several main goals: “engaging kids with nature and the outdoors,” talking about climate change and mental health, and providing them with “three square meals a day,” all while working with other NGOs to campaign for change.
Nature is known to have numerous benefits for both mental and physical health. For Mya, birdwatching is her “version of mindfulness” that allows her to slow down and take a break, and she strongly encourages others to get out into nature. Although many of Cambridge’s green spaces are “heavily pruned”, she still manages to take time out of her busy schedule to retreat to nature, including birdwatching at Castle Mound. Her favorite birds in the UK are nuthatches: “they’re really cute”.
“I want to see fair access to the countryside and the outdoors”
Discussing the benefits of nature, Mya mentions Green Social Prescribing (GSP) launched by the Government and NHS in 2020. This supports people to take part in nature-based activities to improve their mental health. A government survey conducted in the spring of 2022 found that 66% of 4,000 respondents thought they would experience an increased sense of calm after GSP, while 41% thought it would reduce their mental health symptoms. Mya is convinced that if people “just went for a twenty-minute walk in the park or sat on the grass, they would really feel a lot better.” It seems simple, so why aren’t more people doing it?
Recent reports reveal huge differences in access to nature: black people in England are four times more likely than white people to have no outdoor space at home, while 73% of children from lower income households spend less time outdoors after starting of the pandemic, compared to 57% of households with higher incomes. When asked why she thinks such inequalities exist, Mya replies “there’s a big problem in the UK in general in terms of the post-industrial revolution, the countryside is reserved for the white, upper-middle class”, which causes nature to become a homogenised sector. Trying to solve this deep-rooted problem is difficult because, according to Mya, “there are so many little factors,” hence her relentless activism.
Mya’s understanding of nature’s many benefits partly inspired her memoir, published last year, Birdgirl. She laughs when I ask her about the process of writing an autobiography, saying, “I find it so strange to use that word…I didn’t sit down when I was eighteen and think, ‘Okay, now I have to write a memoir!'” Although joking that she “has no intention of writing ‘Birdgirl: Part Two’ in 20 years”, she describes the writing process as “surprisingly easy” – she knew what she wanted to write and used her time stuck at home during the pandemic to to put pen to paper. Throughout our conversation, Mya was passionate about her work but humble about her accomplishments, saying that she could never have expected all this success. I was relieved when she confirmed that she felt “very proud with this book’.
Although another memoir isn’t on the table, Mya isn’t stopping the campaign anytime soon. When I ask her about her personal future plans, she laughs, deciding that “that’s a problem for after graduation.” On her hopes for the future landscape of conservation and environmental protection, she is much more specific: “I want to see equitable access to the countryside and the outdoors, [and] a cross-cutting, just movement that prioritizes global climate justice and indigenous rights.”
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