Craig Simpson, The Telegraph, February 7, 2024
The British countryside is a “racist colonial” white space, wildlife charities have claimed.
Wildlife and Countryside Link, a charity umbrella group whose members include the RSPCA, WWF and National Trust, made the claim in evidence provided to Parliament on racism and its influence on the natural world.
MPs in an all-party parliamentary group (APPG) were informed that the British countryside has been influenced by “racist colonial legacies” which have created an environment some fear is “dominated by white people”.
The country’s green spaces are governed by “white British cultural values”, the report argues, and the perception that the countryside is a “white space” prevents people from other ethnic backgrounds from enjoying the outdoors.
The Wildlife and Countryside Link report was submitted to MPs on the APPG for Race and Community, which had called for evidence on the links between “systemic racism” and climate change.
The call for evidence comes in the wake of academic “hate studies” experts launching a 2023 investigation into “rural racism” in the British countryside.
One section of the new Link report seen by The Telegraph argues that there are “structural, experiential, and cultural” barriers preventing ethnic minorities accessing the countryside.
It states: “Cultural barriers reflect that in the UK, it is White British cultural values that have been embedded into the design and management of green spaces, and into society’s expectations of how people should be engaging with them.”
It adds that “racist colonial legacies continue to frame nature in the UK as a ‘white space’”, and claims that “the perception that green spaces are dominated by white people can prevent people from ethnic minority backgrounds from using green spaces”.
The report suggests that there should be a “rights-based approach” accessing green spaces, suggesting that the Government create a “legally binding target for access to nature”, possibly by ensuring everyone has a green space within a 15-minute walk from their home.
It also makes broader claims about Britain and climate change, stating: “The UK’s role in the European colonial project has also driven the current climate and nature crises.”
Several charities support report
Link is headed by Richard Benwell, the chief executive and a former Liberal Democrat prospective parliamentary candidate, who worked as a policy adviser to the secretary of state for environment, food and rural affairs in 2018.
Link operates as an umbrella organisation for its influential members charities, including the RSPB, the Woodland Trust, and Friends of the Earth.
Several have directly supported the new report, including the League Against Cruel Sports, and The Countryside Charity, formerly known as the Council for the Preservation of Rural England.
Froglife, an amphibian conservation body, and the Bat Conservation Trust have also supported the report, submitted to the APPG for Race and Community, chaired by Labour MP Clive Lewis.
The APPG last year called for evidence on the links between “systemic racism and the climate crisis”, focused on the idea that ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by climate change.
Using evidence from environmental experts like those at Link, MPs will issue a report and recommendations on the subject in spring 2024.
Sections of the Link report cover the environmental cost of the British Empire, claiming: “The UK’s role in the European colonial project has also driven the current climate and nature crises.”
It adds: “Colonialism has driven the exploitation and erasure of the rights and knowledge of indigenous people, and the assertion of white, Western values and knowledge at the expense of other values and knowledges.”
Claims about the UK’s contribution to climate change and the British countryside “colonial” influence come after the “Hate Studies Unit” at the University of Leicester launched an investigation into “rural racism” in the British countryside.
This in turn followed claims by groups such as Muslim Hikers, which seeks to encourage Muslims to enjoy the countryside, that rural areas were perceived as unwelcoming and off-limits to minority communities.
Mr Benwell said: “Nature should be for everyone to enjoy and to benefit from. Sadly however, the evidence shows that people of colour in the UK are more likely to live in areas with less green space and that are more heavily polluted, and at the same time are significantly less likely to visit natural spaces.
“There are multiple complex reasons behind this, as well as contemporary well-documented experiences of racism that people are still encountering. Access for all and addressing the barriers people are facing should be one of the guiding lights for all nature sites.”