This is something the Environment Agency is keen to remedy. And as part of its Angling 2015 campaign The Environment Agency is keen to get 200,000 more anglers out on the English and Welsh waterways and that includes as many from the black, Asian and minority ethnic communities as well, explains the Agency’s Angling Development Manager, Richard Wightman.
“We want to celebrate the diversity of our waterways and make them as inclusive as possible and to that end we are funding some targeted angling projects.”
Richard sees an Environment Agency funded Swansea participation campaign as an excellent example of integration and angling. The Environment Agency funded a small pilot scheme after consultation with members of the Minority Ethnic Women’s Network (MEWN).
“We started by talking with MEWN and asking them, “What would make a difference for you as a minority group in terms of accessing the environment? What kind of partnership could we build between MEWN and the Environment Agency?…How would you like to go fishing?”
The MEWN members – many of whom had fished in their countries of origin but none of whom had fished since arriving in Britain (they told us that they simply “hadn’t thought of it” since arriving) – said they would be most comfortable being coached by other women. The local fisheries department then tailored a ladies-only day catering to the specific needs of the Minority Ethnic Women’s Network, which included Chinese and Bangladeshi women among others.
“The Agency contacted the Welsh Ladies Angling Division and they were delighted to be involved by coaching the MEWN women how to fish and used Carmarthenshire’s Pantybedw fishing lake as the location. We re-stocked the lake in 2004, and so the first MEWN/EA ladies fishing day was held. This was repeated in 2005, and the 2006 event will be held on 2nd August.”
This type of work by the Environment Agency’s sits well with that of the Sheffield Black Environmental Network (SHEBEEN), says its co-ordinator Maxwell Ayambar. The former environmental journalist from Ghana says the type of targeted programmes Shebeen runs, some with the help of the Environment Agency are ideal for allowing people from all backgrounds “environmental stewardship”.
“The first time people other than native Londoners go out in London you lack that confidence – you don’t know where things are or how the city runs. That’s how people who have only ever lived in urban environments as so many of our Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities in England have, can feel when they go fishing or go into the countryside. The environment is for everyone, and especially in times where climate change, drought and floods are realities for ourselves here in England as well as those we know in our families countries of origins, it is important we all have a voice about our environmental heritage and future.”
To this end, Shebeen runs events to connect young people with fishing, walking and doing things in areas like the Peak district.
“Among our programmes we have organised fishing events without even knowing how much the young people involved were going to enjoy it. They loved it – we really opened up a whole new world for them. We empowered them by giving them information and awareness. What we found is that young people especially noticed the tranquillity and serenity of the water and the countryside, and they also noticed that compared with the urban environment they were the only non-white people there.”
National organisation the Black Environment Network (BEN) is also trying to widen BMEs participation and engagement with the natural, built and historic environment and mainstreaming awareness of BMEs contribution amongst a wider audience, explains BEN Heritage officer James Friel.
“People from Birmingham will drive through miles of gorgeous green British countryside to get to Alton Towers – because the Towers is an experience they are aware of and understand and they know what they are going to get. That is why to engage more ethnic minority communities in the environment they need opportunities to see what is on offer. Providing targeted experiences and the chance to have an experience in the country is a good way of doing this.
“With first and second-generation communities, finding work and establishing homes were the primary issues, time off was a luxury. Now, as people have more disposable income and are more ‘time rich’, so family days are on the agenda, opportunities are being identified, and accessing the waterways and environment should be one of these.”
Previously there have not been the opportunities available and many felt unwelcome in the countryside and not a part of the wider society, says James.
“There can be prejudice. If people in the countryside have had little contact with ethnic minorities and the only experience they have had of them is via the media – then they will only have stereotypes to work with. Whilst those coming from an urban environment may have very fixed views about what country people are like.”
James says that often however, the similarities are far greater than previous experience or the media will have led urban and rural groups to believe.
“And the lack of contact contributes to that ignorance. What is great about taking groups to the countryside is through providing the chance for that contact and by building relationships, and with that confidence and trust, those stereotypes can be broken down. That is why part of our work is to engage with environmental agencies that are keen to develop the diversity element of their agenda.”
The Environment Agency, BEN and SHEBEEN all agree that genuine consultation is the only way to help those from Black, Asian and Minority ethnic groups to access the many positives around being connected to nature.
“You need to talk to groups and find our what are their specific needs and target the environmental sector’s resources to cater to those needs,” says James.
“So it could be health or mobility issues, or transport or a lack of awareness. What we are really doing is working with the politics and realities of the disengaged. What we are doing can be applied to working with any disengaged groups.”
Another part of BEN and Shebeens’s roles has been to work with environmental groups and help them to address the marginalisation of certain groups and to become truly representative.
“We have given various groups in the environmental sector advice on consulting with groups outside their experience. We advocate environmental stewardship where people are given the opportunity to do things for themselves. So they are given the skills to do something on their own. Once people are given knowledge and information they are able to go out and do things on their own,” says Maxwell.
Since the establishment of the Angling Participation programme, Richard believes the Environment Agency has been successful in raising people’s awareness of fishing as not just a participatory sport, but also as a totally inclusive one.
“Compared to many sports angling is incredibly versatile, accessible and integrated. Men and women, young and old can all fish together and you don’t need to be a Thierry Henri or Dean Macey to fish well – you mainly compete with the fish and the elements.”
“People simply knowing about it, knowing that it is available is not enough, if they lack confidence they are not going to try it. By making fishing more accessible, we are giving people opportunities – we are quite simply giving more people more choice, and that’s the key. In order to help them get the benefits of going fishing we need to set up more of a support system which is about protecting and improving the opportunities and providing support to give them a go. We want to make that first time you choose to fish, a great experience.”