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SEM’s Maxwell Ayamba at The OPAL National Conference at Royal Botanical Gardens, London.
In October last year, the Guardian Newspaper published an article titled, “Morally and legally, the UK government has failed us on air pollution”. ClientEarth which wrote the article said ” it was taking the Government to court for lack of urgency and failure to tackle illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide as an ‘invisible killer’ because, for the most part, it goes unseen, with government estimating it causes 23,500 early deaths a year triggering heart attacks and strokes”.
Good air quality is essential for our health and for the well-being of our environment but not everyone has access. Direct monitoring of air pollution is expensive and too technical, that is why the use of some lichens which are sensitive to air pollution can tell us about the pollutants in the atmosphere around us. Research has established that it is people living in the most deprived communities especially Black & Minority Ethnic (BME) who suffer the most from worse air pollution due to their close proximity to these sources.
It is the more reason why the OPAL air survey which uses bio-indicators is considered so vital to help raise awareness among people from deprived urban communities about levels of air pollution. Peter Ainsworth, Chair of the Big Lottery Fund who was key note speaker at the conference emphasised how community-led projects such as OPAL are therefore so important.
The Sheffield Environmental Movement (SEM) which had a poster exhibition at the conference is one such community-led projects, using OPAL air survey to help raise awareness about the dangers of air pollution with young people in Sheffield. Maxwell Ayamba of SEM said, “we are already gathering evidence from engaging with young people through the OPAL air survey that they are oblivious to the dangers of air pollution because there have not been proactive outreach work to raise awareness”.
To have your citizen science cake and eat it? Delivering research and outreach through Open Air Laboratories (OPAL) (Lakeman-Fraser et al. 2016) Published in the BioMed Central Ecology Journal
SEM’s Maxwell Ayamba had the honour of meeting two of Britain’s top Paralympians – Jessica-Jane Applegate MBE and Emma Wiggs at a special event in Sheffield hosted by The International Sports Federation for Persons with Intellectual Disability (INAS).
Both athletes spoke of special instances of the personal transformation that occurred during their journey in life through water sport. However, what stood out was the fact that they attributed these achievements to the close bond they developed with nature – in this case water, where they found peace and developed a sense of freedom to express their innate talents and qualities.
The ecotherapeutic benefits associated with nature which SEM is actively promoting through its environmental work according to Maxwell has been well documented in numerous studies. “The person engaging in a therapy forms a therapeutic relationship with nature just as they will do with a therapist. This leads to a bond both aesthetic and healing benefits that are formed during active engagement utilising resources in natural settings”, noted Maxwell.
Maxwell explained that being in tune with nature leads to the rise in levels of confidence, trust in oneself, pride, self-worth and improved self-esteem alongside good mental health status in areas such as stress, anxiety, depression and mood management. This is because in nature people are bound to experience a sense of physical and psychological well-being, a sense of synergy with nature and freedom in the outdoors.
SEM’s Maxwell Ayamba (Left) had the honour to meet one of UK’s leading wildlife gurus Simon Barnes (Right) in Sheffield on September 22nd 2016
Maxwell Ayamba of SEM who is also an environmental journalist by profession said he was very honoured to have met the renowned journalist and author Simon Barnes who delivered a keynote address at the Sheffield and Rotherham Wildlife Trust’s Annual general meeting.
The bird watching guru and author of ‘My Natural History’ and ‘How To Be A Bad Birdwatcher’ also toured some of Sheffield’s best loved wildlife havens including Wyoming Brook, Fox Hagg and Centenary Riverside, a 4.5 hectare wetland reserve nestled alongside the River Don.
“Protecting our wildlife starts at the bottom – not just governments and statutory bodies. Really, it all comes down to you and me”.
Simon contends that: “Protecting our wildlife starts at the bottom – not just governments and statutory bodies. Really, it all comes down to you and me. A lot of small voices add up to a shout and if we all whisper into the wind together, we will be heard.
“When asked where he got his passion for the natural world, David Attenborough responded by asking ‘when did you lose yours?’. All children are born with natural inquisitiveness. They love being outside with nature – holding a worm or playing in the mud and rain.
“My talk, ‘A view from the lofty place’, is based on a realisation that that all humans need connections with non-human life. It comes down to you and me. Just sticking a bird feeder on the window of your second floor flat or not concreting your garden can make a difference.”
Simon’s notion of environmentalism according to Maxwell resonates with interpretations of the environment from many cultures the world over. Nonetheless, notions of environmentalism can be interpreted differently from different cultures. That makes the ideation of nature to be acknowledged from differing perspectives. It is therefore important to hear from people from diverse cultures who have made England their home their interpretations of the environment.
The English definition of the term ‘environmentalism’ is, “advocacy of the preservation, restoration, or improvement of the natural environment’. However, this definition according to Maxwell might be different from other cultures. For example, What does it mean to preserve, restore or improve in the natural environment? What, within the natural environment deserves restoration? Which spaces are considered natural? These are questions dealt with by environmental activists and organisations.
On the surface although it would seem that we all, for most part, have the same or similar answers to these questions, nonetheless, what is environmentalism within every community or culture?
Maxwell noted from experience working in the environmental field the lack of visible minorities, which has become a self-fulfilling prophecy reinforcing the notion that ethnic minorities are disinterested in environment.
This notion from Maxwell’s experience is not true, it would be important therefore to encourage ethnic minority people who are interested so that they can contribute to environmental stewardship. Efforts must made by environmental organisations to reach out and understand how other cultures interpret the environment. Because most people from ethnic minority communities have little or no knowledge of the eco-cultural history of the British environment.
Little effort have been made to explore how different cultures see sentimentalized spaces, spaces that have been deemed beautiful, rare and valuable – how do people from minority ethnic communities see these spaces?” “Are there other spaces that ethnic minority communities cherish that are similar to where they originally came from that are not recognised by the mainstream environmental organisations?” “How do some cultures perceive nature and what efforts can be made to inspire and motivate people from minority ethnic communities who are interested to become actively involved in the environment? These and many more unanswered questions have made the environmental field from the perspective of many ethnic minorities to be an exclusive field, an issue that Natural England has tried to address in recent years.
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