Conservation + Gen Z

23rd September 2020

This piece has been written by Faye Vogely, Social Media Manager at BTO

Recently, I organised a campaign celebrating young naturalists in the UK on social media. I contacted over 100 young people, who had all nominated each other, to ask if they were happy to be featured. As stories from young people across the UK, and the world, started flooding in, it was a moment of reflection. Just some of the inspirational young people that took part in the campaign were:

“I am passionate about British Wildlife, especially showing people how easy it is to find amazing wildlife without having to travel too far away from your own home.” Alex, 17

“I’m a conservationist and ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, STAE, RSPCA and Jane Goodall Institute. I use social media, video-making and blogging to try to educate and inspire a wide group of people to protect the natural world.” Bella, 17

“I have recently found myself a trainer from the British Trust for Ornithology to teach me how to ring birds. It is done to collect data on the populations and changes of bird species. I am working towards becoming licensed myself so I can help with the conservation of British birds!” Izzy, 14

“I’m quite politically involved, and spend a lot of my spare time trying to put pressure on our government to address the climate and ecological crises.” James, 18

 

Image: Each year, BTO takes a group of young people age 12-18 on a three-day residential Bird Camp to learn more about ornithology.

Most of these Gen Z-ers aren’t old enough to vote, but many of them volunteer, protest, are activists, or passionate young naturalists. For reference, Gen Z refers to people born between 1996 and 2011. They care more about social issues, are more actively aware of climate change, and are more likely to take action than those that went before them. They are digital natives, having grown up with smartphones and the technology that allows them to quickly connect with like-minded people across the world. But they also experience more pressures than their predecessors. A shocking 47% identify with experiencing mental health challenges, 57% say climate change makes them feel scared (causing a rise of eco-anxiety), and they are facing more financial and societal insecurity than we had ever anticipated due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Despite this anxiety and fear, the same studies show that 54% of Gen Z-ers feel motivated to take action. However, two-thirds of them don’t feel like people in power are listening to them. So as organisations, what are we doing to support them? For many of us, working with young people involves going into schools, organising events and perhaps offering internships. For some, it even includes having a young trustee, or attending the climate strikes. But do we truly listen to Gen Z, and give them the same opportunities to speak as we do the older generations? In previous jobs, I did not have the opportunity to listen to young people as much as I always wanted; there wasn’t enough time, or resources. BTO has given me a chance to work much more closely with Gen Z as we set up our Youth Advisory Panel. With 10 Gen Z-ers on the panel, I have spent dozens of hours listening to their discussions, ideas, and criticisms of both our organisation and the wider sector. We’ve talked about barriers that young people experience in getting out into nature, and we’ve listened to their lived experiences

Listening to their stories has helped BTO become a better organisation. As we continue this journey with our Youth Advisory Panel, and soon our Youth Representatives, I cannot wait to see how they will transform us. Their ideas are feeding directly into our Engagement strategy, our Diversity Working Group, the Board of Trustees, and our events and fundraising. By the end of this year, they will present a comprehensive youth engagement strategy to ensure that BTO offers opportunities to young people from all backgrounds, across the UK. They have been critical, enthusiastic, impartial and innovative, and have proven to be valuable members of our team. 

Image: The BTO Youth Advisory Panel consists of 10 young people, aged 16-25, from across the UK.

Members of BTO’s Youth Advisory Panel ran a survey to find out how young people engage with nature, and what their barriers might be.

Gen Z has made it abundantly clear, both at BTO and around the world, that they are serious about the state of our planet, and that they are ready to be taken seriously. As conservation NGOs, we owe it to them to listen. It will be their generation that deals with the fallout of both our ineptitudes and best efforts, and so they should have a say in how we act. 

If your organisation is working with young people, or would like to, and is interested in collaborating, contact me at faye.vogely@bto.org. For more information on BTO’s Youth Advisory Panel, visit www.bto.org/yap