UK Urban Ecology Forum

Partner Member UN Habitat Assembly Global Stakeholders Forum (GSF)

Black Environment Network (BEN)


Black Environment Network (BEN) was awarded the UK-MAB Urban Wildlife Award for Excellence in 2012 as a flagship project for pioneering and establishing ethnic environmental participation in the UK. BEN has achieved a national and international reputation as the pioneer of ethnic environmental participation as a field of work, influencing many other countries. BEN’s vision for the future is about achieving a critical level of environmental participation by ethnic minorities within the mainstream environmental sector.


Street planting

Sikhs street planting

Black Environment Network (BEN) is established to promote ethnic environmental participation in the UK. BEN proposes, “There is no such thing as a pure environmental project. A so called pure environmental project is one which has rejected its social and cultural context.” BEN started in 1987, when the environmental sector generally held the view that those who were not interested were not their concern. This applied to anyone, not just ethnic minorities. It was an era in which only those who wanted to volunteer for nature were taken into account. The focus was entirely on people for nature.

Woodland study

Woodland study

BEN pioneered a new way of thinking – that nature was also for people. BEN proposed the big idea that people for nature and nature for people are inextricably linked. This visionary integrated approach, bringing social, cultural and environmental concerns together, was transformational. Through the years, it acted as a catalyst to open up the environment to a whole range of disadvantaged and socially excluded groups. BEN sees access to nature as a right. The early years saw the development of the first methodology to involve newcomers through enjoyable activities relevant to their lives. It resulted in improving the quality of life of many social groups, and extending the types of projects undertaken within the environmental sector. The work saw the harnessing of a vast missing contribution. Over 25 years, starting from a scenario when not a single environmental organization worked with ethnic minorities in the UK, every environmental organization now works with them, even if it is not yet to the extent that we would like to see. The understanding, commitment and enthusiasm is embedded in the mainstream.

BEN uniquely recognized that, besides the obvious need to support vulnerable people, supporting professionals was just as fundamental. This formula of supporting both sides underpinned our success. BEN has therefore worked positively and closely with environmental organizations. The work of BEN can be seen in 5 stages:

  1. Putting ethnic environmental participation on the agenda of the environmental sector.
  2. Establishing methodology and providing examples of good practice, guidelines and other resources (All downloadable free on the BEN website)
  3. Encouraging, supporting and enabling environmental professionals to work effectively with ethnic minorities through training, mentoring and networking.
  4. Enabling members of ethnic minorities to lead through training ethnic environmental advocates who promote participation within their own communities.
  5. Promoting a framework for equal access to nature through representing needs, wishes and concerns at policy level in partnership with environmental organisations.


James Friel (CEO Black Environment Network),
Tel. 0121 643 6387.

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