Common Ground

Discover, Define and Design Your Heritage

For this year’s International Women’s Day, we’ve collated a list of pioneering women in the heritage and environmental sectors: from a 16th century English noblewoman who restored dozens of buildings, to the doctor currently working on preserving public spaces in Morocco. Here’s our list of some of the inspirational women, including two teenagers, who have positively contributed to discovering and conserving the world’s heritage. We hope it goes to show that everyone, no matter their gender, nationality or age, has an important part in telling the stories of our planet. Pretty deep for a Monday, eh?

Berta Cáceres (1971-2016) 

Berta Cáceres was a Honduran environmentalist and winner of the Goldman Prize for environmental defenders. In 1993, Cáceres co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH) to support indigenous people’s rights in Honduras. She spent much of her life defending indigenous territory as well as supporting feminism and LGBT rights. 

Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676) 

Lady Anne Clifford was a medieval noblewoman who spent much of her life fighting for her right to inherit her father’s estates. Once she had succeeded, she devoted herself to restoring many historical buildings on her lands. Her work has allowed many generations since to enjoy and learn from the castles and churches she restored. 

Quannah Chasinghorse (2001-present) 

Hailing from the Han Gwich’in and Lakota Sioux Nations, teen climate activist Quannah Chasinghorse is fighting for the protection of indigenous lands from the threat of climate change. Her work is helping to save the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and defend sacred lands and ways of life, particularly from the hugely damaging consequences of oil drilling. 

Octavia Hill (1838-1912) 

Repping the east of England, Hill was born locally at Wisbech and is perhaps best known for being one of the three founders of the National Trust. She believed strongly in the importance of open, green spaces for all and her legacy has ensured that the public can still enjoy access to the natural landscape to this day. 

Wangari Maathai (1940-2011) 

Wangari Maathai was a Kenyan activist who campaigned for environmental conservation and women’s rights (two GREAT causes). She founded the Green Belt Movement in 1977 to support these campaigns. The Movement has gone on to protect natural resources not just in Kenya, but across the globe. 

Judy Ling Wong (1949-present) 

Born in Hong Kong and working as a painter, Judy Ling Wong went on to establish the Black Environment Network (BEN) to encourage people from ethnic minorities in the UK to visit the countryside and connect with the environment. She has challenged the idea of the pastoral English world being a ‘white space’ and has been awarded a CBE for her work. Amazing. 

Mya-Rose Craig (2002-present) 

Our second teen on the list is Mya-Rose Craig, also known as Birdgirl. An ornithologist and environmental campaigner, Craig set up the non-profit organisation Black2Nature to encourage VME (Visible Minority Ethnic) children to interact with the natural world through nature camps. She also campaigns for increased diversity in the conservation sector and acts as an incredible role model in her field. 

Janaki Ammal (1897-1984) 

Janaki Ammal was an Indian botanist and ethnobotanist (Google helped us with this one: ethnobotany is the historical and cultural study of the relationship between plants and people. Cool, right?). She gained a PhD in Botany from the University of Michigan at a time when women rarely made it past high school and became an expert in plant cytogenetics. 

Mary Anning (1799-1847) 

As a woman, Mary Anning was rarely accepted in the scientific community of the 19th century, despite being a pioneering palaeontologist and fossil collector. She made huge discoveries at Lyme Regis along the Jurassic Coast, including being the first to discover the complete skeleton of a Plesiosaurus. Fun fact: the film ‘Ammonite’, inspired by Anning’s life and starring Kate Winslet and Saoirse Ronan, is being released in April 2021. 

Dr. Salima Naji (-present) 

A renowned architect and anthropologist, Dr. Salima Naji is the Morocco Project Director at the Global Heritage Fund. She conserves architecture and public spaces for their historic value and has suggested that “Women’s leadership has fostered a broadening of the concept of heritage.” It’s a win-win for all. 

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