My name is Dara McAnulty and I am a 12 year old naturalist from Co Fermanagh N.Ireland. I am passionate about conservation and wildlife. This is my blog about the nature on my doorstep and further afield.
I have terribly neglected my blog, I miss writing it so much – and of course the connection with all of you too! It’s been a busy year; but I don’t like looking back, just forward.
Its going to be a great year, a busy one and a challenging one but one that I hope sees much more positive action for nature and wildlife. I’m going to try and do my bit and the next few months will see me speaking at a few conferences and events. I’m excited about them and will share all I can with you!
I’ve been doing preliminary field work with Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group for our Raptor Satellite Tagging Project ‘Hawk Eyes’ (remember the fundraiser? We’ll firstly be working on sub adult buzzard and red kite – the two most persecuted birds of prey here in Northern Ireland. We’re trying to lure the birds with meat traps – so far, no go but we won’t give up and it takes a lot of time and patience. I’ll keep you posted!
My two roles as an iWill and RSPCA Youth Ambassador will also be keeping me busy. I’ll be working with my community and helping them to connect with nature in interesting and creative ways – a new post coming soon about some funding I’ve received!
I’m also going to be helping Chris Packham with his campaign and his Manifesto For Wildlife – not sure how yet, but I’ve been told to get ready to work hard. Luckily I like working hard!
I’m in the throes of writing my book, one of the most intense, exhilarating, frustrating, joyous and terrifying experiences of my life, so far! It’s a rollercoaster of emotions- particularly as it’s written in real time, with real and raw emotions; all from the heart. I’ll be finished writing it by summer and it will be published next Spring!
I would like to wish you all a wonderful and wild 2019. Thank you so much for all your wonderful encouragement and support.
To leave you, I’ll share a moment I had today on my new local patch. It’s taken me a while to find my feet, but like I said before, root tendrils are entwining me to this new and majestic landscape. Here, I watched Brent Geese feed alongside Lapwing, Curlew, Greenshank, Little Egret and Godwits. The sun was setting and it really touched me; when I feel this everyday connection to nature, it makes me fight harder to protect it, to care for it and never stop sharing the beauty and wonder of it.
Every week, I’ll share a new element of my patch. I do this on Twitter but I’d like to share my ‘Nature Notes from the Mourne Mountains’ here, too.
When I started my blog two years ago, it started at the kitchen table, a solitary chronicling about how nature made me feel. How it helped my mind, my emotions and my mental health. It quite quickly became a community experience, I began to volunteer and meet people, a massive thing for me; because previously, to be blunt, my experiences with people weren’t really positive. Through these interactions with my community, I gained the strength and confidence to protect and campaign for the thing that helped me most – nature.
On Tuesday, I attended one of the most positive and inspirational events I’ve ever been to. When I was contacted by #iWill – a youth social action campaign supported by Step Up To Serve and Grassroots Challenge – to become a Young Ambassador, I was so incredibly excited! When I researched the organisation and read the stories of other ambassadors, I felt such a connection with its diversity and honesty. I felt that they would really deliver a revolutionary programme to give today’s youth the guidance, support and encouragement we need. To help our communities and drive forward our ideas to make society a better place for everyone.
I immediately agreed and began to think about what I really wanted my ‘social action’ to be. Of course I wanted it to be about nature but I wanted it to help communities in a tangible way. I came up with my pledge – #iWill ensure that local government and organisations give precedence to the connection between youth, nature and mental health – I feel so passionately about the pledge, it’s one that I’ve had direct experience with and one that could bring a lot of joy and wellbeing to others.
The event itself was just pouring out with good vibes. I was one of 50 young people from across the UK, who would become the 2018 ambassadors. The experience began the night before, meeting three other Northern Irish ambassadors – Charlene, Emma and Lucia at the airport and then the Scottish and Welsh contingent over pizza at our hotel. I was so surprised at how at ease I felt, how much I spoke with them and laughed with them. It was fantastic.
Kew Gardens hosted the event, such a spectacular venue and perfect for iWill’s ‘Year of Green Action’! The morning held an immediate surprise for me as I met with good friend Robert MacFarlane! I had no idea he was attending; his daughter Lily is also going to be an ambassador. I was delighted to see Rob again and meet Lily!
My first job of the day was meeting Lord Gardiner of Kimble who is the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity – all the ‘Environmental Ambassadors’ were meeting him and it was great to see Zach Haynes who I met at The People’s Walk For Wildlife! I was also getting photographed with him after receiving another award, you’ll get to hear about that next Monday! It was such a brilliant experience and quite surreal!
The sun was in my eyes! Above ‘Environmental Ambassadors’ below, recipients of another special award – stay tuned!
The morning got off to a great start, with two young iWill trustees presenting the morning session. They were unbelievably confident and warm, they blew me away! There was a brilliant speech by Grow Wild UK a social engagement project based at Kew Gardens, focusing on fungi and flowers in your home and community. It’s an amazing project and we have had great success with their wildflower seeds and fungi growing kits!
The inspirational presentation was given by Anthony Bennett, an amazing survivor of three infections and 12 heart stopping moments – literally, his heart stopped an astounding 12 times – but he made it and not only that, he decided to use his new lease of life for positive social action; raising millions of pounds for Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital! What an amazing and incredible human being. I enjoyed his talk immensely.
The group session, I was dreading to be honest, but I needn’t have. I was surrounded by warmth and encouragement and our facilitator Luke Rees was just brilliant- thank you Luke for all your help and advice regarding taking a seat at the table of organisations. I learned so much!
What followed were inspirational primary school children making a huge impact on their communities. I was bowled over! I recited a new poem called ‘Pathways’, I wrote it in the hotel room the night before…it just poured out! If anyone would like a copy of it written down, I can do that if you’d like? It’s always nerve wracking, sharing your deep thoughts – but I felt relaxed and speaking in front of audiences is getting easier with practice.
Group discussions, connection and meaningful conservations about what we feel passionate about; giving our ideas and suggestions, ended the day, before a final photo. I was getting pretty over excited by this point, and my sensory system was spiralling. I lose every filter by this point and so I was probably quite manic and excited. It was a positive reaction but I knew I couldn’t have taken much more. We left on a high and I crashed on the plane home, feeling exhausted, elated and most importantly: full of purpose.
I am really looking forward to putting my pledge into action and feel such anticipation for the year ahead. I hope to work with lots of organisations and connect more people with nature : because a healthy environment has a huge impact on our mental health.
I would like to send my heartfelt thanks to the iWill team, especially Freya, who organised and looked after us all so well – my mum has been singing her praises since we got back! It’s great to feel supported and nurtured and I hope this is just the beginning of a wonderful adventure.
Hello everyone, I’ve been absent and very much miss blogging and connecting with you all. It’s been so busy as I start my GCSE studies and the way the system works here, means that my exams are spread out instead of all at once. I’ve completed one and more are on the way. It’s not a bad system but it means that my thinking headspace is taken up at different times.
If you haven’t already heard – I have signed a publishing deal with Little Toller Books! I mentioned in passing that I’d love to turn my ideas and thoughts into a book. After much discussion, they suggested publishing ‘The Diary of a Young Naturalist’! I was stunned, I still am. They have faith in me, so my mornings and evenings are spent writing. It will be released in 2020 and I’m enjoying the process so much. I’m learning so much about language and words and feelings – of course it’s difficult, because it’s very personal; writing helps ease past pains… I won’t cliche further!
Signing the contract!
I’ve also taken up some interesting and exciting ambassador roles, I’ll share those over the next week or so. I promise I won’t leave it so long again!
A couple of images from my amazing new ‘patch’. It’s astoundingly beautiful and everything is so close, no more than a twenty minute drive!
The glowing view from Sliabh an Ime (Butter Mountain) part of the Majestic Mourne Mountains.
I also wanted to share a picture of the lower levels of Slieve Donard – too, a part of my now beloved Mourne Mountains. I have fallen so deeply in love with my new home. As I walked on top of these Oak and Beech root paths; I felt the magic of them grounding me, accepting my footfall as part of the landscape. I am now, as a local put it “A son of Mourne via Fermanagh” That was a welcome indeed!
After a tremendously busy weekend, words have been claimed for my book, which I’m hitting a deadline for – but I wanted to pause between school, editing and homework to write a small blog. It hardly seems worth it, to sum up in a few words, how we all felt on Saturday September 22nd. How we all came together in unity and solidarity to stand up for what we believe in. Peacefully and purposefully.
If you search the hashtag on social media you can find all the finer details you need to know. I was lucky though, to be asked to perform my poem and say a few heartfelt extra words by Chief Orchestrator, Chris Packham. I was reticent to be honest, because I dislike being ‘chosen’ for things. I struggled to be honest. I struggle with a lot of things. I felt that other people might have been more deserving…but then I ‘wised up’ as we say here. I thought, well, why not me? So, mum and I rose at 3am to drive to Belfast, catch a plane, get on a train and catch a Tube to Hyde Park. All I saw were non-native things: such a strange feeling for me, growing up with birds all around me. Actually, flying over the vast brown fields with little hedging and tree cover – it always feels like an alien landscape. Parakeets and Grey Squirrels everywhere, they were charming of course, but it was apt.
Mum and I started our time in Hyde Park with Bella Lack and her mum, I haven’t known Bella long but she’s a very eloquent writer and we spent a while trying to warm up in the rain by directing some lost people by The Serpentine lake, to the Reformer’s Tree. It was a nice way to wile away the morning and not focus on the job that lay ahead.
I was not expecting such a crowd! 10,000 people! I couldn’t believe it. This meant that a lot of plans had to go by the wayside and I missed out on meeting many people I’d planned to catch up with.
The day had spectacular entertainment by the amazing Billy Bragg, Grace Petrie and Saskia Eng. There were lots of young speakers too including Mya Rose Craig, Bella Lack and Georgia Locock, who all spoke brilliantly. All of us were looked after by the mega cool and collected, Megan McCubbin, a very welcome presence backstage.
There was a very positive response regarding my poem on Twitter and some people asked for a written version, so, here it is :-
The Holocene Extinction?
When we began, our feet trod lightly
Bare upon the earth, we were weightless.
Travelling, allowing resurgence and Regrowth, leaving enough.
Forging through millennia, we kept on Adding endless weight, leadening.
Heaviness, leaving deep and lasting Indentations, sending shockwaves.
Cruelty, cavernous greed, no impediment,
Hands and feet became Industrial. Monsters, spewing toxicity, sickening
Deafening, echoing arrows.
Now, thundering, trampling boundlessly.
Decimating pathways once bountiful.
We watch helplessly, numb aching
Hollow, haunting cries to empty spaces.
Stop. I hear hope, purposely striding.
Footsteps pleading necessary action.
Great minds whirring, channeling change
Demanding, respectfully our weight to
We want birdsong, abundant fluttering, Humming, no more poison, destruction.
Growing for growth, it has to end
Will my generation see the rightful
The last part was completely ad libbed but my mum made a video – it’s mostly audio as someone is in front of me, I’m fine with that!
We marched after all the speeches and the rain fell. The birds sang from mobile phones, drowning the parakeets which were squawking above our heads. It was joyous and monumental. A ripple of hope, which will hopefully gather up to form a tsunami of change.
When we reached Whitehall, more speakers including George Monbiot, whipped the crowd into a frenzy of ‘yes we can do this’! It was mesmerising and exciting!
It was then time to deliver the Peace Treaty against ‘The War on Wildlife’ to Downing Street. Mya, Bella, Georgia and I were joined by Zach and Alex; two other fine young naturalists. Alongside Chris, we handed the first draft of the People’s Manifesto For Wildlife into the house and we stayed for some photos in the rain. I, look like a drowned rat – we all did!
The last leg of this journey, which for me, actually started when I was a very young child, was spent with Sir John Randall, Chief Environment Adviser, in Parliament Buildings. Conservation has been a topic around our dinner table, on our walks, at bedtime, since I was born; it’s an integral part of our lives. My dad has been a conservationist for 20 years, but my choices are personal to me. So my heart spilled out and out poured he things I feel so passionately about; I didn’t hold back. This conservative government has not been kind to nature. Badger culling. Not following science. Closing down the Climate Change department. Trying to re-establish fox hunting. Dramatically cutting funding for renewable energies. Increasing the cost of public transport. Trying to weaken animal welfare laws. I could go on…they also talk a lot and then water down the action. Sir John was lovely but will our ideas be blown to the wind of all the forgotten things? Time will tell, but, I will be putting forward my ideas though for the manifesto (draft two) and I urge you all to do the same. I am ready to peacefully negotiate on behalf of young people here in Northern Ireland or wherever else people may need an extra voice. I’ve been waiting my whole, albeit short, life for this.
It was a wonderful day of solidarity, support and positive connections. I’ll never forget it. It was amazing. The highlight was meeting all the people I’ve connected with on Twitter. Over the last 2.5 years, I have been talking and debating and sharing ideas with like minded people – young and old. It was absolutely fantastic to meet them in person. Especially my dear friends Jo Cartmell and Robert MacFarlane – both of whom have been compassionate advocates of my writing. Zach Haynes is exactly my age and I knew we’d hit it off, I wasn’t wrong! I see us meeting again soon. Mum and I stayed a while with Mya Rose and her family, it was fantastic – the most socialising I’ve done in my whole life, combined! A triumph. Hopefully!
The skies opened a couple of days ago and sheets of watery downpours are feeding the land. I await the green to return and the parched, brittle browns to give way. Thank you all for your generous well wishes after my last blog post. I’m sorry I can’t reply to them all as I usually do.
In the depths of confusion and heavy heartedness a Hawthorn Shield Bug landed on my hand during a break in the rain. I stood and watched it rest awhile, its verdant antennas twitching; before flitting off. It was a gratefully received interlude on my journey towards familiarity and joy. I have become determined to not let my anxieties get in the way of doing the things I love, especially appreciating the beauty close to doorstep. For now, that has to be enough.
Moving house is disturbingly stressful, all the advice goes out to adults and it’s about practical things…labelling, organising and packing a ‘survival kit’ to keep you sane. I love labelling and organising but no amount of this, can comfort a sad state of being. My anxiety has been spiralling out of control and I’ve been fighting hard to resolve this unsettling. Moving house, counties and most devastatingly, changing landscapes has been difficult for me. But, it is beautifully sunny as I write this and House Martins are bubbling overhead. So, as far as things go, in the grander scheme of things, it will be okay – I have that on repeat. So have my parents. It will? Things will settle. In the last week or so, not only have we been been busily packing but I was also invited, along with other young naturalists and conservationists, to film a young presenter piece for Chris Packham’s #WeWantWildlife BioBlitz. I really found the filming breathtakingly easy: – I was myself and acted as I would in real life when seeing wildlife – I get very excited! I love Murlough, it’s an astoundingly beautiful place. It was also wonderful to see Chris and Ruth Peacey again; and meet some really great people. You can watch the video here You can support the campaign here Afterwards though, the doubt crept in. In the moment I was fine, I wasn’t nervous – because I wasn’t processing. When the whirring started, my anxiety grew out of control. I also realised that I sought validation – which was something I actually hadn’t experienced before. I do things naturally that appeal to me and I’m normally ‘isolated’ – as in, just doing them for and by myself. Suddenly, I found myself obsessively comparing my words, my actions, my face…with others and it greatly disturbed me. Social media was exacerbating my palpitations. I have decided therefore to no longer post or remain active on Twitter. I have always enjoyed posting on Twitter but my enthusiasm and excitement now feels sullied and somehow, out of place. I sought refuge in the dunes and surf of Murlough Nature Reserve and as the sun set on my tumultuous mind it brought peace and acceptance. I wandered along the well trodden paths alongside Linnet call, Skylark song and Cackling Gull. It felt so good. Balance was slightly more restored. This landscape will shape the rest of my teenage years and teach me so much about coastal habitat and landscapes. I felt excitement bubbling up. I accepted that being in nature and writing about it, without any expectation or need for validation is enough. My relationship with nature and wildlife is one of the most important I have. I want to concentrate on that, nourish it further and work out more ways I can help wildlife- that is my ultimate goal! That’s how it all started. I’m autistic. I’m a perfectionist and always looking for ways to prove I’m actually an imposter…a failure. It didn’t take me long to realise that there are many more people who ‘fit the bill’, more than I do. I’m happy for them. I feel a release. I will make my own way. I’m writing a book and working with a publisher. I’m connecting with local wildlife recorders and getting involved with local events. It’s enough. I don’t have to broadcast everything, anymore. I want to quietly beaver away, write and explore. I will update my blog and occasionally share it on Twitter if I feel brave enough – I won’t be logging in for comments though. I need to realise my limitations and adapt accordingly. Like most species must do at some point in their evolutionary journey. I will leave the ‘spotlight’ to those who are better at that sort of thing. Those who are more social, more able at connecting with people and making an impression. I fail miserably at that. It’s very difficult for me. I stop and realise the Devils-bit Scabious is now coming into flower. I sit awhile and watch Six-spot Burnet Moths land and feed. Gothic colours, royal colours – wildlife shone against the overcast sky. Thanks for reading.
I’m beginning to resign myself to the fact that my 30 Days Wild vlogs will be sporadic, it was difficult for me to accept this as I’m a perfectionist; but it’s been an important lesson to learn and I always love to learn from experience – it’s how I grow.
Here are my two most recent videos:-
30 Days Wild - Day 11 Exploring in the garden - YouTube
Dara’s Wild Diary - 30 Days Wild Day 12 - Wildlife from My Window - YouTube
On this day two years ago, I started writing my blog and I honestly cannot believe the amount of connections I’ve made and the experiences I’ve had. The best thing for me, is having people come back time and time again to comment on my posts and travel a little bit of my journey with me. The next best thing is the online connections I’ve built up on Twitter. The natural science community online is incredible and very welcoming. I have learned so much; the feeling of growing up with no one outside my family to share my interest and passion for wildlife has certainly diminished. I sometimes wonder if everyone who has said a kind word or shared knowledge or shone light on my darkness or put even a figurative hand on my shoulder…I wonder if people realise the positive impact and the impression they have made. I get emotional when I ponder on those elements. I hope you all know how much joy you have brought me. How my self esteem has grown. I feel like I have grown up so much and my voice, both written and vocal, have grown more confident and constantly challenged.
Another blog I wrote about some of my experiences so far –
Hello everyone, it has been a really busy weekend and I’m writing Day 10, a day late. We had a wonderful sunny weekend in South Co Down, it was full of wildlife both land, sea and sky. For my latest video we explored a rock pool in Cranfield beach. We chose just one pool, it’s easier to remember which area held the animals you took out to observe – they should always be placed back wherever they came from. It is important to do that.
Here’s the video :-
30 Days Wild Day 10 - Rockpooling! - YouTube
I also got some really great news last week which was released yesterday. I won third prize in New Nature’s writing competition! My piece ‘Embodiment of Spring’, was a heartfelt evocation of the season – both present and past. When I wrote the piece, it was early morning and the words spilled out, as they so often do; from head to heart to hand. The competition was open to the world and up to the age of 30, so to say I was shocked and surprised was an understatement!
I’m so privileged and honoured to receive such kind words from Robert MacFarlane too!
I think that after 30 Days Wild is finished, I’ll stick to writing. I have lots of plans and exciting ideas!
Thanks as always for your support and encouragement. My blog is almost two years old; every day has been a pleasure, and an odyssey of connection and knowledge.