GUEST BLOG – Q&A WITH DARA MCANULTY – YOUNG NATURALIST, CONSERVATIONIST & WRITER

Firstly, please introduce yourself. Who you are, where you are from and what you do. 

My name is Dara McAnulty, I’m a 14-year old naturalist, conservationist and writer from County Down – although I have just moved here from Co Fermanagh!

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Can you tell me a little bit about your wonderful blog please. How it started and what motivates you to write. 

My blog, Young Fermanagh Naturalist began almost two and a half years ago. I write about my experiences in nature, what I see, how I feel. I try to include facts, mythology, cultural references and use descriptive writing and poetry to encourage the reader to feel the  intensity of the way I see the world as a young autistic person. It started because I was writing a journal and mum said that it would be interesting to write a blog – I could keep it private if I wanted to or I could share it. I started sharing it with no expectations and have completely amazed by the response it has generated! 

Writing is now second nature to me, it’s almost like a necessity. I’m writing a book which will be published in 2020, so I’m writing twice a day, in between school and homework. I just love writing so much now, I itch to write at every spare moment. It’s therapeutic and challenging, it fills me with happiness to relive my experiences on the page.

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I’d love to hear more about your campaign work. 

Great. Yes, I have campaigned on three main issues: Biodiversity loss, young people and their access/involvement in nature and more specifically raptor persecution. Biodiversity loss is a critical problem right now, we have experienced a 60% decline in species since 1970. I campaign by speaking publicly and on social media about the importance of wildlife and wild places. I lead an eco group at school and I volunteer with local wildlife organisations. I speak at conferences about youth engagement and I’m a youth ambassador for RSPCA and the iWill campaign – a youth social action support organisation. I’m also a youth ambassador for Pocket Pals – an augmented reality app which you can play on your phone to find and identify native wildlife. I’ve always been fascinated by raptors, they are so important for a balanced eco system. However, they are shot, trapped and poisoned here on our doorstep in Northern Ireland. This is mainly through lack of education, false information and fear in certain communities. Recently I raised £6,000 to satellite tag some birds and helped fund a project which will engage with the public and bust the myths that surround these amazing species. 

I have also recently started campaigning against our government’s inaction towards climate change. I’m extremely passionate about this, as it affects everything in our world. I have spoken at The Extinction Rebellion in Dublin, British Ecological Society and have recently met with councillors and politicians about how we can make local, positive changes  This is my next campaigning project – alongside all my other areas of passion.

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How can everyday people get involved with helping to save our precious planet? 

I’m an everyday person. We all are! We make choices every day, many of which impact on our planet. Here are some really great things that we can all do :- 

Use less plastic! We can do this by having a reusable water/hot drinks bottle/cup. Take your own brown paper bags for veggies and sometimes your own meat/dairy containers. The assistants don’t bat an eyelid in our local shops – honestly! Use fabric bags – they last the longest! 

Read food labels – palm oil is a huge issue. Rainforests and Brazilian cattle ranching is causing millions of acres of deforestation every year. This is catastrophic both locally for indigenous people and wildlife, but also globally as they are planetary oxygen givers. So check your pre-packaged food and your beef. 

Enjoy nature and tell everyone how wonderful it is! Let your kids explore and get dirty. Read identification books and learn about what you see – learning breathes care and care encourages action. 

Litter pick and beach clean – not a massive amount – but whatever you can. 

You can do all these things or just one, every small change you make, encourages a different way of thinking. I feel that once you start to make a change, other changes naturally follow.

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What would you say to other young people keen to get involved in conservation work? 

There are so many opportunities out there! You can do the Big Garden Birdwatch with RSPB, you can form an eco group like I did. Start a blog, share why you love nature and conservation – because we need more people to stand up and raise their voices. Raise money for your local wildlife organisation – I have become really involved with Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group because of my fundraising. It is amazing and fulfilling work – including field work and public speaking. 

Join Twitter!! This has been the best thing ever, for me. All the opportunities I’ve been given, happened because I am open and honest on Twitter. I share my passion widely and I don’t care how other people judge me! You can connect with people and organisations who share your interest. It’s an amazing community. Have your parents help you at the beginning like I did. I pretty much manage my own Twitter account now. 

Feel passion, don’t lock it up; share it! Remain curious and engaged in local and global issues. Anyone is always welcome to contact me through my blog, if they need encouragement and support with their ideas!

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