On Thursday morning I rose before the dawn light to experience something I never thought possible. I was travelling to appear on BBC Springwatch Unsprung! This year has been an amazing journey, my blog is now a year old and I’ve enjoyed every step of the way. I never once thought that the opportunities I have been given would escalate to this point, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would experience Springwatch in this way. Another thing that I knew would happen; I would get to see my lifetime hero, Chris Packham. I have watched him since I was a mere toddler and he has continued to inspire me as my obsession with wildlife has grown.
On the way to the airport we were Buzzard watching as usual and the sunrise was breathtaking. Small flocks of Sparrows were flying from field to field and the light was as bursting as my heart was. I was really anxious that something was going to go wrong and I worried that some barricade would present itself which would scupper our plans. It didn’t. Before I knew it, the flight was over and we were in the car driving into Sherborne Estate, the new home of Springwatch! I breathed a sigh of relief. We made it!!! My anxieties were still lurking, but when we were met by Nikki the producer who I’d met at home where my film was made. I thought that maybe, this might work out. We went to get some drinks and met some really nice people and then Nikki announced that Chris wanted to meet me! My heart felt like it had jumped out of my mouth and was dancing around the table. I took a deep breath and took mum with me to his caravan. We talked (well mostly Chris and mum) about music, books, exploring, his autism documentary, autistic people in general and what would happen on the Unsprung show. When he said he’d present me with a certificate I was genuinely surprised. I had totally forgotten about that!!! He gave me books (some signed) and what struck me most was that his mannerisms and ‘way’ were so similar to my own. I have met a lot of people with Autism and I’ve never met anyone who was ‘like’ me. When I met Chris, it was like I met myself in the future. It was bizarre. I found talking difficult because I was trying to process what was happening to me. I was also observing, measuring and listening to what Chris had to say before I attempted to speak. It was an astonishing experience. Just as we had to leave, I felt like I could’ve said more. Ah well. Maybe one day, there might be another opportunity.
We had lunch and then to my surprise I saw Steve Backshall! He was lovely and very friendly. He offered us a family photograph – how exciting. What a cool guy.
Afterwards, Nikki took us for a tour of the production village and it was so interesting. I was in awe at the amount of work and different elements that were involved. What an incredible amount of juggling and interconnectedness, I think we should really applaud the whole team – who are so in sync and completely unflappable! Wow. I was amazed.
Thanks to everyone who took the time to explain their work to us, it was fascinating.
I really needed to stretch my legs and explore and we had about twenty minutes before we were needed for ‘blocking’ which is basically working out positions and trying out my microphone etc. So mum and I went for a quick walk. Amazingly, three Red Kites were wheeling at different positions the distance. What a treat as they are very rare here, with none at all as far west as Fermanagh! I also found a wasp gall which I have temporarily lost (I brought it home with me)!
We had some free time so we relaxed in the caravan for a bit. I watched through the window as a worn Small Tortoiseshell landed beside me, I wondered how long it had been fluttering about, maybe it was in its last throes. I listened to the Wood Pigeon calling and felt the light breeze whispering around me. I dosed off and woke with a start. Refreshed I needed to move again. Mum, Lorcan and I walked towards the village and at the stream we saw Grey Wagtail, Kingfisher, Long tailed tit (much to my brother’s delight!) and Nuthatch – we don’t have them in Ireland so it was fantastic to see one.
It was getting really warm so we decided to head back. The rest of the evening flew like a dream, I felt strangely there yet not there at all, it felt like I wasn’t me, that something like this couldn’t be happening to me; the kid who works hard to get good grades but can’t hold a conversation, the kid who’s ignored, bullied and laughed at. My life was getting better (it has gotten better immeasurably since I moved school) It felt so surreal. It was time for the pre recording of the very last Springwatch Unsprung!!
Chris was really considerate towards me, asking me if I was ok. I was very grateful for that, it was like perhaps he could see I was having difficulty even though I wasn’t showing it. My body was stiff from holding myself together, I really hoped I could hold my composure!
Sam West, was a brilliant guest. I could see that nature affected him as much as it did me. It was very moving to watch. It was time for them to show my film and I have t say, it was really difficult. I was squirming inside, every inch of me was burning and screaming but I held it together. I tried really hard. It was time for Chris to present me with my award, it was the best moment of my life, he said – ‘Dara, not only are you a wildlife hero, but you’re also a hero of mine’! I was bursting. All fear, anxiety and tension just melted away. I even managed to talk!! Wow! It was like receiving an Oscar. I have never felt an ounce of proper pride in my life. I’m a critic, always thinking I could have done better. I couldn’t pick this apart for fault. I did it and I smiled and I didn’t make a fool of myself! It was also really nice to meet Paula and James who I know from Twitter- they were in the audience too! ☺️
We got to chat with Chris and Lindsey afterwards and got some photos. I’m sorry not to have got a photo with Lindsey though, as she was so brilliant, so warm and so friendly towards me. She really made me feel at ease, especially at the end of the show when Chris called me back up again!
I’m not sure if the feelings I had during this day will ever come again, I have turned and processed every moment around in my head. I have analysed it and thought on how it could’ve have been better, but I can’t think of how, because that was ‘me’. And that ‘me’, is actually pretty ok, screaming insides and all!
Huge thanks to Lucy, Nikki, Chris, Lindsey, George and all the team; for making my dream come true and for giving me the courage to follow my dreams, and to…
Heartfelt gratitude and thanks to Ulster Wildlife our local Wildlife Trust, who nominated me for the award. I can’t thank you enough, your work is so important and I hope I can find a future opportunity to do something in return.
Thanks for reading