Awareness, education and engagement; challenges and successes. 

I am not great with people, I have to admit that I find conversations quite difficult but it’s something I’m working on and at the weekend I was given a challenge. As a young person living with Aspergers, social interactions are always going to be difficult but I won’t let it hold me back from fulfilling my dreams either. I constantly challenge myself (and mum does too) to do things out of my comfort zone, it’s definitely worth it to pursue these challenges. This weekend saw a really big breakthrough for me.

Last year my dad did a really cool nature stand at our Spring Fete, it was really successful so we decided to do it again this year – this time I would help him. We focused on native wildlife and the issues that they face but mostly we just want to show people what’s on their doorstep and how to find it. We had some furry friends to help us ;))

We talked about Red Squirrel populations and the problems they face – luckily we have a dominant red population and few greys. We heard lots of stories from people who frequently had visits from Red Squirrels and how much joy they gave them. We handed out lots of Fermanagh Red Squirrel Group leaflets and encouraged people to report their sightings. It was great to hear such enthusiasm!

We also got lots of people looking down the microscope, many kids had never seen or looked down a microscope before so it was great to give them the opportunity. I think it’s a really sad that Primary schools don’t really teach science, natural history or biodiversity – it would be relatively easy to have a few weeks at the end of term to dedicate to these issues.

My dad, who’s a great educator and a really big inspiration to me!

Another really cool thing I touched on was our local population of Buzzards – in years gone by the population was very low due to persecution but now it is rising and we want to keep it like that. We told them how Buzzards were highly unlikely to prey on anything bigger than a rabbit and how important they are to our Eco system. Letting people see our Buzzard, feel it’s feathers, beak and talons brought them closer to nature I think and decreased their fears. I got pretty animated about the birds once I got started and the kids were really enjoying my dramatics I think (swooping arms and lots of gestures;)). I got lots of questions and was able to answer them in a way that brought clarity and more enthusiasm for these gorgeous birds.

I think dad looks a little proud of me taking over!
There is another side to this story though, the distasteful looks, the ‘don’t touch, it’s dirty’ – mainly from parents! They think it’s ok to watch Planet Earth, but not for their kids to freely explore their environment! Clearly there is still work to be done!!! The connection has been lost for many people and it needs to be re-established, I think I played a small part in making that happen. The wide-eyed wonder of some of the kids and the fascination of these parents, made it all worthwhile. I found my feet and my voice and I can’t wait to do it again – because clearly we need to do it a lot more!

Thanks to the work of Ulster Wildlife, Fermanagh Red Squirrel Group, Butterfly Conservation NI and all those who help and support me to become the best I can be and thanks to my dad; for all his knowledge, enthusiasm and inspiration.

Thanks for reading
Dara ☺️

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16 Responses

  1. Hi Dara,

    An excellent blog post, I really enjoyed it! I thought that natural history was neglected in the curriculum in my school, however to hear that they don’t teach it at all in primary school came as a real shock to me. Saying that, although they do include some, the resources are not always accurate and the teachers are not always aware of that unfortunately. Apparently the natural habitat of a rabbit is a pen, according to a past paper we went through ahead of our end-of-year examinations. Luckily I wasn’t the only person to get the question ‘wrong’ however it does show that the quality of nature education in the curriculum across the UK needs to be increased.


  2. Indeed James, our PS Eco school group did not focus on biodiversity despite my best efforts as a representative. Kids don’t know bird, tree, wildflower species anymore and actually the Oxford Junior Dictionary are taking out natural history words such as bluebell and conker etc This is what we’re up against!!

    1. I am very surprised to hear of the awful actions of the Oxford Junior Dictionary as I’ve never read that anywhere before! It is truly terrible and nonsensical. Do you know the reason why that is happening? I suspect it is simply because young people are veering further and further away from nature, those natural history items are being come across less frequently and therefore the words are rarely being used. At my school we have a whole-school conker championships every year… I don’t know about other schools however I suspect we are an (positive) anomaly unfortunately.

  3. Buzzards are my most favourite bird. Whenever i’m nervous and i see one i instantly feel calmer. You are right about schools teaching natural history. I think thats were society is going wrong. In order to help future wildlife the young must learn about it to appreciate it and then be inspired to help.

    1. Hey LJay completely agree, it’s hard to know what exactly is going wrong because you also have the older generation spraying roundup and having sterile gardens, even though it’s not what they grew up with? They know what they’re doing wrong surely? It feels like star fish flipping (a story about a man who was throwing stranded star fish back into the sea, there were millions of them. He was asked why he was doing it and was told it mattered to that starfish. We have to keep trying!! I’m glad Buzzards give you such a feeling, when we’re open to it, nature can give us so much.

  4. Another great post Dara 🙂 Well done for rising to the challenge of co-manning the stall. I do not have the complexities of asperger’s to deal with but I still find it difficult to involve myself in interactions such as you will have experienced at the fete so I admire your courage and determination.

    I agree with you that schools don’t seem to engage young people in the natural world as much as they seemed to when I was a pupil. (MANY years ago!!) It seems more important than ever in a world where social media tempts all of us to step away from the world and engage with machines more than people and nature.

    We used to live in an area where red kites had been successfully re-established. I loved to see them wheeling in the skies. Now we live in buzzard country. I think they are wonderful birds. And surprisingly fragile. I see them being mobbed by crows sometimes and recently one was chased by a single seagull. I watched as the tormented buzzard took refuge in a tree: where the seagull of course, could not land. The seagull flew round and round the tree for several minutes grumbling loudly but eventually it gave up!

    1. Hi Sandra, yes! I’ve signed the petition/thunderclap and I’ve been tweeting about it too. I’m planning on doing a blog about it soon. Thanks, I’m having a great holiday visiting my favourite spots in Fermanagh. We’re going to Donegal for a couple of days too ☺️

  5. Brilliant, Dara – nothing better than spending time talking to people about wildlife. What a fabulous event.

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