Young farmers’ outstanding efforts in protecting nature across Northern Ireland were recognised last week at the annual Grassroots Challenge Awards ceremony at Lisburn Civic Centre, with special guest Ferne Corrigan, TV wildlife presenter.
Over the last year, over 1700 young people, aged 11 to 25, from Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award groups and special schools rolled up their sleeves to carry out 60 projects to help nature thrive in their local area, as part of the Grassroots Challenge project, led by Ulster Wildlife.
From making homes for birds and hedgehogs, to planting trees and transforming local spaces into vital wildlife havens, the young people have unleashed their passion, creativity and potential to make a real difference to their environment and community around them.
The awards ceremony, hosted by representatives from the Grassroots Challenge Youth Forum, saw six young farmers awarded with Young Environmental Leader Awards: Adam Kennedy from Collone YFC, Natasha Adams from Lisnamurrican YFC, Leah Steele from Crumlin YFC, Darren Corbett from Mourne YFC, Elizabeth Adair from Randalstown YFC, and Hayley-Rea Hopkins from Donaghadee YFC. Leah Steele from Crumlin YFC also picked up the overall winner in the Young Farmers’ Category for her year round work to encourage environmental activities at her club.
Speaking about the award, Leah said: “I am absolutely thrilled to win this award which acknowledges the work by Crumlin YFC. As this year’s Secretary, it’s fantastic to see the club continuously going from strength to strength which wouldn’t be possible without the hard work and commitment of our members.
“This award has really encouraged me to continue establishing other conservation ideas to enhance the ‘roots’ for future generations on our farm and through the club.”
Lisnamurrican Young Farmers’ Club also scooped the Best Young Farmer’s Club Activity Award for improving their local environment for wildlife and people.
The young farmers are working towards their Green Flag Eco Club Award and have been busy planting pollinator friendly plants and cleaning up their local river at Houston’s Mill.
Gail McCullough, club secretary at Lisnamurrican YFC, said: “Lisnamurrican YFC is delighted to have received the award for Best Activity 2019. It is great to see that the efforts of our members have been recognised.
“We would like to thank all those at Ulster Wildlife who have supported us throughout the past year and as we go forward for our Green Flag Award.”
Alexey Janes, Grassroots Project co-ordinator with Ulster Wildlife congratulated the winners on their achievements, said: “A huge well done to everyone - they should be so proud of themselves. Helping young people make a difference to their local environment is what the Grassroots Challenge is all about, so it is fantastic to see so many young people with the drive, energy and passion step up and change things for the better.
“Every generation has what it takes to create real positive change.
“It is simply a matter of having the confidence and support to do so and we hope to encourage thousands more young people to take action for nature.”
The Grassroots Challenge has already seen over 7,000 young people skilled-up to lead wildlife projects in their local communities.
Young people are also given the opportunity to complete accredited training, sign up for the Eco-Club programme run by Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful and participate in democracy education sessions at Stormont with Northern Ireland Environment Link.
The Grassroots Challenge is part of Our Bright Future, a programme of 31 projects across the UK co-ordinated by the Wildlife Trusts and funded by the Big Lottery Fund. Find out more at www.ulsterwildlife.org/grassroots