Young farmers’ outstanding efforts in championing nature across Northern Ireland were recognised at the annual Grassroots Challenge Awards ceremony at Craigavon Civic Centre.
Over the last year, over 3,000 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 236 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 seven young farmers awarded with Young Environmental Leader Awards including Rebecca Conor, Mourne YFC, Sarah Dorman, Spa YFC, Amy Richardson, Bleary YFC, Sophie Hawthorne and Ian Walker, Collone YFC, and Stephanie McIlroy and Emily Lyle from Gleno Valley YFC.
Collone 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 built and erected bird boxes and bug hotels for local farms, undertook a litter pick, as well as helping with invasive species control at Oxford Island.
Ian Walker, from Collone YFC, said: “Getting three awards for our club made all the hard work and effort we put in really worth it, especially at such a great event. We really enjoyed taking part in the Grassroots Challenge and doing our bit for our club, local wildlife and our community.”
Speaking about the awards, YFCU president James Speers said: “It was a great night and fantastic to see that the YFCU members have really embraced the Grassroots Challenge – taking part in activities such as tree planting, beach cleans and built bird, bug and even bat boxes.
“I look forward to continuing to work together with Ulster Wildlife and the two dedicated YFCU project officers, Andrew and Orlagh, who work with our members and bring their environmental knowledge and training to the fore.
“It’s very important to provide this to the next generation of young people from rural areas to ensure they understand how important the environment is and how we can all do our bit to protect it.
“Over the next two years, we look forward to the further development of the Eco Club concept, and tackling environmental issues which effect farmers.”
Alexey Janes, Grassroots project coordinator with Ulster Wildlife, congratulated the winners on their achievements: “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 5,000 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.
Best Special School Activity
Killard House School
Best Duke of Edinburgh’s Award/Joint Award Initiative Activity
Omagh Explorer Scouts
Best Young Farmers’ Club Activity
Young Environmental Leaders of the Year - Young Farmers’ Club members
Rebecca Connor – Mourne YFC
Sarah Dorman – Spa YFC
Amy Richardson – Bleary YFC
Sophie Hawthorne – Collone YFC
Ian Walker – Collone YFC
Stephanie McIlroy – Gleno Valley YFC
Emily Lyle – Gleno Valley YFC
Young Environmental Leaders of the Year - Duke of Edinburgh’s Award/Joint Award Initiative group members
Jack Gillespie - Ulidia College
Karl Castles - Ulidia College
Eimear McCann – Drummaul Church of Ireland Girl Guides
Young Environmental Leaders of the Year - Special School project team members
Simon Orr – Donard School
Warren Morrison – Park School
Curtis Woods – Killard House School