Young Farmers’ Clubs of Ulster members’ outstanding efforts in championing wildlife were recognised at the inaugural Grassroots Challenge Awards ceremony, on 23 November, in W5, hosted by TV wildlife presenter and naturalist Simon King.
Over the last year, 2,000 young people, aged 11 to 24, from Young Farmers’ Clubs, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award groups and special schools rolled up their sleeves to carry out 150 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 achieve amazing things for wildlife and people.
Darren Corbett, from Mourne Young Farmers’ Club, and Jane Kilpatrick from Donaghadee Young Farmers’ Club were two of the eight inspirational young people presented with a Young Environmental Leader Award.
Darren was instrumental in engaging his club with a range of activities to help improve their local environment and, along with other members, volunteered his time to plant trees, make feeders for red squirrels and nest boxes for barn owls, as well as supporting the ‘Healthy Heathland’ project run by Mourne Heritage Trust.
Darren, along with Emma Connor and David Houston, from Mourne Young Farmers’ Club also scooped an award for their team efforts.
He said: “As one of the newest clubs in Co Down, we are thrilled to have won two awards, and see our club grow from strength to strength.
“I am extremely proud of all the members: for their hard work, passion and dedication.
“We really enjoyed taking part in the Grassroots Challenge and doing our bit for local wildlife and the local community, and would encourage other clubs to get involved.”
Donaghadee Young Farmers’ Club was commended by the judges for incorporating environmental activities into their annual family and friends barbecue, which was spearheaded by Jane Kilpatrick.
She said: “It was very easy to encourage our members and their families to take part, as the activities were not only educational but also great fun.
“To win the Young Environmental Leader Award was the icing on the cake.”
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 building 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 Shona, 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.”
Simon King, passionate conservationist and President Emeritus of The Wildlife Trusts, congratulated the winners on their achievements.
He said: “I am genuinely inspired by all the fantastic work young people have done for wildlife through the Grassroots Challenge.
“At a time when young people are becoming increasingly disconnected with nature, it is heartening to see so many getting out there, having fun and changing things for the better.
“Young people are our future, so initiatives which support them to develop skills and widen their appreciation of the natural world around them are a very wise investment.”
Alexey Janes, Grassroots project co-ordinator with Ulster Wildlife added: “A huge well done to everyone – they should be so proud of themselves.
“Helping young people experience nature and make a difference to their environment is a big part of our work.
“We have made a great start during this first full year of the Grassroots Challenge and we are excited to see what else young people will achieve for themselves and for wildlife in the years ahead.”
The Grassroots Challenge will see over 5,000 young people skilled-up to lead wildlife projects in their local communities by 2020.
Young people are also given the opportunity to complete an accredited LANTRA environmental qualification, 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. Each project aims to help young people step up and create what is rightfully theirs: a thriving economy, a healthy planet, and a better future.
Find out more at www.ulsterwildlife.org/grassroots