Young people’s environmental efforts celebrated at virtual awards ceremony

We maybe in the midst of a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean the outstanding efforts by young people in championing nature are no less impressive. Last week, Ulster Wildlife’s Grassroots Challenge virtually paid tribute to the unsung heroes for their inspiring and impressive work for nature, since its inception in 2016.

Over the last four years, 8,000 young people, aged 11-24, have taken part in the charity’s youth development programme through Young Farmers’ Clubs, Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and post- primary Special Schools. Together they have clocked up 500 training courses and carried out over 600 projects benefiting their environment and 500 local communities.

Among the 27 awards presented, a special award was given to Dara McAnulty, age 16, for the publication of his debut award-winning nature book, ‘The Diary of a Young Naturalist’ and for his contribution to the Grassroots Challenge Youth Forum. Dara made his first public speech at the 2017 ceremony and once again, captivated the audience with compelling and uplifting prose as the evening’s guest speaker.

Dara McAnulty, Guest speaker

Dara McAnulty, guest speaker, author and award-winner

Other award winners included:

Lisnamurrican Young Farmer’s Club who were the first club to achieve the prestigious Green Flag Award in Northern Ireland. Twenty Young Farmers’ Clubs have been supported to take part in the Eco Club Award Scheme to date, in partnership with Keep NI Beautiful.  

Banbridge Youth Club for their work transforming their disused club garden into a space for nature and for everyone to enjoy, as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award.  Over 50 schools and youth groups have now engaged with the programme through the volunteering, skills, expedition, and residential sections of the Award scheme.

Parkview Special School for their enthusiasm and leadership in delivering environmental workshops throughout the pandemic. Throughout the programme, over 20 Special Schools received grants and support to promote and learn about biodiversity in their school grounds.

Adult leaders who work with groups, in schools, youth groups and young farmers to facilitate the Grassroots Challenge and those who were particularly inspiring during the Covid 19 lockdown.

Parkview School, Lisburn

Parkview Special School award winners

Praising the award-winners and members of the Youth Forum who hosted the event, Alexey Janes, coordinator of Ulster Wildlife’s Grassroots challenge programme, said: 

“A huge well done to everyone that has taken part in the programme, especially this year during such difficult and challenging times.  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.”

A highlight of the virtual event was the release of a positive evaluation report of the programme by Dr Karen Kerr from Queen’s University of Belfast. The report indicated that young people felt more connected to nature, rated their leadership competence as higher, as well as their ability to influence environmental policy decisions as result of their engagement in the programme. They also recognised that making a difference for nature makes a difference for them. 

Evaluation of Grassroots Challenge programme by Dr Karen Kerr, QUB

“The young people were very positive about the Grassroots Challenge programme, in relation to the activities, the benefits of these, and the staff involved. They said they now understand the importance of such activities and would like to do more!
Dr Karen Kerr
Queen’s University of Belfast

Karen continued, "Young people said they want to make a difference for nature but cited a lack of opportunities and/or the promotion of existing ones as a major issue. They would like to see more projects and activities like this, and propose that “support” should come from Government and local authorities to include funding and education initiatives.”

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 National Lottery Community Fund.   Find out more at


  1. Kerr, K. (2020) Report for Ulster Wildlife: An evaluation of the Grassroots Challenge Project 2019-20. Belfast: School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, Queen’s University Belfast.
  2. Grassroots Challenge Award Winners 2020



Best Special School Activity

Knockevin School

Beechlawn School

Parkview School

Roddensvale School

Best Duke of Edinburgh’s Award/Joint Award Initiative Activity


Banbridge Youth Club

Groomsport AEP

4th BB Dromore

Wallace High School

Best Young Farmers’ Club Activity





Adult Champion Award - Special Schools


Lisa O'Hagan -  Lakewood School

Lucia Flanagan – EOTAS

Adrian McLaughlin – Cedar Lodge School

Adult Champion Award  – DofE/Award Groups


Clare Devlin/ Michelle Belaid - St Colms High

Sandra Patterson - Ulidia Integrated College

Gordon Aiken - Omagh Explorers Scouts

Gillian West – Beechlawn Special School

Adult Champion Award - Young Farmers

Elizabeth Adair - Randalstown YFCU

Gail McCullough – Lisnamurrican YFCU

Rebecca Connor – Mourne YFCU

Commitment Through COVID– Special Schools

The Orchardville Society

Commitment Through COVID– Young Farmer’s Club

The Steele Family, Crumlin

Commitment Through COVID  – DofE/Award Groups

Ulidia Integrated College

Special Awards

Dara McAnulty

Carson Rodger