Schoolboy Dara, 14, devotes all his spare time to helping wildlife – but it is more than just a hobby.
Nature helps him to make sense of a world that can be confusing and overwhelming. Because of this, he wants to protect it.
When his family moved from Belfast to County Fermanagh to give Dara and his two siblings – who, like him, are autistic – a quieter life, he found his happy place. In June 2016, he started his blog Youngfermanaghnaturalist.com to express his views and speak in a way he could not in real time.
Dara does beach cleans to aid marine animals, volunteers with red squirrel, hen harrier, butterfly and raptor study groups, and rescues and rehabilitates injured bats. He also makes educational vlogs, writes about wildlife for specialist publications and gives talks on conservation, for which he needs to summon great courage.
Dara has twice recorded BBC Radio 4 Tweet of the Day programmes – one about the persecuted hen harrier – overcoming his fear and anxiety to share his passions. He is also a passionate fundraiser, collecting £6,000 for a raptor tagging project to prevent wildlife crime. One of the challenges was a 30-mile trek over mountains, and through bogs and forest in chilly January.
Dara dreams of being a full-time conservationist and won a BBC Springwatch Unsprung Hero Award last year, with Chris Packham calling him his “hero”. Dara said: “My experiences have been mostly amazing and life-affirming. However, I’ve also been bullied, isolated and made fun of, but it won’t stop me.
“I hope to grow and spread the message of environmental awareness, local biodiversity and conservation through my writing and campaigning. I want people to know that those who are autistic or Asperger’s can achieve things, in a nurtured environment, in a society where acceptance, and not tolerance, is the norm.”