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Virtual awards celebrate young farmers’ environmental efforts

WE may be in the midst of a pandemic, but that doesn’t mean the outstanding efforts by young farmers in championing nature are any less impressive. Last month Ulster Wildlife’s Grassroots Challenge virtually paid tribute to a host of young people for their inspiring and impressive work for nature since its inception in 2016.

Over the past 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 course places and carried out over 600 projects benefiting their environment and 500 local communities.

Among the 27 awards presented, eight were awarded to young farmers:

n Lisnamurrican, Mourne, Randalstown, and

Crumlin YFC scooped the Best Young Farmer’s Club activity. Lisnamurrican YFC was the first club in Northern Ireland to achieve the prestigious Green Flag Club Award, while Mourne YFC helped with habitat restoration on Binnian Mountain and obtained Silver Eco Club status.

n To date, 20 Young Farmers’ Clubs have been supported to take part in the Eco Club Award Scheme, in partnership with Keep NI Beautiful.

n Elizabeth Adair from Randalstown YFC, Gail McCullough, Lisnamurrican YFC, and Rebecca Connor, Mourne YFC, received the Young Farmers Adult Champion Award.

n The Steele family, from Crumlin, whose daughters are involved with Crumlin YFC, also picked up a special ‘Commitment through Covid’ award for inspiring others with the environmental aspects of their farm.

Gail McCullough, from Lisnamurrican YFC, said: “It’s an honour to receive this award from Ulster Wildlife – it has been a brilliant programme to be involved in. I am also extremely proud of the club being the first Young Farmers’ Club to be awarded the Green Flag Award in Northern Ireland.”

Elizabeth Adair, from Randalstown YFC, said: “Ulster Wildlife’s Grassroots Challenge has allowed club members to learn more about the environment and how to protect it. Members have developed their skill sets through activities such as hedge planting.”

Speaking about the benefits of the programme for young farmers, YFCU President Zita McNaugher said: “The Grassroots Challenge has been a worthwhile experience for YFCU members learning more about the environment and simple things to improve biodiversity in their local areas. I’m extremely proud of all those members and clubs that have received awards in recognition of their hard work.”

Praising the award-winners and members of the Youth Forum, which 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.

Dr Karen Kerr said: “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! 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.”

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