At the age of 16, Dara McAnulty is a leading light of the conservation and climate movement. As well as being championed as a Big Issue Changemaker earlier this year, he is about to publish his debut book, Diary of a Young Naturalist next week.
Like many of us, Dara relies on the natural world to bring solace. But what happens when a naturalist is denied access to nature?
Writing in The Big Issue about having to stay inside his home in County Down, he said:
“I’m not going to lie. It hasn’t been easy. It’s been awful. This pandemic, which has been sweeping across the globe, has turned all our lives upside down. Of course, some more than others. My sister contracted Covid-19 first, before lockdown happened and so we had already been isolating. Then, a couple of weeks later, my mum contracted the virus, much more severely. She is now recovering, and our house, which has been holding its breath for a few weeks now, is starting to breathe a little easier.
“For most of the lockdown we have had to stick to our piece of Earth – our rented small house and tiny garden. So it hasn’t been easy. No school, routine, no structure to my days. No school eco group. My GCSE exams have been cancelled. As an autistic, that’s really difficult. Change is excruciating.
“I find it difficult though, to not feel joy, to not focus on the positives. A sliver of light is always there among the darkness. I tend to search for it and grab it like a lifebuoy, and of course for me it’s the natural world, in whatever shape it presents itself to me. It may be accompanied by noise – lawnmowers, power hoses; all the surrounding houses now availing of the time to do ‘all those noisy outside jobs’, but it’s still there. Sky, so there’s birds in flight and clouds and weather. A tiny bucket pond, so there are tadpoles, nymphs, larvae and daphnia. Bird feeders, so there are avian visitors to meticulously record and observe with no rush. We let our little patch of grass shine with dandelions, so we have bees and butterflies. Our tiny nature reserve which invites nature in and allows it to thrive is food for the soul of this young naturalist. I can retreat and momentarily forget about everything else that is happening in the world.
“These seemingly stagnant days for me are still full of movement, of life, of little dramas playing out in my garden.”
Read more from Dara in this week’s Big Issue. While vendors are unable to sell on the streets you can continue to support them by buying the magazine via The Big Issue app, available now from the App Storeand Google Play, or you can also subscribe to get the magazine posted direct to your door at bigissue.com/subscribe.
Diary of a Young Naturalist is out on May 25 (Little Toller, £16)