Writing about nature, sharing the passion

One of our amazing Roots & Shoots ambassadors in the UK, Dara McAnulty, recently won the prestigious Wainwright Prize for his amazing book ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’.

Dara lives in Northern Ireland and is passionate about the natural world. He’s an environmental campaigner and has worked to address biodiversity loss and raptor persecution, winning him an RSPB Medal for his work.

His book is a beautiful blend of the natural world and Dara’s connection with and passion for it, alongside life as a 15-year-old with the pressures of exams and friendships. It charts the turning of a year season by season, and what he observes, and feels, as it passes.

“In writing this book,” Dara explains to the Wainwright judges, “I have experienced challenges but also felt incredible joy, wonder, curiosity and excitement. In sharing this journey my hope is that people of all generations will not only understand autism a little more but also appreciate a child’s eye view on our delicate and changing biosphere.”

So huge congratulations to Dara! Thank you for your ongoing campaign work for the environment, and for inspiring so many others.

What is the Wainwright Prize?

The Wainwright Prize or, to give it it’s full title, the Wainwright Prize for UK Nature Writing, is a writing competition designed to ‘celebrate nature-writing and encourage exploration of the outdoors’.

It is named for Alfred Wainwright, an author and walker who wrote a series of famous walking guides to the Lake District, and is now supported by The National Trust, BBC Countryfile Live, The Wainwright Society and others.

To have a book nominated is impressive, to have it short listed is a huge honour and to then win it – and Dara is the youngest winner of the prize – is astounding and shows just how amazing the book is.

One of the brilliant things about Dara’s book is that it’s a completely fresh, new and personal way of talking and writing about nature. A lot of nature writing in the past tended to be written by very similar people with very similar experiences. With more and more people connecting with the natural world, there are many different ways of exploring it, engaging with it, and every different person will have a different connection with it. It’s great to see this reflected in nature writing.

Nature writing ideas

Nature writing is a brilliant way of celebrating nature, sharing your passion, engaging others and promoting conservation, and the more the voices and stories are different, the more people will find something that means something to them. It’s also easy to try, so why not give it a go yourself?

  1. Write the story of a wildlife walk – set off on a walk to spot wildlife. You don’t need to go far; it can be to your local park or canal, or into woods or the seaside if you live close. Then when you come back, try and turn your walk into a story. Think about what you saw, smelt, felt, heard, talked about and more. The goal is to create the same feelings and visions in the head of the person who reads your story as you felt when you went on the walk.
  2. Conduct an interview – Arrange to talk to someone who works in the environment or spends time there. Ask them what they love about it, their favourite memories and experiences, how they first got interested in nature, then turn this into a story about the person and their experiences.
  3. Nature comic – Nature writing doesn’t just need to be about writing; you could also draw a comic. It can be based on a real event, and it doesn’t have to focus on a human – you could tell the story of a rabbit’s life, or of a day in the life of a soaring bird or swimming fish.
  4. Make it personal – One of the brilliant things about Dara’s book is that it’s very much about his own experience of nature, and his experience of being autistic. These are stories not often told in ‘traditional’ nature writing, and it’s important they are. So celebrate you own unique experience of nature by doing your own ‘diary of a naturalist’ over the course of a week or month.

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