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Co Down teenager Dara McAnulty named youngest winner of major literature prize says nature 'saved' him from school bullies

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Autistic Dara McAnulty won the prestigious Wainwright Prize for his nature diary

Autistic Dara McAnulty won the prestigious Wainwright Prize for his nature diary

Autistic Dara McAnulty won the prestigious Wainwright Prize for his nature diary

A Co Down teenager, named this week as the youngest ever winner of a major literature prize, has admitted that nature "saved" him from "incessant" school bullies who targeted him because of his autism.

On Tuesday Dara McAnulty scooped the Wainwright Prize for nature writing with his coming-of-age memoir, Diary of a Young Naturalist.

Previous winners include Robert Macfarlane, Adam Nicholson and John Lewis-Stempel.

The 16-year-old from Castlewellan began his writing career aged 12, posting a nature blog, Young Fermanagh Naturalist, about what he saw and experienced in Big Dog Forest, near the then family home in Co Fermanagh.

Dara said his intense, passionate connection with the natural world helped him escape from the bullies at school.

"School has not been a good experience," he told the Daily Telegraph.

"There have been the bullies who have been rather incessant.

He said nature gave him a place where he could go that was not "judgmental".

"A squirrel or a robin isn't going to turn round and say what you are doing is stupid," he added.

"And that way, I could relax in nature without the burdens and pressure of the real world as it is, (because of) that ability that nature seems to provide that, when you walk among trees, you can walk among your own thoughts".

Dara, now a student at Shimna Integrated College in Newcastle, describes writing as "a way to put what's going on in my mind out into the world in a way that other people don't have to listen to.

"It gave me an outlet. It allowed me to understand what was inside my head, and to get it outside my head," he explained.

"It gave me some self confidence in my ability because I had basically none at that point.

"The blog gave me a rooting in this world. I had been basically crumbling before that."

Aside from writing, Dara has campaigned to end the persecution of birds of prey, fundraised for wildlife organisations and been a voice in the #IWill campaign for youth social action.

His first public campaign three years ago involved a 35-mile sponsored walk with his mum, Roisin, which raised £6,000 to fund satellite tags to protect birds of prey locally.

Dara regards himself as having "the bones of someone who is already worried by the apathy and destruction wielded against the natural world".

But he said that following in the path of world famous climate and environmental activist Greta Thunberg is not for him.

"We all have different ways of expressing our frustration at the system," he added. "We need everyone to come together in order to solve the problems.

"I want to share my point of view as a young person in this frightening world.

"My activism is writing because writing is really, really powerful."

Belfast Telegraph