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Nature discovery RTE star Derek Mooney says interest in wildlife has 'shot through the roof' during pandemic

I think it’s because people are all restricted in how far they can travel, so they’re spending their time in local parks or woods and on nature walks," Derek says.

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Derek Mooney

Derek Mooney

Derek Mooney

From hosting a variety of TV entertainment shows to presenting a top rated self-titled afternoon RTE Radio 1 programme, Derek Mooney has been part of our lives for decades.

His love of showbiz, the Eurovision Song Contest and musicals shone through his radio show.

But Derek’s greatest passion has been nature and wildlife, and he reveals that in the Covid-19 pandemic the interest of Irish families in all creatures great and small has also shot through the roof.

Derek, who presents Mooney Goes Wild on RTE Radio 1 on Monday nights, tells the Sunday World: “In the last couple of years people were turning back to nature prior to the lockdowns, but since March of last year we’ve notice on Mooney Goes Wild that huge numbers are now engaged with it.

“I think it’s because people are all restricted in how far they can travel, so they’re spending their time in local parks or woods and on nature walks.

“Most of them are young families with inquisitive kids who are spotting things and asking, ‘What is that?’ Children will draw you into their world,

"Kids are naturally inquisitive and you can’t walk by something without them asking you what it is. I used to see that with my own nieces and nephews.

“So the kids are noticing stuff, and while parents might be having difficulty explaining Pythagoras’ theorem to them at home schooling, they’ll enjoy a conversation about the wonders of nature.

“We noticed a one thousand fold increase in pictures sent to Mooney Goes Wild in lockdown. We get pictures every week of animals, birds, insects and wild plants, but it has shot up exponentially.

“When we decided to have an Eye On Nature photo competition we expected around a thousand entries. Instead, we got more than 7,000!

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Derek Mooney

Derek Mooney

Derek Mooney

“I’ve made nature programmes for 30 years and I’ve never seen anything like the volume of stuff we’re getting at the moment. It’s not just the volume of stuff, it’s the quality of the photographs and the kind of photographs, ranging from the common lizard right up to the buzzard.

“During lockdown, many of us have also observed first-hand the effects that we humans have had on the creatures with which we share this planet, and also, when human activity stops for a while, how they can bounce back.”

Looking back on the early days of his Mooney Goes Wild radio show before the era of the mobile phone camera, Mooney recalls how listeners would post in animals, birds and insects that they’d found.

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Mooney previously presented Winning Streak

Mooney previously presented Winning Streak

Mooney previously presented Winning Streak

“We used to get dead animals sent to us at RTE in a box,” Derek reveals. “You never knew what you were going to open. We had a notice on the website for years telling people to stop sending in stuff.

“It was crazy. You’d open up a box and you wouldn’t know what was going to pop out of it…sometimes insects that were still alive. So we asked them to send pictures instead, and then camera phones came along and that made it easier.”

Despite growing up in Donnybrook on Dublin’s southside, Derek’s own love of nature developed during his childhood.

“I always loved nature,” he says. “I lived beside Herbert Park, which was there on my doorstep. I was also born a few doors down from Don Conroy the artist and environmentalist.

“When Don was on The Den back in the day, he used to get more mail than the Late Late Show. And I used to help Don reply to the letters as a kid looking for work experience.

“Then I put together an idea with Don for RTE radio called Habitats, which got accepted. It was a 15-minute walk with an expert, and that’s where it all started.”

Mooney doesn’t regard himself as an authority on nature and wildlife, but he is Ireland’s leading broadcaster on natural history.

“I’m not an expert,” Derek admits, “but I couldn’t come up with the ideas or produce the programmes without liking it or loving it. I work with the experts, but all the ideas for the programmes come from me.”

Derek, who has presented You’re A Star, Winning Streak and numerous other TV shows during his career, says he’d love to be involved in more entertainment shows with RTE.

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Derek with Brenda Donoghue

Derek with Brenda Donoghue

Derek with Brenda Donoghue

“I would love to be doing light entertainment again, of course I would, but I love doing what I’m doing with the wildlife programmes equally,” Derek says.

“I love musicals, I love nonsense. Somebody said to me one time that RTE is world class as regards current affairs, but there’s room for intelligent nonsense as well.

“The one thing I don’t do at night is watch anything negative. If I have friends who are feeling down I always recommend that they

watch Just For Laughs, the hidden camera show on YouTube before they go to bed.

“You’ll be splitting your sides laughing at the stupidity of some of the things people do. And it’s so true that laughter is the best medicine.”

Despite fears for the future of our planet, Mooney is optimistic that we can reverse the harm that humans have inflicted on it. “I am all too aware that with increased awareness of the damage we humans have caused to our planet comes a growing feeling of helplessness,” Derek says.

“Nature is being destroyed before our very eyes, and the general view is that it’s too late to stop it. That is nonsense. The battle can be, and is being, won every day by dedicated conservationists. Extinction can be halted, and even reversed.”

- Derek Mooney presents Mooney Goes Wild on RTE Radio 1 every Monday at 10pm.

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