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Environment groups face severe cull from budget cuts

Last modified: 26 March 2015

RSPB Lower Lough Erne nature reserve, County Fermanagh

Image: David Wootton

Environment and heritage organisations in Northern Ireland today received confirmation of the scale of the budget cuts, with Department of Environment (DoE) cutting its Natural Heritage Grants programme by 100%.

The scale of the cuts is severe and has put many local charities into financial crisis. Cuts will potentially see 130 compulsory redundancies across Northern Ireland with some organisations forced to close their doors.

Approximately 50 local charities such as NI Environment Link, Ulster Wildlife, RSPB, Belfast Hills Partnership, Mourne Heritage Trust, and National Trust have received letters from the Department of Environment telling them that they have three months of funding left. There is massive concern about the breadth and depth of these cuts – a devastating blow that will ultimately lead to many places we all love not being looked after properly and falling into disrepair.

Patrick Casement of NI Environment Link, the umbrella body for environmental organisations said: “The budget cuts are short sighted and ill-informed. We all rely upon the health of the environment for our survival – clean air, water, food. 

'The scale of loss for the environment sector will lead to less management of special and protected places and species, fewer opportunities for people to spend time engaging with the outdoors, less monitoring of wildlife and understanding of the state of nature, fewerr advice services for both built and natural environment, fewer ways for children and young people to learn about nature in NI, and ultimately fewer jobs in the environmental sector which does so much for the health of our economy.”

With funding of 3.5 million from the Natural Heritage Grants Programme, the environment and heritage sector is able to draw in significant leverage, between £3 and £7 for every £1 invested in funding from DoE. This small investment helps the groups deliver on a range of government targets and objectives, tap into a volunteer workforce of over 350,000, manage over 314,000 acres of land for environment benefit, and contribute over £20m to the NI economy.

Patrick stressed, “The environment is being taken for granted, and not treated as the key resource upon which our future well-being and prosperity depends. 

'The budget cuts signify a choice not to fund the protection and management of the natural environment our children will inherit and sends out a clear signal that environmental protection is undervalued by government.”

The cuts forms part of a larger loss of £16-17 million of grant and contract funding that will lead to a contraction of the environment sector, with a major loss of capacity for organisations such as charities and universities to deliver their localised environmental services.

The scale of the cuts have just been communicated to the sector and so the final details of impacts are not yet known. Over the next fortnight, it is expected that the final impacts of these cuts will emerge.

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