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Funding for NI nature remains uncertain

Last modified: 16 September 2015

Stormont and surrounding woodland

Image: Andy Hay

Earlier this year the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) announced it was axing its Natural Heritage Grants programme, the lifeblood of many conservation organisations in Northern Ireland.

The speed and scale of this cut plunged many local environmental charities into disarray, with some facing redundancies and even closure.

In response, the sector united and crunch talks were held with NIEA and representatives from the Department of the Environment, including Minister Mark H Durkan.

As a result, NIEA created a pot of money called the Natural Environment Fund (NEF), financed by the carrier bag levy, to try and alleviate the impact.

In June we received an offer from NEF. While we welcomed and accepted the funding in order to protect nature for the people of Northern Ireland the pot of funding available has shrunk dramatically.

Worryingly, NEF only runs until March 2016 so it’s unclear what money, if any, will be available to protect our environment in the long-term - especially in light of plans to form the new Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs next spring.

The grant offer also poses major challenges to organisations as additional funding must be found to make up the remaining 75 per cent of costs involved in carrying out projects.

The work environmental organisations do to protect nature is a cost-effective way for NIEA to meet its legal obligations and help avoid huge EU fines which could run into millions of pounds – fines which would have to be covered by the already-stretched NI public purse.

The environment underpins our economy – from the food we produce to the tourists we attract, failure to invest in our special places and the wildlife which relies on them will undoubtedly have an impact on the amount of money coming into Northern Ireland.

As the new department takes shape over the coming year, we will continue to push for the necessary resources to help protect nature in these challenging financial times.

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