Nature bodies in funding crisis

11th February 2016


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  • Public sector ,
  • Local government ,
  • Natural resources ,
  • Biodiversity ,
  • Ecosystems

Author

David E James

Local nature groups launched by the government just five years ago are facing a bleak future because their funding is drying up.

In an article for the environmentalist, Peter Young, trustee of the Wildlife Trusts, says that most of England’s local nature partnerships (LNPs) are not fit for purpose since they have no stable source of funding. Many are staffed solely by people on secondment, who may be part-time and on a short-term contract, he says. ‘All the LNPs believe there’s a future for them but it’s not there now so they’re operating as shells.’

LNPs were created in 2011 through the Natural Environment White Paper, and were encouraged to form strong links with businesses and councils in local enterprise partnerships (LEPs) to support the green economy. The environment department (Defra) provided them with more than £900,000, after which they were intended to be self-sustaining, with funding leveraged through local communities and LEPs.

An evaluation by consultancy ICF International for Defra in 2015 (see attachment, below) found that 34 out of the 35 LNPs responding reported ‘considerable constraints’ in terms of time, capacity and resource. Only four were receiving funding from business. Without stable funding, businesses will lose confidence in the concept of LNPs, and there will be no-one to engage with, Young said.

The next 12 months would be crucial for the future of the LNPs, Young said, as further budget cuts to councils and Defra bodies, which are the main source of funding for many, continue to bite. ‘There’s quite a few that won’t be able to operate. I’m not sure anyone would take the notice off the door but there won’t be anyone behind it.’

Hugh Ellis, chief planner at the Town and Country Planning Association, said staffing at LNPs was ‘desperate’, adding that the government was ‘delusional’ to think that councils could to continue funding them. Annabel Lambert, RSPB policy officer, said government funding for LNPs was far lower than for LEPs, which received £500,000 each over two years just for building their strategy.

A Defra spokesperson said: ‘Many LNPs have been successful in securing additional funding. For example, the Cumbria LNP secured £429,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund for its work on meadows.’

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