Coronavirus: Environmental charities braced for long-term financial turmoil

Nature and conservation charities have expressed concern that the Government's £750m aid package for charities will not be enough to stop the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak from stifling efforts to tackle climate change and protect nature over the coming years.

Coronavirus: Environmental charities braced for long-term financial turmoil

The charities are asking for additional short-term emergency funding to cover costs for vital work.

Charities including the RSPCA, the Wildlife Trusts and the Marine Conservation Society have warned that while a welcome and necessary step to prioritise the health of the nation, the £750m coronavirus aid package announced by Government will not offset financial loses for select charities, which in turn will impact their abilities to deliver on key nature and climate initiatives.

The Wildlife Trusts’ new chief executive Craig Bennett said: “Whilst [the] aid announcement from the Government is welcome, it only skims the surface of the support truly required to ensure organisations which protect the natural world, like The Wildlife Trusts, remain in a position to continue driving forward nature’s recovery.

“Our work is integral to Government achieving their ambition of leaving the environment in a better state for the next generation – work that is crucial if we are to make any headway in our fight back against the climate and ecological crisis we face. People’s health and wellbeing is paramount, so it is essential that we address the coronavirus crisis, but we mustn’t at the same time forget the very serious risks posed by the collapse of our natural world. Otherwise, as a society, we’ll just find ourselves lurching from one crisis to the next.”

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations estimates that around £4bn of support is needed by UK charities. The charities are asking for additional short-term emergency funding to cover costs for vital work.

The coronavirus is already having an immediate impact for some charities, namely though the loss of revenue due to site closures, cancelled fundraising and loss of paid-for work. Some environmental charities are expecting their income to be reduced by at least 50% this year.

On Wednesday (8 April) Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled a £750m aid package to support UK charities during the coronavirus pandemic. The package consists of cash grants to charities that are currently providing key services, of which £360m will be directly allocated by government departments. The remaining sum of cash will go to small local charities, such as those delivering medicines and food during the crisis.

However, Sunak used his briefing to admit that the Government was unable to match the spending that UK charities would otherwise receive this year.

Charities such as Oxfam and Age UK have furloughed two-thirds of staff. Environmental charities are now bracing for long-term financial loss due to reduced membership and donations. As such, the charities are warning that their ability to protect land and wildlife will be severely restricted.

The RSPCA’s deputy chief executive Chris Wainwright said: “Our frontline staff have been out in very difficult circumstances continuing to rescue animals, while we also continue to look after thousands of animals in our centres and hospitals, but our resources are strained and our fundraising has taken a huge hit.

“Times like these show just how crucial charities are to support the most needy in society and although this package is a start, it is just not enough to safeguard the voluntary sector to ensure we will continue to be there for the most vulnerable, whether human or animal, into the future.”

Agency cuts

Last summer, it was revealed that Government funding for bodies such as Natural England, the Environment Agency and National Parks had fallen steeply in recent years, leaving the UK at risk of failing to meet key green policy objectives.

The investigation, called Unchecked, found that the Environment Agency’s environmental protection budget has fallen by 62% in real terms since financial year 2010-2011, taking into account Government cuts, inflation and economic trends. Significant funding decreases were also recorded within the same timeframe at bodies including the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (32%), National Parks (25%) and Maritime Management Organisation (57%).

These financial strains are leaving environmental enforcement bodies and charities unable to complete the inspections and prosecutions necessary for the UK to meet the ambitions of policies such as the 25 Year Environment Plan.

The Marine Conservation Society’s chief executive Sandy Luk said: “The current crisis has shown how important it is to protect the natural world. The health of our seas is of existential importance, now more than ever – not least for our own wellbeing and mental health but also to help address the climate crisis facing our planet.

“At the Marine Conservation Society, we are expecting our funding streams to be significantly reduced in the coming year, which will mean we won’t be able to do important work to save our seas. We urge Government to provide help for crucial environmental and marine conservation efforts, to ensure we continue to fight for the future health of our ocean and planet.”

Net-zero and nature-based solutions

The call for aid comes as the Natural Capital Committee launched its advisory report to the UK Government on how nature-based solutions can assist with the net-zero ambition for 2050.

The report calls for a myriad of nature-based solutions to help capture and sequester carbon, but warned that mass tree planting could inadvertently harm other carbon stores like peatlands.

The report claims that all tree planting schemes will “need to employ rigorous monitoring, verification and spatially aware decision making.” However, the financial impact of Covid-19, combined with cuts to government agencies could make the management process more complex.

Matt Mace

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