Ongoing struggle for green charities in wake of coronavirus will deal blow to nature recovery

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 15 April 2020

With the government rightly focused on people’s health and livelihoods in the face of coronavirus, it must also act for the future of our planet and all the benefits our natural world will continue to provide when the current crisis has diminished says new research.

Newgale Coastal walk
© David Nunn

It is crucial we help people now who are suffering from the coronavirus crisis, and it is also crucial that we help people thrive and flourish over years to come by fighting for the health of our ocean and our planet

Sandy Luk,
CEO, Marine Conservation Society

The findings are from Wildlife and Countryside Link who worked with NI Environment Link, Scot Link and Wales Environment Link and its members to conduct a UK-wide survey of the impact of the coronavirus on the environment sector.

Wildlife and Countryside Link say responses received from 55 organisations show a critical risk to their vital conservation, animal welfare, scientific and access work and the financial viability of a significant proportion of the environment sector. The charities are concerned that the financial aid government is currently offering will not be sufficient to enable them to carry on frontline work.

Sandy Luk, MCS CEO, says: “It is crucial we help people now who are suffering from the coronavirus crisis, and it is also crucial that we help people thrive and flourish over years to come by fighting for the health of our ocean and our planet. The economic impacts of the current situation put this in serious jeopardy.

The ocean provides more than half the oxygen we breathe and absorbs over a third of our carbon emissions. And it is in poor health, which is bad for people’s health and livelihoods post covid-19.”

Wildlife and Countryside Link say that in the long-term, if environmental charities are financially compromised ‘we will lose the fight against climate change and environmental decline.’

The UK’s environmental charities protect 750,000 hectares of land and 800 miles of coastline, help millions of people benefit from a healthy environment, champion laws and policies to protect our planet, and are critical restorers of the millions of hectares of woodland, wetlands and meadows needed to help mitigate climate change. But environment charities are experiencing a dramatic loss of income resulting from the closure of visitor attractions, cancelled fundraising, and decreased donations and access to grants. This will have a huge and lasting impact on their ability to care for our land, protect our wildlife, and tackle climate change and nature’s decline for years to come.

Among the key findings in the Link report are:

27% of environmental charities (eNGOs) surveyed say they are either at high risk of becoming financially unviable in the coming months or financial reserves sufficient for four months or less.

Almost half of those surveyed (47%) say their financial reserves are sufficient for six months or less.

Almost three-quarters of organisations polled said they expect to hit funding restrictions from grant providers and government in coming months, with half already finding their funding affected.

Martin Spray, Chief Executive of Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) and former Chair of Trustees at MCS says: “The impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on WWT are profound and widespread. We attract around 1,000,000 visitors a year who are inspired to help save wetlands at our Wetland Sites, including 50,000 schoolchildren who also benefit from our outdoor learning programmes. Over 1,000 volunteers from local communities bring wetland nature alive for these visitors and help to monitor wildlife and maintain wetland habitats. With our Wetland Centres now closed, these benefits are lost along with the significant income that plays such a major part in funding our vital conservation work across the globe.”

To keep on track in the race against climate change and ecological decline, the environment groups are calling on government to consider additional short-term emergency funding to enable the sector’s charities to deliver their core work on conservation and climate change mitigation that are so key to meeting government targets. They say a resilience and recovery fund is needed to help these charities - whose urgent financial risk is long-term loss of membership and donation revenues – to rebuild in the longer-term while keeping up their work to beat climate change and save nature.

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