Environmental charities in a pandemic, a nature crisis and a climate emergency

23 Mar 2021

Along with everyone else, Scottish Environment LINK member organisations have been adjusting to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. Member surveys in April and November 2020 identified key challenges and the solutions our members were implementing as lockdowns came and went, and returned. Assessing the ongoing and near future financial difficulties caused by the coronavirus crisis for environmental and conservation charities is vital for our members, funders and supporters, and helps identify what support and assistance would help the sector survive and contribute to Scotland’s green recovery.

There have been two major impacts: the immediate impact on front line functions in conservation, access and sustainable living, as practical projects and participation programmes were halted during lockdown and limited by social distancing requirements. At the same time, members experienced a massive drop in income. Most members, before Covid, generated income from as many different sources as possible, using events and activities to generate income over spring and summer. In 2020, these could not take place. In addition, memberships and retail revenue, another important source, also plummeted. With continuing uncertainties impacting on household budgets, memberships and donations are not expected to return to pre Covid levels for a long time.

Our members have adopted different ways to manage these impacts: in the short term, members applied for government support schemes where available and cut costs wherever possible. Looking forward, organisations are now planning for costs to rise again. Revenue generation options remain limited, given ongoing limits to events and activities uptake because of social distancing and social changes for example. Members anticipate a slow return back to former membership and donation levels and there are few sources of replacement funding available from government and funders.

Environmental funding has been in long decline in Scotland. This, with the loss of access to EU LIFE funding, mean sources of grants remain very limited. 45% of our members are now eating into financial reserves, never high as the sector always reinvested income directly into action on the ground. As a result, the sector has become less resilient, at a time when the need for Scotland as a whole to come together and deliver for nature and climate has never been greater.

This sector is important for Scotland. More than half a million people support LINK members. The reason they give their support is because they want to help our members conserve nature, increase access to the outdoors, enable sustainable living and help develop government policy to make everyone’s life in Scotland greener, fairer and more enjoyable.

Going into the UN’s Decade of Ecosystem Restoration, now is not the time for Scotland to lose its vibrant and innovative environmental voluntary sector. Member bodies are doing everything they can to shore up organisational resilience through cutting costs and identifying new sources of income, but the way forward is not clear or guaranteed.

As we go into 2021, LINK and our members will continue to work together to help each other through the crisis, to keep policy and practical action for climate and nature on track and to motivate others to experience nature and benefit from that connection and work with us to conserve it for future generations.  Working in partnership brings many more resources, and where underpinned by commitment and effective financial support from Government and funders, we can maintain the vital momentum and progress we were making together towards solving the nature and climate emergencies.

A green recovery for Scotland from the pandemic that works to tackle the climate and nature emergencies is vital. We are ready to play our part. This pandemic is a short-term emergency that must not exacerbate the long-term climate and nature crises and recovery towards a nature rich, more resilient world.

Dr Deborah Long, Chief Officer, Scottish Environment LINK

A version of this blog was published in The Scotsman on 23 March 2021

Photo credit: Adam Brooker

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