Funding Scotland’s environmental future – challenges and opportunities

08 Dec 2017

Whichever way you look at it, Scotland is a very special place for nature.  Here you will find some of the most spectacular landscapes, pristine habitats and support the rarest and most threatened species of wildlife in the UK.

Scotland has approximately two thirds of the UK’s coast, supporting around 5 million seabirds  – a third of the European Union total.   All of the UK’s capercaillie, red necked phalarope and sea eagle populations, and at least 70% of black grouse and 80% of red squirrels are found in Scotland. The Orkney Islands which cover a mere 0.5% of the UK’s land area hold approximately 25% of the UK breeding hen harrier population.  The richness of Scottish land and biodiversity is recognised in the sheer number of national and international designations it holds, such as Sites of Scientific Interest, Special Protection Areas, Natura and Ramsar sites.

Yet, whilst Scotland might provide a refuge for the best of the UK’s wildlife, it is nonetheless still fragile and vulnerable.  Climate change and biodiversity loss are major threats.  For the thousands of species for which we have reliable data from 1978 to 2013, 56 % have experienced notable decline. One in 10 species is at risk of becoming extinct altogether.  A combination of pressures on our marine and coastal areas has resulted in seabirds being one of the fastest declining groups of birds globally.

Scottish Environment LINK Partners feel a huge duty to halt this biodiversity loss and Scottish Government, as one of the first countries to sign up to the UN Sustainable Development Goals also clearly recognises the need to protect Scotland’s special wildlife. Environmental NGOs have a long and successful history of partnership and collaboration in Scotland including the “Flows to the Future Project” in Caithness and Sutherland,  an example of landscape scale conservation at its most spectacular, delivered in partnership and made possible through the RSPB’s largest ever grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund of £4.6 million.  The project will see the restoration of over seven square miles of precious peatland habitat, which locks up carbon and plays a significant role in our efforts to tackle climate change.

Saving Scotland’s Squirrels project is another example of fantastic collaboration that is having a huge impact, with thanks due again to the Heritage Lottery Fund.  We are particularly proud of our joint work through Scottish Environment LINK to protect Scotland’s seas. Save Scottish Seas has been running now for 10 years, made possible by generous grants from the Esmee Fairbairn Trust and now the John Ellerman Foundation. The length of such projects illustrates that saving nature is not a quick fix!

Whilst caring for our natural environment in these times is challenging enough, we realise it is a task that can only get harder, as supporting vital nature conservation projects across whole landscapes is expensive and finding funding is getting noticeably more difficult.

Brexit not only threatens our current standards of environmental protection, it also means a possible end to one of the best biodiversity funding sources – EU Life. It will mean changes in the way we fund farming in our countryside, and many other EU funding sources (such as Leader and ERDF) that recognised the economic value to remote communities of nature based tourism and supported sustainable development will end or change.

Government funding available to Scottish Natural Heritage and to the Forestry Commission Scotland is now significantly reducing and affecting statutory grants to the sector.  The Landfill Communities funding is reducing too, as we all get better at recycling and waste management. The Heritage Lottery Fund alarmingly has reduced funding too. Against this backdrop Charities are being challenged by the new data protection regulations (GDPR) which is imposing new rules about how we contact our supporters to ask for funds.

Where the Green Grants Went Scotland Report” compiled by the Environmental Funders Network is further and independent evidence of the funding challenges. Launched yesterday at Edinburgh Zoo, it provides invaluable insight into the private trusts and foundations who contribute and we are immensely grateful to them; without their support so much of our work in Scotland would not be possible.

While it’s certainly worth reading the full report a few headline grabbing conclusions include:

  • From 2012 to 2015, private foundation funding for environmental causes in England and Wales amounted to 20 times as much as that available in Scotland… £768 per square kilometre in England and Wales versus £70 per square kilometre of Scotland.
  • We found 41 foundations that gave environmental grants in Scotland between 2012 and 2016. By contrast, 141 foundations supported environmental work in the UK as a whole over that period. Of those 41 foundations, only 6 are based in Scotland or focus their giving there.
  • Though Scotland’s accounts for 56 per cent of the UK’s coastline, coastal and marine ecosystems receive just 3 per cent of grant funding from foundation, Lottery and LCF sources. Climate and atmosphere-related work receives even less – a tiny 0.4 per cent of all grants by value. This suggests very little available funding for campaigning work on climate change or air quality, though the latter is a particular problem in Scotland’s cities.

However, it also exposes how proportionately little of the total private environmental funding Scotland manages to attract, in spite of its immense value in UK terms.  Rob Edwards in his piece in the Herald last Sunday emphasises in stark terms just how far we are we are losing out.  We therefore very much welcome the publication of this report which will hopefully help Scotland’s environmental charities forge new relationships with many of the UK’s ‘green’ funders and offer them new and potentially exciting ways to have impact and make a difference to our natural environment.

Anne McCall, Director of RSPB Scotland


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