5 June 2015
Article by Harriet Howe, National Assembly for Wales Research Service
In 2013 the Welsh Government announced a £6 million Nature Fund to support projects that would ‘promote the health and resilience of nature in Wales’. The announcement followed the publication of the 2013 State of Nature report which highlighted declining biodiversity in Wales and the UK. The Nature Fund currently supports 20 projects across Wales in 7 ‘Nature Action Zones’, including the Brecon Beacons and the Pembrokeshire Coast (read more in the Research Service blog post: Improving the ‘State of Nature’ in Wales: the Nature Fund).
The Nature Fund was not originally intended to finance projects in the long term. In October 2014 when asked whether it would continue year on year the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant stated:
… no, it will not. The nature fund was an opportunity; it was a catalyst for changing the way in which the system operates. It is not, and never was, intended to be a long-term project.
Projects were expected to complete the bulk of the ‘on the ground’ work during 2014-15, with some flexibility for spending into the first quarter of 2015-16. The work was expected to start in the summer of 2014, immediately following the approval of each project by the Welsh Government.
Delays in the application process meant that the deadline for project proposals was pushed back to October, with the successful projects announced in November 2014. There were further delays on the ground work as some of the planned actions were difficult or inappropriate to carry out over the winter.
The combination of seasonal factors and the late announcement of funding limited the time available for projects to plan and start work before the end of the 2014-15 financial year.
Although the Nature Fund originally intended to allocate £6 million, a review of financial pressures across the Natural Resources Department led to a reduction in the fund to £5 million. Evidence provided to the Environment and Sustainability Committee by the Minister revealed that of the total £5 million awarded, only £280,550 had been paid to projects by the end of January 2015, £3.9 million was projected to be paid by the end of March (representing 77% of the total Nature Fund) and £869,753 was projected to be spent in the remainder of 2015 (which will come out of the 2015-16 budget). In March, when asked whether he was confident that £3.9 million of funding could be spent in such a short space of time the Minister for Natural Resources, Carl Sargeant, told the Environment and Sustainability Committee that the Welsh Government was ‘close’ and he was ‘…confident that, in the longer term of the programme, the money would be spent’. The Minister has agreed to provide the committee with an update on the progress of spending from the Nature Fund.
Concern has been expressed by some organisations and Members about how successful and cost effective the projects funded will be in delivering improvements to biodiversity without having funding secured in the long term.
Although the Welsh Government initially stated that funding would only be available for 2014-15 the Minister for Natural Resources has subsequently indicated to the Environment and Sustainability Committee that he is looking into possible future funding for some of the current projects through schemes such as the RDP:
…we need to be in it for the long haul here, to change the environment and the ecological structures of communities: land-based change. I just wasn’t comfortable with the nature fund as it was.
*Image from flickr by Kris Williams, licensed by Creative Commons.