Nature and wellbeing: the mounting costs of coronavirus

Major UK nature, science and conservation organisations are warning that the impact of the coronavirus has dealt a significant blow to nature’s recovery and their ability to provide natural solutions to climate change. The charities are very concerned that the financial aid government is currently offering will not be sufficient to enable them to carry on their vital frontline work. Wildlife and Countryside Link share the results of recent research into the impacts on the charities they represent.

It’s clearly right that the Government is focused on people’s health and livelihoods now, but it must also act for the future of our planet and all the benefits our natural world provides. This is key to both people’s health and wellbeing and the future prosperity of our economy. In the long-term, if environmental charities are financially compromised, we will lose the fight against climate change and environmental decline.

Collectively, 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 without additional help, special places at the heart of communities may potentially have their doors closed permanently and access to nature reduced, treasured landscapes and wildlife could be left unprotected, and vital conservation and climate change mitigation work at home and abroad could be abandoned.

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.

Key findings from new Wildlife and Countryside Link research with 55 environment organisations, demonstrate that:

  • 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
  • Of those that were able to provide details of expected financial losses the expected loss for just 23 organisations is £88 million (please note this figure does not include some of the biggest eNGOs and excludes many costs still to be calculated, it is therefore likely to be a significant underestimate and is not a figure for the whole sector)
  • 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.

Craig Bennett, CEO of The Wildlife Trusts, said: ‘We’re facing a climate and ecological emergency, and we can’t press pause on addressing those because we’re also facing a public health emergency. Otherwise we’ll just find ourselves lurching from one crisis to another. The Government knows that it will need to work in close partnership with nature organisations if it is to have any hope of delivering on its 25 year environment plan – and its objective to leave the environment in a better state for the next generation. We are, in many cases, its prime delivering partners. It’s crucial that we continue to deliver this public service and that our ability to do so isn’t lost during this crisis.’

We’re facing a climate and ecological emergency, and we can’t press pause on addressing those because we’re also facing a public health emergency.
 

This warning comes at a time when more people than ever before are waking up to their need for nature. Nature charities are experiencing a huge resurgence of interest in wildlife, Spring and, since lockdown, vast volumes of traffic to their websites that provide inspiration for connecting with the natural world at home. For example, the Wildlife Trusts’ webcams page has had a twenty-fold increase in views compared to this time last year and the National Trust social media engagement has increased since social restrictions began with Facebook and Twitter reach increasing by a third. People are discovering that they need nature more than ever. The problem is that nature also needs us to fund it.

Social distancing and lockdown mean that many environment charities have lost their main sources of income – revenue from visitor sites and planned events and activities for fundraising, along with funding from Government and others being affected. There will also be longer-term knock-on effects in expected membership and donations as the country struggles financially, and with grants from government for environmental works put on hold or cancelled. With environmental charities left out of the government’s business rescue package and the £750m charity aid package falling short of the £4billion NCVO estimate is needed, eNGOs are challenging government to look at additional funding needed to enable nature charities to carry out their vital work.

The Wildlife Trusts are among the organisations facing a large financial toll, with a huge pressure on them when already stretched after tackling flooding and ash dieback emergencies. With visitor sites accounting for half of the Trusts income and vital conservation work on nature reserves currently stopped, there are concerns as to what this will mean in the long term.

Action is needed now

To keep on track in the race against climate change and ecological decline, environment groups are calling on Government to:

  • Consider additional short-term emergency funding to enable delivery of core work on conservation and climate change mitigation that are so key to meeting government targets; 
  • Develop a resilience fund to help environmental charities rebuild in the longer term, while keeping up work to beat climate change and save nature.

Long term loss of membership and donation revenues are a real concern and could continue long after restrictions are lifted, which makes environmental charities particularly vulnerable. So far, the Government has made no provision to help with this long tail of losses. 

Can you help?

The UK's natural world is in steady decline. To tackle the climate and ecological emergency we need at least 30% of our land and seas to be managed for nature. During this difficult time, your support is more important than ever to help make this reality.
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Mark Hamblin/2020VISION