Northern Ireland

Environmental groups to receive share of £2m carrier bag levy pot, says minister

Bog Meadows nature reserve in west Belfast Image copyright Ulster Wildlife
Image caption Minister Mark Durkan says he will distribute £2m among environmental groups and community projects

Environmental groups in Northern Ireland that are facing budget cuts are to receive a share of £2m of revenue raised by the carrier bag levy.

In March, around 50 organisations were told their funding was to be cut after a reduction of more than 10% in the Department of the Environment's budget.

Now, Minister Mark Durkan has said he will distribute £2m among environmental groups and community projects.

In total, the bag tax has raised £4.2m since its introduction in April 2013.

Suffered

The £2m will help to offset the cuts that some groups working in areas like tourism, environmental heritage and hills management were facing.

The minister is to meet with some of the affected organisations on Thursday.

Of the new money, £1m will be made available for a new natural environment fund, which will go to some of the groups that lost funding last month.

Image caption The £2m will help to offset the severe cuts that some environmental groups were facing

A further £550,000 has been set aside for schools and community groups.

Another £500,000 has been earmarked for listed building grants.

The minister said no money had been set aside for this under the budget cuts.

Imaginatively

The minister said the money had to be used as effectively as possible.

"When the carrier bag levy was introduced, the promise was that it would be spent on the environment," he said.

"What I am now doing is fulfilling my vow to try and alleviate some of that pain [of budget cuts] as imaginatively as possible."

"The £1m injection into the natural environment fund will see those [non-governmental organisations] and councils specifically managing our landscapes, who had previously been in receipt of, but lost funding, now get some funding restored.

"This is a limited amount of money and we must use it to the maximum."

Importance

Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland had all £120,000 of its funding withdrawn.

It provides insurance for all walking trails in Northern Ireland.

Chris Scott of the organisation said the amount of money to be shared out fell well short of the £3.5m natural heritage grants programme pot from which the groups were previously funded.

"It's good that there's now something being made available, but it really still feels like the importance of the roles carried out by the NGOs is not being given its full credit," he said.

Ulster Wildlife also lost all of its funding. Its operations director Dawn Miskelly said the charity was "still unsure of the finer details" of how the new money would be allocated.

She added that many groups would still be facing compulsory redundancies despite the fresh funds.

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