Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Extinction lifeline for environmental education fundraisers...

This week, the Bug outlines funding sources available to environmental educators keen to make habitat improvements to their school grounds or community greenspaces...

Well, the 'Chrimbo Limbo' has come and gone, when the malnourished news wires propel a host of "2011 is the year of.." stories. So far, I've seen 2011 quoted as: the year of the tablet; the year of the Edinburgh trams; the Year of Consequences (that'll be Milliband); the year of the fixed remortgage; and the Year of the Musical Robot (no, I'm not joking).

Thankfully nature themes feature strongly this year: 2011 is the UN's Year of the Forest, a neat follow-on from organismal orgy that was International Year of Biodiversity 2010 (IYB2010). If IYB2010 is anything to go by the Year of the Forest could attract a host of media attention, AND more pots of funding for tree-planting projects and funding (more on that later...). There will no doubt be good 'forest based' educational resources that spring up in due course too, as an output of this celebratory campaign.

2011 is also the year "to bring insects in from the cold", as well as being the Year of the Bat. You may also be interested to know it'll be the Chinese Year of the Rabbit (they don't need much conservation help though, God love 'em).

So what's my New Year headline? I'd be tempted to call 2011 "The Year of the Fundraiser". The fundraiser Argento venotoria, a disappearing creature. Once a common and rather plucky species, it is sadly facing a number of threats due to the decline of its food source -funding pots- which are eroding away through mankind's chaotic management of the banking system, the investments on which many grantmaker's depend.

With fewer funding pots, and increasing competition for existing funding pots, this is serious stuff for those seeking financial help in making their environmental education projects a reality. In particular, this may affect the bigger 'wildlife habitat' projects: the pond-dipping platforms, the new allotments and the sensory gardens, for instance.

As the economic downturn bites (and here the analogy with the animal world continues) only the fittest fundraisers will survive and gain financial nourishment. I suspect that these will be the fundraisers that: a. know where the funding pots are; and b, know how to write a good funding application.

So, allow me to help you on your journey by providing you with five funding avenues that can help you get your environmental education projects off the ground.

1. The big funders: Some of your projects may involve large-scale works to your school's (or community) site (such as putting in a new pond, a butterfly bank, or allotment site). The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF - Your Heritage grantscheme, 5k to 50k) is a popular grant-giver for projects like these. They can fund projects that demonstrate that you will improve a local heritage item (e.g. ponds, wildlife, birds etc.), and improve local lives (not just in the school but also in the local community). The application process is rather intense (lots of questions, and likely a couple of face-to-face chats with HLF), a process that can be difficult for some schools to invest in. It could be worth the effort though...

Another big grant giver are the landfill tax credit schemes such as Biffaward and Violia (though I haven't much experience personally with this one). These players invest in local projects (normally within 5-10km from a landfill site) that benefit communities and schools. Again, you have to invest time in the application process, but the rewards (in terms of money generated) might be worth it.

2. The corporate funders: Some multi-nationals have a charitable grant-giving arm (often run by marketeers eager to show off their organisation's ethical beliefs and credentials). These are good pots, and relatively easy to apply for. The two best I know of are: 02's 'It's your community', and the Santander Foundation - both offer grants of over £1k-2k. There are others - in fact if you know of particularly good ones please do add a comments below...

3. The local authority funders: it's no secret that local authorities are bearing the brunt of the recession. Sadly environmental activities have been first to be chopped back for many, being deemed (WRONGLY!) to be a non-essential service. However, all local authorities will have someone (or even a team of people) called 'Biodiversity Officers' or suchlike. Search your local authority's website. These people are excellent contacts to email for information on small local funding pots (not necessarily council run) that could be just the job for your wildlife project. Sometimes these funding pots are undersubscribed - they're waiting for environmental educators like you to make contact!

4. The wildlife charities: Many wildlife charities may be open to working with schools or community groups to help create (and sometimes fund the creation of) special habitats for the species they represent. For ponds (which is where most of my experience lies), there are small funding pots available to create or restore ponds for great crested newts (see Amphibian and Reptile Conservation), or to create new high-quality ponds for other aquatic wildlife (see Pond Conservation's Million Ponds project) - Plantlife too may also be able to help if you're a plant buff. For ponds too it might be worth scanning Froglife's website to see what education projects they have on the go at that given time.

Another great charity is Learning Through Landscapes. Though they can't offer much in the way of grants, they can offer a free advisory service to enhance your plans for your outdoor learning project, possibly making it even more attractive to funders.

5. The local good folks: Yes, you guessed it, 2011 is also the European Year of Volunteering, so you could have a think about what you could get for free from a local volunteer workforce. If you have a project that requires some hard graft (not necessarily money) why not enquire about roping in existing conservation volunteer workforces from local branches of BTCV, the Wildlife Trust or Groundwork.

So there you have it! Five channels open to you if you're trying to get money for environmental education projects in 2011. This is by no means all of them. There are other funding pots out there to help environmental educators make their dreams a reality - please do post comments below if you have recommendations!

Oh, and Happy 2011, may it be your year too. And here's to those rabbits.

- Jules

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