We were shocked by the recent news that Department of the Environment (DoE) is cutting all funding to The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) from the end of June, for the three habitat management project that we currently deliver across Counties Antrim, Tyrone & Fermanagh.
In the recent budget, the Northern Ireland Executive imposed unfair and disproportionate cuts on the DoE budgets. The DoE is one of the smallest departments in the Northern Ireland government and when put in this impossible position, made the decision to end all funding to the environmental organisations that protect and improve our unique environment and heritage.
Since 2010, TCV has received much reduced funding from DoE's Natural Heritage Grant Programme. Over the past 5 years we have worked hard to deliver a smaller number of conservation projects with dedicated volunteers focused on improving Northern Ireland's Priority Habitats and worked with Councils and landowners to maintain and improve their land for biodiversity and for local people.
An independent report on the economic value of Northern Ireland's environment in 2007 assessed the value of TCV's volunteer's contribution:
By far the largest organiser of environmental voluntary work, the value of time contributed by The Conservation Volunteer's volunteers alone is estimated at £2.4 million per annum – equivalent to 162 full time jobs
Now, just like the species and habitats we have worked to protect for over 30 years, the future of the huge voluntary effort to protect our unique environment is under serious threat.
Media coverage in the last few days has suggested that as many as 450 jobs are being lost in the voluntary and community sector, as a result of government cuts across many departments.
The Northern Ireland Assembly Environment Committee met with the Environment Minister and senior DOE officials recently to discuss the devastating cuts to the environmental sector. The Minister agreed to meet 'urgently' with relevant stakeholders to address the issues raised and proposed that some funds from the Carrier Bag Levy might be found to fill the gap. TCV supports these discussions and hopes that some funds can be found to help support the continuation of our work to involve people in managing some of Northern Ireland's best habitats.