As lockdown has progressed, many people have had the opportunity to appreciate the importance of Wales’ natural environment to our wellbeing.
Many have taken daily exercise in local parks or green areas, many have been watching Welsh wildlife streamed live online, many have supported their local food producers who care for our natural environment every day of the year.
The Welsh Government declaration of a Climate Emergency in April of 2019 has been matched with a growing determination from public bodies, businesses and communities to play a greater role in reducing our emissions, adapting to climate change and protecting the natural environment.
Despite the current pandemic, this determination has only increased, with a lively debate about the need for the recovery from Covid-19 to demonstrate an even stronger focus on action for nature.
Applications are now open for two funds – the National Forest Community Woodland Grant Fund, and the Local Places for Nature Capital Fund – to help communities and organisations fulfil their role in responding to the climate emergency.
The funds will be delivered in a collaboration between the Welsh Government and the National Lottery Heritage Fund, with applications handled by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Applicants will be able to apply to both grants from today, with applications expected to take no more than eight weeks for approval.
Due to continued restrictions, while guidelines allow for charity work to continue under two-meter distancing rules, it is expected that organisations will limit the amount of members involved in projects – though this will be reviewed as guidelines change.
The National Forest Community Woodland Grant Fund will allow not-for-profit organisations to apply for funds for woodland projects, which help meet the needs of local communities and help boost ecosystems.
This could include the creation of new woodland on derelict sites; the planting of trees on streets in urban neighbourhoods, or creating new corridors of trees to link existing woodlands.
The scheme is just one part of the National Forest programme announced in the spring, which aims to create a single connected ecological network stretching throughout Wales.
The fund may also be used for improvements to existing woodland areas, through the installation of footpaths or improving access.
The Local Places for Nature Capital Fund will and give people the chance to create nature on their doorsteps.
The scheme is aimed at community organisations to restore and enhance nature in their local areas, particularly in Wales’ most disadvantaged communities, and those with little access to nature.
The fund aims to create places for nature across Wales, where people live, work and access public services.
Projects will be community-led, on land, in rivers and the sea. They may include creating urban green spaces, pollinator-friendly wildflower meadows and verges, and helping to remove threats to nature such as pollution, invasive and non-native species. The aim of the fund is to support a wide range of projects to promote nature across Wales.
Lesley Griffiths, the Minister for Environment, Energy and Rural Affairs, said:
The opening of these new schemes today reflect the determination of organisations and communities in Wales to do more for nature even in these very difficult times. We have seen a greater appreciation of nature during the pandemic and the way in which it underpins our health, our economy and our wider wellbeing.
The current public health advice is to ‘stay local’ and we must take this opportunity to focus on the importance of the places we live – our local wildlife, our food producers, and our foundational economy. This focus is not only good for our health and prosperity, it is good for the natural environment both in Wales and worldwide.
Whilst the current restrictions do mean that the level of initial community involvement in the early stages of projects will be more limited than we might have hoped, we remain confident that these projects can be a platform for greater community involvement in action for nature over time.
The creation of new spaces for nature through the schemes we open today will provide opportunities for communities to come together, to be inspired and to accelerate the transformational changes needed in our economy and society to respond to the climate emergency and to halt and reverse the decline in biodiversity.
Baroness Kay Andrews, UK trustee and chair of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales, said:
This new money from the Welsh Government and National Lottery players will work hard to ensure Wales’s important natural heritage is restored and enhanced.
It will help to both reconnect people with an often overlooked natural world, to create nature on their doorstep and protect that nature for years to come.