Philanthropic donations to environmental causes have more than doubled in value in the UK as the climate crisis and unprecedented biodiversity loss attract increasing attention from individuals and charities.
The amounts of money given to support efforts to tackle climate change and nature loss range from GBP5,000 to millions of pounds, and the focus of the funding is as broad.
It includes a GBP10,000 donation given to support a successful campaign for a deposit return scheme in Scotland; the funding of grassroots defenders of Europe’s last primeval forest, in Poland, and the protection of wetlands in Montenegro; and millions of pounds in support of environmental legal challenges and donations to back campaigning against fossil fuels.
This year, individuals and charities in the UK gave GBP250m to environmental causes, more than double that in 2016 but still less than 4% of total charitable funding by UK philanthropists, most of which is given to health, arts and culture.
Florence Miller, the director of the Environmental Funders Network (EFN), which supports and encourages philanthropists to turn to green causes, said: “The amount might be laughable in comparison with other areas, but it is quite remarkable the amount of things that can be stopped in their tracks, or the amount of new work that can begin from this.”
She said a key area of need was in so-called “Cinderella” causes, further away from direct support of an environmental project but with as much impact. “These Cinderella issues are ones funders have largely missed … but there are pressure points where intervention can make a huge difference” said Miller.
One such action was a GBP20,000 donation from the Polden-Puckham Charitable Foundation to Counter Balance, which ran a campaign that persuaded the European Investment Bank – the financial arm of the EU and the largest public investor in Europe – to end financing for fossil fuels beyond 2020.
The actor Sir Mark Rylance is attempting to raise the profile of environmental giving. He has committed to give one month of his time each year to an environmental cause. Rylance said a new campaign by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust to restore 100,000 hectares of wetlands had particularly inspired him.
“The Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust have been at this for 75 years and these people really know, and have so many positive ideas and ways that we can turn this situation around very, very quickly, if we can change our minds,” said Rylance.
“They [wetlands] have incredible simple benefits; wetlands are a marvellous carbon storage network, even more than forests, wetlands also reduce flood risk … The restoring of wetlands could be a significant feature in reducing flood risk, much more helpful than trying to build concrete walls around our little island.”
Sophie Marple, the founder of the Gower Street Foundation, gave GBP10,000 to Extinction Rebellion to help mount their April 2019 uprising, in which a large pink boat was moored in Oxford Street. She said three years ago she began to realise that the environment was the area she wanted to fund, and supporting XR was a defining moment.
“Philanthropy is often seen as giving to benefit people who don’t have what you have, or to people overseas,” said Marple. “The shift that happened for me was I realised … that every single cause that we were ever going to support was going to be made much worse by climate change.”
Joining the EFN helped her understand clearly where her interests lay, as it was a huge sector, she said.
Marple now gives to causes that raise social awareness. As well as funding XR, she has supported Parents for Future, Mothers Rise Up and the schools climate network. “If you want to really tackle the climate crisis, you have got to get everyone involved, everyone has got to understand and have a role in this.”
As well as longer-term funding, the network runs a new rapid response fund to help the environmental movement become more effective. “This is really fast funding for up to GBP25,000 to help groups seize opportunities to make a difference or respond to a crisis,” said Miller.
The fund has paid for the Scottish Wildlife Trust to instruct a QC who helped them defeat a proposal for a golf course at a site of significant conservation importance. It also funded a mass lobbying of parliament in which 200 people spoke to 300 MPs on the importance of a green recovery from the Covid-19 crisis, and a national nature survey to support green jobs as part of the recovery.
What funding can do
Cleaning up rivers
Funding for the Rivers Trust allowed it to work with three water companies to investigate the idea of creating natural wetlands to purify water. If it works, the cost saving for those water companies would be potentially enormous, as natural water treatment can be significantly less expensive than current methods. The goal for the Rivers Trust is that the water companies will commit a percentage of their savings to natural wetland restoration in their area, raising money that can be used to improve the state of rivers on a large scale.
The trust needs significant additional investment to increase its capacity and that of its members to broker agreements at a national and local scale respectively.
The trust and the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership are being funded by the Fishmongers’ Company and the Prince of Wales’s Charitable Fund to develop the new funding model that has the potential to raise the millions of pounds a year to improve water quality.
Reintroducing beavers to Scotland
The People’s Trust for Endangered Species provided GBP200,000 to support the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) and their partners when they ran a trial beaver reintroduction in Knapdale Forest in mid-Argyll. The contribution was used as general funding for public engagement prior to and during the release, for monitoring the release itself, and for visitor communication efforts.
Wild beavers were translocated from Norway in family groups, with 11 animals initially released in May 2009. It was a challenging but ultimately successful project, and it has culminated in the Scottish government confirming that the animals could remain in the wild, where they continue to thrive today.