OLNP meets with HM treasury representatives to discuss local nature recovery funding

October 19, 2023
Matt Whitney

We were pleased to welcome HM government officials to Oxfordshire to discuss how decision making on nature can best reflect local priorities

Last week we were pleased to welcome a group of central government officials to Oxfordshire, including the Head of DEFRA Spending Branch, Climate, Energy and Environment Directorate of HM Treasury. Representatives from Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment, BBOWT and OCC joined the LNP chair and manager to help ensure national decision-making reflects local priorities. The conversation was far reaching, wide ranging and positive.

Alongside the need for stronger regulatory drivers for investment in nature recovery and increased locally targeted funding for the public goods delivered by land management, one of the main themes was ‘funding the enablers’. Some of the vital functions performed by different local organisations are often omitted when considering how to prioritise policy and spending to deliver nature recovery ambitions. These include:

1) Farmer clusters are groups of farmers working together across a landscape or catchment to some agreed goals, many of which are environmental. These groups need facilitation, but the NE Facilitation Fund is difficult to apply for, restrictive in what it can fund, and only lasts for three years. Yet these clusters are absolutely vital to delivery of landscape scale environmental benefits, and a key element in getting private finance for nature based solutions flowing.

2) Local Record Centres are vital parts of the infrastructure and operational ecosystem around nature recovery. They used to be centrally funded but are no longer. This results in data becoming a commercially sensitive asset, as it’s through charging for provision of data that LRCs become financially viable. This, however, results in data not being freely available to stakeholders.

3) Community facilitators like Wild Oxfordshire engage local communities in nature recovery. This can not only result directly in local nature positive actions, but also helps ensure that any nature recovery actions undertaken by others are guided and informed by local priorities.

4) Local Nature Partnerships (LNPs) were invented by DEFRA over a decade ago. LNPs deliver significant value to nature recovery ambitions by bringing myriad stakeholders together. Despite LNPs implicitly being necessary to the LNRS process (and many other things) they receive no central government funding, and it is often left to LPAs to cover much of the costs of running LNPs. We requested a full impact study into LNPs.

5) Project development for nature finance. Environment Agency’s Natural Environment Investment Readiness scheme is one of only very few that funds project development. The scheme has been excellently administered and very effective, with Round 3 rightly focussing on farmers and landowners. However, there remains a significant funding gap. We broached the idea of an Oxfordshire Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund (NEIRF) or similar, and requested further rounds to be better funded.

As part of the visit, we had a tour around the Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust's Sutton Courtney Environment Education Centre. Sandwiched between the Milton Park Business Centre and the site of Didcot Power Station, this natural oasis is a refuge to wildlife and a really well-located education asset, enabling families and young people of all ages and backgrounds to get into nature. Unlike many more remote nature reserves it is easily accessible by public transport. We were delighted to see an extremely clear otter footprint and  a great crested newt.

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