5 March 2021

Landcare chief says funding uncertainty could hurt environmental volunteers

| Dominic Giannini
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Ginninderra Creek, fish kills, water catchment

Karissa Preuss (left), of the Ginninderra Catchment Group with Umbagong Landcare Group members Dr Caroline Wenger and Bruno Ferronato checking the water of the catchment. Photo: Michael Weaver.

Community environmental volunteers have expressed concerns about the lack of funding set aside for future works by the ACT Government.

Landcare ACT, the peak body of catchment groups in the Territory, said the insecure funding takes away from a group’s capacity to conduct its core programs and operations.

“Without adequate and ongoing funding catchment groups are less able to undertake long-term planning and time is spent advocating for funding rather than getting on and doing what they do best, supporting the community in delivering on-ground environmental outcomes,” LandCare CEO Karissa Preuss told Region Media.

“Without such funding support, the social capital and environmental stewardship that the catchment groups have built over decades will be lost.”

Shadow Environment Minister, Leanne Castley, has criticised the Government for not allocating funding in the budget for environmental volunteers past this financial year.

“It is interesting that the Government talks about how great our environment and how important our volunteers are but that the funding runs out at the end of this year and there is nothing in the future budget for them,” she said.

“We cannot really manage things without our volunteers, they are so valued and it is not good enough.

“Our catchment groups and all of the different organisations need to make sure that they have that funding secured. They need to be future-proofed or they will not have the motivation to continue to grow their volunteer base.”

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Ms Castley pointed to budget statements that showed an allocation of $475,000 for environmental volunteers but no continuity over the forward estimates.

The Ginninderra, Southern ACT and Molonglo catchment groups received $125,000 each in this financial year and $100,000 has been allocated to ACT Wildlife.

Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said additional funding would be part of future budget processes but admitted there was an issue with funding continuity.

“In the parliamentary and governing agreement there is a strong commitment to volunteers, one of the key things I am focused on is how do we develop a process where we do have stable funding sources for environmental volunteers,” she said.

“We are not quite there yet.”

Rebecca Vassarotti MLA

Environment Minister Rebecca Vassarotti said the Government is working to ensure secure and stable funding for catchment groups. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Minister Vassarotti did not commit to any future funding when questioned in Committee Hearings on Tuesday (2 March).

The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate’s (EPSDD) Executive Director for the Environment, Ian Walker, said that catchment groups also received funding through other Government streams.

“In addition to those funded allocations, community groups are able to access our environmental grants programs and we have run environmental grants programs over the last decade,” he said.

“Those grants are substantially taken up by catchment groups, often auspiced by these three catchment groups.

“Over the last three years, we have been improving the investment with our catchment groups and building towards a more sustainable future for those groups. That includes that we now have secure funding for our water watch programs.”

Direct contracts for small $10,000 projects and community partnerships provide further funding to these organisations, Mr Walker said.

But Ms Preuss said that the groups only receive small grants for specific projects through the environmental grants program and these do not fund the core businesses of these catchment groups.

Applying for grants and advocating for funding also take up valuable time for these groups and reduces their capacity to conduct work in the field.

“Applying for and managing grants requires planning and engaging with the community to develop project applications and ongoing project management, as well as insurance cover,” she said.

Mr Walker also said that the Directorate is working with catchment groups to build own-source income and become less reliant on Government funding.

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