One in 10 UK adults involved in an environmental group, figures show


Report on UK’s green groups also finds far more is spent on biodiversity and conservation than on climate change

Nearly 4.5 million people, or one in 10 UK adults, is now a member or supporter of Britain’s environment and conservation groups, according to a new report.

But of the groups’ combined income of £984m a year, only 7% of the money they spend goes to tackle high-profile issues like climate change, with 44% going to traditional biodiversity and nature protection.

“The claim is sometimes made that climate change has taken over the environmental agenda, but this doesn’t appear to be the case in terms of the way in which resources are being allocated,” says the report, which notes there are 81 organisations protecting species and 78 working on climate change.

“To put the expenditure of £68.2m on climate and atmosphere into context, this is a little over two-thirds of the £100m that British Gas owner Centrica recently invested in fracking firm Cuadrilla, which has featured regularly in the media in recent months,” it says.

The 140 groups who responded to the survey by Environmental Funders Network said they received nearly 20% of their money, or nearly £200m, from the the EU or UK government departments. Individuals gave £117m, members £115m, and the groups were together left £68m in legacies. Businesses only provided £42m, or 4.3% of the income.

Although nearly £350m was spent on traditional nature protection, the groups, which included Greenpeace, Christian Aid and Groundwork, but not major membership organisations like the National Trust or Oxfam, appear to have effectively dropped other issues that are leading to widespread deterioration of rural and urban environments.

Only £5.7m or 0.6% of the total spend by the groups went towards air, noise and water pollution, even though the evidence suggests this is costing Britain more than £10bn a year in healthcare costs, and together receive more complaints than anything else.

But it dispels the myths that suggest environment groups are full of radicals. Only 1.2% of their income is spent on activism towards government or corporations, and less than 3% of their income went on trying to get people to behave differently.

Other findings in the report include:

• Greenpeace was seen as the UK environmental organisation achieving the most relative to its resources, with Friends of the Earth and the RSPB tied in second place, and WWF UK in fourth.

• Work relating to the natural environment is dominant, with 44.9% of expenditure supporting work on biodiversity and species preservation or terrestrial ecosystems.

• Less than 3% of the money earned was being directed at work at EU level, where it is estimated that at least 80% of the environmental legislation that affects the UK is framed.

• Groups responding to the survey prioritised the need for more work on energy, fresh water, sustainable communities and trade and finance in the next three years, if resources are available.

• More than 40% of the spending goes on work at local or regional level within the UK, with work at national level accounting for less than a third of total expenditure.

• Membership is heavily concentrated in a small group with just 12 organisations accounting for more than 80% of the members.

Many chief executives said they felt financially insecure after income fell 5.2% in 2011-12 after a 500% increase betweem 1995 and 2008. Nearly 30 of the groups reported that they were worse off now than five years ago.

Some suggested that groups should merge. “[There is] a need for a very heavily populated and fragile sector to consolidate, merge and achieve the scale necessary to drive public opinion and force change when working with large business interests and increasingly international institutions,” said one chief executive, who is not named.

Another said: “The sector is overcrowded with many NGOs driven by funding/funders’ agendas or relatively specialist (insignificant?) issues. As a sector we lack any real strategy, nor have we considered building partnership models that could achieve real gains for the environment.”

“The British environment and conservation groups have a proud track record of success, and they can point to very substantial changes achieved with tiny resources, but times have changed, and so must we,” said Tony Juniper, former director of Friends of the Earth.

John Vidal © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

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