Green charities lose out as donors ignore environmental issues

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The Independent Online

Despite growing concern for the state of the environment from Government and the public alike, only a tiny proportion of donations to charities go towards green causes, a report has revealed. Less than 2 per cent of UK charitable grants go towards environmental concerns, and only 5 per cent of the £8bn donated annually by private individuals goes to green charities.

The report from the New Philanthropy Capital (NPC) described these figures as puzzling and "woefully inadequate", warning that "we ignore environmental problems at our peril".

The environment is given a lower priority among donors than other concerns, such as medical research, which receives 19 per cent of the UK's charitable funding. Religious charities, and those dedicated to children and young people, are also popular, receiving 16 and 10 per cent of charitable funding respectively.

According to the report, The Green Philanthropy, the 100 largest UK charitable trusts allocate just 2 per cent of their £1.1bn annual funding into environmental charities. The report suggests this is partly down to a lack of information about how to fund green causes and which charities engage in environmental work.

Bernard Mercer, the author of the report, said: "There's a tremendous public conscience about poverty, but there isn't an analogous one for the environment. There are some shocking facts.

"For example, the Government's primary international programme for biodiversity, called the Darwin Initiative, only receives an annual budget of £7m. That's about a third of the cost of one city academy."

The report also suggests that green issues lose out to other charities because the public have only become aware of the scale of climate change issues relatively recently. "In part the problem is historical," said Mr Mercer. "We've only known about the gravity of environmental issues for a much shorter time than poverty. That's the past, but the future has got to be moving quite quickly. People are still very much describing the problem rather than analysing solutions."

The scale of environmental concerns is also off-putting to potential donors, the report said, and green charity fundraisers agree that this is their major stumbling block for funding.

Pippa Carte, director of fundraising at the Worldwide Fund (WWF), said: "I wasn't surprised by the numbers. Environmental issues are very complex, and people still find it quite confusing. There's a lot of uncertainty about when a crisis might occur, so there isn't the urgency that is felt on natural disaster appeals".

The report stressed that while climate change is the most high-profile issue, there were many concerns relating to the environment that were often overlooked, such as pollution, biodiversity, and the environment's effect on the world's poor.

Roger Higman, the campaigns co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth, said that it was important to consider the wider effect of the environment on society. "Climate change is of interest to health and poverty charities as well. 90 per cent of the poorest people in the world depend in part on tropical rainforest for their survival. The protection of the rainforest is vital for the alleviation of poverty."

Mr Higman agreed that, given the scale of the problem, the sector was still very much underfunded. "The environment is an absolutely massive issue, but it's not getting the share of funds it deserves. Donors should be reviewing their policies to make sure they're giving as much to environmental causes as they deserve."

Karl Mitchell, head of fundraising at The Woodland Trust, said: "Adequate focus should be given to addressing environmental issues we face in the UK, as well as those in developing countries. We want to see trusts and individuals increasing their environmental support, and for increased funding from government, lottery and other grant sources."

Leading environmental charities

Friends Of The Earth

The environmental campaigning organisation has more than 70 national groups worldwide, and has been running since 1971.

Wildlife Trusts

The umbrella group for 47 Wildlife Trusts across the UK manages 2,200 nature reserves. With 726,000 members, it is the largest UK voluntary group, and works to preserve natural habitats.


With an annual income of more than £50m, this is one of the best-funded environmental charities in the UK. The RSPB works to protect birds and their environment using nature reserves.

Woodland Trust

The UK's leading charity dedicated to protecting the country's woodland, it conserves 1,100 woodland sites, including ancient woods and new native plantings.


Not technically a charity, because it has kept the option open to break laws with its campaigns, Greenpeace is nevertheless a powerful and well-funded environmental organisation. Its campaigns to protect the natural world are wide-reaching.

National Trust

Although much of the National Trust's money goestowards maintaining the leather chairs in various stately homes, as one of the better-funded UK charities, its work in maintaining the British countryside is also fairly wide-reaching.