How the cuts are affecting the environment sector

Last year, I spent the best part of 9 months looking for work in the UK’s Environment sector. During that time, I came to realise that as a result of the new Government initiatives and budget cuts, the people, businesses and organisations which are working to sustain and protect our natural environments are in dire straits. As one would expect, funding is easily slashed from environmental causes as as economic stability rises up the priority ladder. But what are the implications of this sidelining of the environment, and how deep do the cuts go?

It is easy to simply look at spending review and assess where the cuts have fallen and how much the environment sector will, or has already lost. The problem however, is that a great deal of the conservation and environmental stewardship isn’t directly associated with central government budgets. The cuts that appear lower down the chain, as regional and local authorities tighten their belts, don’t get reported.

For example, the Welsh Assembly will see a budget cut of £1.8 billion over the next four years while the Scottish Government loses £1.3 billion. That has immediate effects, with the latter already announcing a cut of £55m to the Environment and Rural and half a billion to local governments. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) have taken a hit of a 30% reduction. This filters down to the DEFRA distributed funded organisations  such as the Environment Agency and Natural England, the combined forces of which cover pollution, conservation, and flood protection. Both of them have seen their funding slashed. DEFRA has also significantly cut its grant funding to The Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew (a centre to which scientists and botanists from all around the globe refer to). Local government has drastically sliced funding to local wildlife trusts, energy trusts and charitable organisations.

Paul makes a few cuts of his own on a Scottish nature reserve

Examples abound of how ‘the greenest government ever’ has wreaked havoc within the environmental community. Somerset Wildlife Trust reports that the local government has ceased all spending on the natural environment, renewable energy, and sustainable development. The Carbon Trust’s attempts at a low carbon economy have been hindered by a 40% budget cut forcing the cancelation of major research. The Scottish Wildlife Trust has had a significant decline in support from Scottish National Heritage who formerly provided financial support for new equipment and materials to support SWT nature reserves. The coalition government has also done away with Labour’s Future Jobs Fund scheme – a program which supplied the majority of the conservation workers that manage SWT reserves.

However much we can see today, the budget ‘readjustments’ still have some blows to deal. Finding work in the environment sector has never been harder. Staff layoffs and job cuts throughout the UK are forcing highly qualified individuals to apply for low level posts in competition with new graduates. Some examples from my own experience: I enquired about a job advertised for which the only academic requirement was one A-Level in any subject. Asking if I’d be deemed over-qualified with a degree, they responded saying they had received over 40 applicants with PhDs and that without one it wasn’t worth trying. One particular Wildlife Trust also told me that they had ceased their volunteer programs as they no longer had the funding for their projects.

In the grand scheme of things, the total loss of money from the environment sector isn’t massive. At least, not in absolute terms. As a percentage of previous funding, the cuts are often severe.  So the question remains as where we go from here? How can ‘The Big Society’ step up if even the volunteer programmes have lost their funding? Interestingly, there is a blog which registers the cuts to the voluntary sector. It’s not all environmentally related, however if you know of or have experienced financial cuts yourself (or you are simply interested), it is worth a look.

So many things are being dismantled right now. Behind the ones that have caught the public’s attention, the libraries and benefit reforms, are hundreds of smaller scale initiatives, local wildlife reserves, schools programmes, flood defences. 15% of the staff at the National Forest are losing their jobs, Aldenham Country Park faces closure, Lambeth is making every one of its park rangers redundant. How many years will it take to put this back together, and what damage will be done in the meantime?

What’s happening in your area? Are you looking for work in the environmental sector? Please feel free to share any experiences you have as well!

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