Innovative funding to restore nature

Together with Defra and the Environment Agency, we funded four pilot projects to protect and restore valuable habitats and explore opportunities to fund restoration in different ways. We invited them to share what they learned as well as their insights into the opportunities and challenges of innovative funding models.

Philanthropic and public funding is critical to restoring our natural environment but they won’t be enough. To restore nature at the scale and pace that’s needed, securing more money is crucial. We wanted to explore the different ways this could be done and potentially be replicated by other projects across the UK. So, in 2019 we collaborated with Defra and the Environment Agency to fund four pilot projects to help them to develop business plans and identify additional revenue sources. The projects were supported by Triodos Bank and include: Devon Wildlife Trust, National Farmers Union, The Rivers Trust and Moors for the Future Partnership.

View the slides

View the transcript

Panel and timings:

(00:03:29​) Caroline Mason, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation

(00:12:16​) Gavin Bloomfield, Devon Wildlife Trust

(00:26:44​) Paul Cottington and Tess Tidman, National Farmers Union

(00:45:04​) Dan Turner, The Rivers Trust

(00:58:50​) Matt Scott-Campbell, Moors for the Future Partnership

(01:20:45​) Dan Hird, Triodos Bank

(01:39:40​) Q&A with the panel - scroll down for additional Q&As that we didn't manage to get to during the webinar

The event was facilitated by Simon Wightman, a Funding Manager at Esmée and took place on 19 March 2021. Live captioning and the transcript were provided by Ai Media.

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More Q&A

Below, Simon answers some of the questions we didn't manage to get to during the webinar.

Are there plans to support more organisations in the early stages of developing ideas similar to these pilot projects (e.g. Soil Association looking at ecosystem services from farming)? Unfortunately the Natural Environment Investment Readiness Fund expects this early stage research to have already happened.

Esmée is interested in how these approaches can be applied in different ways and to tackle different problems. We don't have the funds to support all the initiatives that are emerging but where approaches are different to what's been tried before, either in method or scale, we may be able to help. Also, there aren't many trusts and foundations active in this space at the moment but I think that is changing so we hope there will be more support available in future.

I am seeing many financial models which look much like corporate capture. How do we avoid this? E.g. Trees for carbon sequestration - regenerative farming without a social model. So do we build and lobby for metrics that take community building - ‘we the people’ stakeholders etc and other social goods into account? Because unless local community education and ownership surely is part of this work?

I think you're right. That issue is wider than we have tackled in the pilots and requires clear legislation (e.g. offsets not being used for legal compliance in place of emissions reductions) and robust codes for buyers and sellers. Also, I think this is why local models such as the community crowdfunded investments Dan talked about could be really exciting.

Also, has anyone mapped the UK for optimum use in terms of carbon - food production etc?

No, but there have been several calls for a landuse strategy that would consider these issues, such as by the Food, Farming and the Countryside Commission.

How are these projects/pilots are currently funded?

These four pilots were jointly funded by Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, Defra and Environment Agency, although there has been significant pro bono input from advisors along the way. See our story about the collaboration for more information.

How much collaboration has there been between the four pilots? Is there merit in each pilot in turn being able to host the three others once restrictions are lifted for shared learning?

Yes, we hope so. The projects are all at very different stages, which has limited the opportunity to join up across the board so far but there's definitely much more opportunity going forward. We're also looking at how we can share the learning more widely beyond this webinar.

How does the desire to create a market for offsetting (ie, carbon, but also biodiversity) sit with the fact that we should be trying to reduce carbon completely? Will the creation of these markets mean that people don’t reduce their polluting behaviours, but rather offset them?

We think this is absolutely critical. To meet climate objectives we need nature-based solutions on top of reduced emissions, not instead of them. This is an issue much wider than these pilots but a reasonable starting position seems to me that offsets are not used for compliance in place of emissions reductions e.g. as part of a UK Emissions Trading System, and that there should be strong standards for both buyers and sellers for voluntary offsets. Much the same goes for biodiversity net gain, which must be genuinely additional and not replace the primacy of the mitigation hierarchy.