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Environmental projects that connect people with nature, improve our best habitats or help tackle threats facing our natural environment such as the decline of native species are being urged to apply for funding.

Environment Minister Edwin Poots said applications for the £2million Environmental Challenge Competition, one of three strands of the Environment Fund (EF), must be received by noon on 1 June 2021.

“We are looking for not for profit organisations and councils to apply for funding to help the recovery of nature and to help connect people with nature. So projects might include the creation of nature-rich trails and walkways, outdoor recreation facilities or protection of our coastline, the restoration of habitats and peatlands,” the Minister explained.

In enabling green recovery this funding will support the green growth that I’m committed to taking forward. Through this £2million funding programme, I want to proactively support partnership working between the community, government, businesses and other funders, to deliver these projects so we can provide more opportunities for people to spend time in nature and to do all we can to protect and enhance our wonderful wildlife and countryside.”

Minister Poots made the comments during a visit to Cavehill to see how Belfast Hills Partnership and the Woodland Trust have used Environmental Fund money to purchase land and provide additional walking paths, native tree planting, heathland management all with community involvement.

Gregor Fulton, Woodland Trust Estate and Outreach Manager said: “Funding opportunities like the Challenge Fund provide organisations such as ours the opportunities to fulfil our vision.

“The Woodland Trust Northern Ireland benefited from the fund in 2020/21 where investment enabled us to acquire our new site in the Belfast Hills spanning 98ha where we will realise our vision of creating a new native woodland within a short drive of the population of greater Belfast, Newtownabbey and South Antrim.”

Craig McGuicken, Chief Executive of Northern Ireland Environment Link said: “We very much welcome the announcement of this funding. We all know that we are facing a range of issues across our society - recovery from the pandemic, the nature crisis and the climate crisis. This support will help organisations deliver on a wide range of projects aimed at environmental improvement, nature restoration and improving peoples' access to the environment. Later this year the Climate CoP will be setting out a roadmap to deal with the climate crisis. It's essential that Northern Ireland and our environmental organisations are equipped to deliver.”

Applications for the Challenge Competition must be submitted by noon on Tuesday, 1 June 2021.