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Annual ECO Fund for communities tops $900k – Otago Regional Council

Otago Regional Council’s annual ECO Fund round for community projects opens on 1 March, with a 58.4% boost to available funds now topping $900,000.

The combined ECO Fund and four Incentives Funds is joined by a one-off “large-scale biodiversity fund” this year – targeting projects in a range of $50,000 – $150,000.

The funding underpins the ORC’s partnership with local communities throughout Otago to improve the environment, which under the different categories can include on-ground works, biodiversity enhancement, water monitoring, animal or plant pest control, native planting and regeneration, education, or administrative support.

ORC’s Manager Environmental Implementation Libby Caldwell says the addition of the one-off large-scale project fund reflects that the ECO Fund and Incentives Funds have been consistently oversubscribed by more than 100% of the funds available.

“We’re definitely seeing greater interest in community-led projects around Otago and want to foster more of these partnerships which so positively enhance the environment,” she says.

ORC Councillor and Chair of the ECO Fund, Alan Somerville says the ECO Fund provides excellent value to Otago communities and the environment, and this year it’s the biggest ever pool of funding available.

“Communities know what is most important in their own areas, and money from the ECO Fund can enable them to turn their ideas into action,” he says.

Cr Somerville says the criteria is broad and covers biodiversity, biosecurity, and improving water quality. “Last year’s funding round included projects to establish a trap library at Taieri Mouth, removal of lupins in the Lindis Pass, plants for riparian planting in South Otago and rabbit fencing at Moeraki and Wanaka,” he says.

He noted the fund can also cover up to 50% of wages costs for project coordinators.

“Local groups across Otago put a huge amount of work into protecting and enhancing the environment. The benefits are boundless.”

While indigenous plants and animals have the chance to thrive with the reduction in pests, current and future generations will live in neighbourhoods with cleaner water, with more native bush and native birds at their back door.

“The larger fund this year will be able to support more projects. It’s a very good plan to contact the Council to discuss your project before putting your application in,” Cr Somerville says.

Since the ECO Fund’s inception in 2018, 133 projects have received grants, totalling $1.71 million, Mrs Caldwell says.

“The large-scale funding came about from several funding requests made to Council through its Long Term Plan and Annual Plan processes, so we have listened to our community and are providing assistance with getting these large scale biodiversity projects off the ground and ensuring that how we allocate our funding to projects is fair and contestable,” Mrs Caldwell says.

She says the biodiversity budget for 2023-24 already included $300,000 for biodiversity outcomes, and the large-scale fund will be easily integrated within the already established ECO Fund system.

“The diversity of the categories has enabled some great community outcomes over the past six years and the aim is to continue this.”

The criteria for the new large scale biodiversity grants includes that the project must address biodiversity outcomes, be in a range of $50,000 and $150,000 and be completed by June 2025.

The ECO Fund and other incentives in 2024 total $900,000

ECO Fund General grants – $300,000.

Incentives targeted at sustained rabbit management – $100,000.

Incentives targeted at water quality – $50,000. Incentives targeted at biodiversity enhancement on protected private land- $100,000. Incentives targeted at native planting following pest control – $50,000. Large scale biodiversity grants – $300,000.

Applications open early March 2024 and close a month later in early April, with successful applicants scheduled to be informed in May.

The ECO Fund and other incentives for 2024 funding was adopted through the Annual Plan and the additional biodiversity grants were confirmed by ORC’s Environmental Implementation Committee on 8 November last year.

Anyone interested in the fund is encouraged to review ECO Fund information on the ORC’s website and to get in touch with the ECO Fund team at ORC to discuss potential applications by emailing ecofund@orc.govt.nz or calling 0800 474 082.

Last year’s successful applicants

In 2022, the contestable funding available was $470,000 and in 2023 that rose to $568,000.

In May last year it was announced a total 32 organisations around Otago were the successful recipients of $536,470 – from both the ORC’s annual ECO Fund and its Incentives Fund.

An initial 49 applications were again oversubscribed by more than 100%, with $1.17 million being sought from $568,000 funds available.

At the time ORC’s Manager Environmental Implementation Libby Caldwell said the annual oversubscription reflected the need in the community for this important funding stream.

“The work that can now be undertaken from these two funds is a great example of the ORC working in partnership with local communities throughout Otago, to improve the state of the environment across numerous needs,” Mrs Caldwell says.

Last year’s applications came from across Otago; with six successful applications around Dunedin environs, five around Queenstown and the balance of 37 spread as far afield as Oamaru, Lake Hawea, the Catlins, Wanaka and South Otago.

 

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