Eco Fund increases backing for community projects

Community rabbit control programmes, planting for water quality, or native planting in areas cleared of wilding pines are a focus in a revamped Eco Fund offered by the Otago Regional Council.

Councillors approved an expansion of the fund this week with $180,000 more on offer this year to be used for community projects dealing specifically with those concerns.

Nearly $500,000 is on offer in this year’s funding round because of the changes.

Eco Fund chairman Cr Michael Deaker called the revised Eco Fund approved at this week’s council meeting a "significant step forward" for the relatively new fund.

Council staff, who had been asked to review the fund, looked at it as a strategic tool rather than just a way of distributing money to community groups, Cr Deaker said.

The result was not just a fund that contained more money for community groups to apply for, it made the fund itself more in line with the ORC’s priorities.

"It gives the Eco Fund a more comprehensive and strategic purpose," he said.

In a report submitted to the council, ORC environmental implementation principal adviser Anna Ferguson said the Eco Fund was established by the ORC in 2018 as a replacement for the two-year-old Environmental Enhancement Fund.

The Environmental Enhancement Fund had granted about $375,000 to 17 projects in its two year history.

Its replacement, the Eco Fund, had provided about $750,000 to 75 projects over seven funding rounds since its launch.

Before the review that led to the present changes, it had been oversubscribed by about 300%, Ms Ferguson said.

The fund had received about 180 applications collectively asking for nearly $3million since it was launched, she said.

In a statement yesterday the ORC said $470,000 was available for environmental projects in Otago in this year’s Eco Fund funding round which would open next month.

The original $290,000 fund would be supplemented with the new one-off incentive funds added through the 2021-31 long-term plan.

Those included $100,000 to support collaborative community rabbit management projects, $30,000 for native planting aimed at achieving water quality outcomes and $50,000 for native planting post wilding pine removal, the ORC said.

Funding for the additional areas would be ring-fenced to ensure they were only allocated for the projects related to addressing those areas.

There was additional criteria for sustained rabbit management funds, that included funding for the development of rabbit management entities, upskilling in management techniques, fencing costs and monitoring, it said.

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