Mown down – the Grasslands Trust

By Bluescan (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Last week’s news that the Grasslands Trust has gone into liquidation is sad to hear but it may only be the first and most public sign of the impact of the recession on our tangled bank of wildlife conservation organisations.

I know many of the Grasslands Trust’s staff personally, including their Chief Executive Lucy Cooper, and some of their trustees too, and I am saddened by this outcome.  Let us hope that as much as possible of the Grasslands Trust’s 10-year legacy of conservation work is protected and that their excellent staff find new roles in nature conservation.

The Grasslands Trust was, for we now have to talk of it in the past, a small charity with a turnover of about £350k pa and about a dozen staff.   About half of that £350k came from grants and so the spending of it was ‘restricted’ to the purposes for which the grants were given.  There are many small NGOs that are very dependent on grants, and it can be a rather hand-to-mouth and nerve-wracking existence.

The grants and voluntary donations that have been going to the Grasslands Trust are now, in theory, available for other wildlife NGOs to collar.  I say ‘in theory’ because who knows whether levels of donation from individuals and grant-giving bodies can be maintained in the current economic climate, there are plenty of non-wildlife causes that may be able to tap into those funds, and if there are people out there whose main interest is grassland conservation they may feel that they don’t have other good options for their charitable donations.

Different charities, of course, having different funding models.  Some are dependent on rich donors, and since the rich are always with us (and are not an endangered species under the current government) there are always opportunities there.  Some depend on us visiting their sites and spending our money with them (and it has been a poor summer, weather-wise, for those organisations).  Some depend on grants – and grant-giving bodies get their money from donations and/or interest on investments (which aren’t likely to be having the best of times these days).  Some have close collaborative relationships with (or are in hock to) statutory agencies whose budgets have been cut in government austerity measures. And all, to some extent, depend on our generosity.

Whether you give your money to a wildlife NGO will depend on many things – whether you like bats/bees/butterflies/bitterns/basking sharks/bluebells, whether you like the staff of the organisation, whether you are feeling flush with cash or pinched with debt, what you think you will get back from the organisation and from which side of the bed you emerged today. But you are investing too.  You are investing your money in nature conservation, and it’s wise to undertake due diligence in any investment.  Will your chosen wildlife NGO do a good job with your money and will they still be there in five years time?

The Charity Commission website is not a bad place to start. And here, just for interest, are some figures to show the range of incomes achieved by some wildlife conservation charities in recent years


By Agnico-Eagle (Agnico-Eagle Mines Limited) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The National Trust £413m

RSPB   £122m

WWF- UK £58m

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust £26m

BTO £4.6m

Butterfly Conservation £3.3m

Plantlife International £2.8m

Marine Conservation Society £2.2m

Bat Conservation Trust £1.49m

By Hephaestos at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons
Amphibian and Reptile Conservation £938k

Buglife £680k

Froglife £625k

Pond Conservation £607k

Bumblebee Conservation Trust £293k

Badger Trust £120k



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15 Replies to “Mown down – the Grasslands Trust”

  1. One of the worse things I have witnessed in this money grabbing game by charities is that the big boys can easily out bid the little boys. One example came when a grant for £ 370,000 was given to the big boys due to a claim that they would have 10,000 visitors a year to their scheme. In fact the figure should have been around 1000 but as they were the big boys the grant was given. The regional boss told the local boss that they had to use that figure or they would not get the grant!! Oh, and what was the turn over for the Grassland Trust!!!

    1. John – that sounds like a bad example which can’t be defended. But generally, I think, there is also a tendency for grant-giving bodies to support the ‘little guys’. It wouldn’t happen so much in the USA I think, where the biggest would attract the money on the grounds that supporting success is good and the big guys may be more efficient at delivery. Each case is different, of course, but I would rather see funding bodies backing effectiveness rather than giving small NGOs ‘sympathy’ money. Grant givers should take a strategic approach to the sector and use their money to engineer a better future arrangement of wildlife NGOs – encouraging collaboration (where appropriate), merger (ditto) and stronger competition (ditto).

  2. To answer John’s question the Grasslands Trust turnover for the last year was £362K. There are of course many reasons why charities cease to continue and those who were overly dependent on public funds have already gone. Because of the issues here in Herefordshire, the loss of the Grassland Trust is keenly felt if only because of the ongoing loss of species rich grassland and the impotence of the EIA regulations. Whilst we might question the multiplicity of charities in the nature conservation sector, the Grasslands Trust was very good at campaigning and working in partnership – something of a lesson for some other charities.
    As a Chief Executive of a small conservation charity the key to survival is having adequate financial reserves, developing a mix of funding streams and developing new ways of thinking.

  3. We have entered an environment where new collaborative ways of working are essential. Often we lack templates; structures and formats that would enable several small organisations to pool their admin resources leaving more resource for front line work.

  4. It’s a tough time for all charities big and small. We are a very small charity and struggle to make ends meet. Have made so many grant applications but always fail to the big boys.

  5. The news about the Grasslands Trust is very sad indeed but a definate sign of the times. It is nearly this time last year that FWAG went down.

    I had a quick look at the websites of three organisations on your list; Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, Froglife, Pond Conservation and looked at their mission statements:

    “Amphibian and Reptile Conservation is a national wildlife charity committed to conserving amphibians and reptiles and saving the disappearing habitats on which they depend”

    “Froglife is a national wildlife charity committed to the conservation of amphibians and reptiles – frogs, toads, newts, snakes and lizards – and saving the habitats they depend on”

    “Pond Conservation’s aim is to protect and increase the freshwater biodiversity of landscapes, using ponds as a major focus”

    All fantastic organisations that I admire but they do seem to have very similar aims don’t they ? Also operating in a similar area is the British Dragonfly Society and ARG UK.
    Perhaps I being too simplistic but from the outside looking in, I can’t help but think that if all these organisations merged they would be stronger by reducing operational costs through the pooling resources and reducing duplication ? Would they not have a bigger voice that policy makers would be more likely to listen to and possibly fund ?

    1. Joe W – wouldn’t WWT be in there too? Maybe they could be called Wet, Wet, Wet (Wet, Wet)!

  6. Very interesting Joe W – You will see that Pond Conservation, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation and the Local ARGs all work together on projects.

    The formation of Amphibian & Reptile Conservation trust was from the merger of Herpetological Conservation Trust and Froglife in 2009/2010

    The local groups (through the panel ARG UK) supported the merger as it would have provided a clear direction for amphibian and reptile conservation in the UK.

    The Froglife Trust was re established soon after citing that there were organisational differences and they felt it was better to go it alone – when of course the main thrust of the merger was to get better more joined up thinking etc

    Looking at the figures of income it does make you wonder whether Amphibian & Reptile Conservation are really good at managing their reserves – numbering 80 while how much revenue which goes to Froglife goes on their 1 reserve in Peterborough……

    1. Jon,

      Interesting, the more I look into the relationship between the differing nature conservation NGO’s the more I appreciate the aptness of Mark’s term, ‘The Tangled Bank’.

      I did note that Pond Conservation, Amphibian & Reptile Conservation and the Local ARGs all work together on projects and rightly so. It does beg the question, how much money/funding etc would be saved by a more permanent collaboration and what could be achieved with the savings ?

      However I do appreciate that these things are not necessarily straightforward and the inter-organisational politics that must inevitably exist. I spent five years working for a nature conservation NGO with charitable status. It was only when I left that I came to fully appreciate the level of tribalism that existed within some parts of the organisation (and I have to include myself in that) and the every so slightly uneasy relationships that existed with some NGO’s who’s activities sometimes overlapped with our own. In hindsight it all seems a bit ridiculous, ultimately we all (I hope) work in nature conservation in order to do the best we can for nature, although sometimes by doing what we perceive to be the best for our organisation, perhaps we lose sight of what is best for nature.

      1. Joe W – that sounds familiar. And it needs trustees or very senior staff to break out of that position.

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