Parish, town and neighbourhood councils across the county will be invited to opt in to a Lancashire County Council initiative which will see each of them handed a £300 grant to carry out projects that will give a boost to nature in their area.
A £58,000 cash pot – agreed when the authority set its budget back in February – has now been established to cover the cost of what County Hall acknowledges will be “small-scale” projects.
However, Labour county councillor Mark Clifford decried the grants as being “in effect, chicken feed…[which] will be seen as an insulting and derisory amount by many”.
Cabinet member for environment and climate change Shaun Turner suggested that the Clayton with Whittle member’s assessment missed the point behind the idea.
“What you’ve got to see with this is that [it] is about micro-events at a local level – it’s about small schemes, and in the grand scheme of…all the other things that we’re doing, it really is a good thing,” County Cllr Turner said.
He stressed that the money was being made available on an annual basis and said that it could be used to supplement the work of schools or local businesses.
Other potential uses for the funding include the installation or creation of nest boxes, bat boxes, communal gardens, ‘living walls’, pollinator nest sites, wildflower areas and ponds.
Adult services cabinet member Graham Gooch – who has also chaired Longton Parish Council for more than 15 years – said that as the lowest-tier of local authority, parishes were perfectly placed to make any money they received go “a long way”..
“The reason it’s not chicken feed is because parish councils work cheap. The councillors don’t get paid, we have very small running costs and we have access to volunteers and local people and local businesses chipping in for these things,” County Cllr Gooch explained.
There are 212 so-called “parished” areas across Lancashire. For the past decade, they have been eligible for small grants to fund low-level maintenance of public rights of way – and the biodiversity grants scheme will be administered under the same umbrella.
However, the authorities can still receive the biodiversity cash even if they have never chosen to opt in for the rights of way funding.
The meeting at which the grants scheme was approved heard that County Hall has recently recruited three ecologists to focus on the 1,200 bilogical sites that exist across the county.
"Until recently, we’ve only be able to...manage them - now we’re going to try and make them biodiverse and encourage nature there,” County Cllr Turner said.
He added that the county had also completed 755 hecrates of peatland restoration, which he described as “probably the most important weapon we’ve got in Lanacshire in terms of sequestering carbon”.