Mark Durkan denies environmental groups were unaware cuts were coming

Mark H Durkan Mr Durkan denied that cuts to the grants for a number of environmental groups were imposed without consultation or strategic thinking

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Environment Minister Mark H Durkan has denied that cuts to the grants for a number of environmental groups were imposed without consultation or strategic thinking.

Environmental campaigners criticised the move.

Mr Durkan told BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics that the recent Stormont budget could lead to the loss of 400 jobs in his department.

He said the cutbacks should not have come as a complete shock to the groups.

"I have met with representatives from several of the groups who have been quoted in the media and several others who haven't," he said.

"All of them knew there were cuts coming, in fairness they may not have expected them to come of this extent."

The minister said had faced "tough choices" as a result of his budget being reduced by £12.4m, a fall of 10.7%.

"Local councils and environmental NGOs (non-governmental organisations) have had to bear the brunt of this and up to 400 jobs are likely to go from my department," he said.

"The present funding for Natural Heritage grant programmes and contracts will half from £3m to £1.5m.

"We have already notified a range of voluntary organisations about their natural heritage grant allocations for next year.

"We have provided them with funding for the next three months, but that given our severe financial constraints, it is unlikely that we will be able to reinstate most grant programmes for the foreseeable future."

Mr Durkan added that he "recognised" and "shared" the concerns of the groups and everyone else who was "passionate about the environment".

Letters from the Department of Environment to a range of organisations that work in areas like tourism, environmental heritage and hills management, began arriving on Wednesday.

Cavehill The Belfast Hills Partnership has also been affected, seeing its cure funding reduced to zero from £50,000

It is understood a number of high profile organisation are badly affected.

In some cases the cuts runs to more than £200,000.

It follows a cut of more than 10% to the department's own budget which was finalised earlier this week.

One of the organisations affected is the Northern Ireland Environment Link.

Its funding has been cut from £200,000 to £50,000.

The letter it received said its funding would continue until June, but would be withdrawn after that.

The Belfast Hills Partnership has also been affected.

Mourne Mountains The Mourne Heritage Trust is among the organisations badly affected

It helps to conserve and promote the mountains around the city.

Its core funding from the department has been reduced to zero from £50,000.

A representative from the Ulster Wildlife Trust said their annual grant of £220,000 was being totally cut.

The Mourne Heritage Trust is losing three quarters of its funding for 2015/16 going from £225,000 to £56,000 pounds.

The chair of the Stormont Environment Committee Anna Lo also criticised the minister's decision to cut funding to the groups.

Mark H Durkan's interview will be broadcast in full on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics programme, at 18:05 GMT on Friday and repeated again at 13:30 GMT on Saturday 28 March 2015.

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