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COVID 19: The view from Buglife

By Paul Hetherington, Buglife, 24th June 2020

Buglife is the only organisation in Europe that stands up for all invertebrates. Our work includes on-the-ground conservation, such as creating wildflower rich grassland for pollinators; campaigning, such as saving significant sites from development; influencing policy, such as pesticide legislation; and public education to change perceptions of invertebrates. Currently Buglife focuses on pollinators, freshwater habitats and species at risk of extinction. There are staff across the United Kingdom with a presence in all four nations and offices in Cardiff, Peterborough, Plymouth and Stirling.

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the ways in which Buglife works. All offices have been closed and all staff now work from home. Thankfully in February we switched from an office-based server to the cloud, which has enabled staff to continue working and stay in touch with ease, though lock-down did require the dispatch of dongles, to staff who lacked internet, and a number of upgraded phones and laptops, too.

We have been very careful with our finances in the last few years and before Covid-19, fundraising was going well, so we have been able to avoid furloughing staff. Instead, we re-scheduled projects – spring planting shifted to autumn, planned in-person training sessions shifted to online webinars, engagement activities shifted to digital. Instead of launching our new campaign, No Insectinction, in London in May with Steve Backshall, Germaine Greer and politicians, it became an on-line launch with a series of supporting videos and social media activity.

The first few weeks of lockdown was a particularly grim time for our fundraising, as the number of new members joining and donations via our website crashed to virtually zero. Thankfully after this alarming lull the on-line support has risen back to its former level, and coupled with some much needed unrestricted grants from several EFN members, we are projecting healthy income for 2020.

Sadly many other organisations in our sector have been forced to furlough staff, and we’ve been able to turn this to our advantage by recruiting twenty highly skilled furloughed volunteers to produce much-needed desk-based research reports. This should generate a wealth of quality materials to support future policy and campaign work. We have also looked at new initiatives that can raise profile and funds, such as the inaugural Luminar Bug Photography Awards and a computer gaming competition.

There are longer term concerns for 2021 as we would have been developing and submitting project proposals across Q2 and Q3 of this year, predominantly involving National Lottery Heritage Funding. The fund’s suspension of all applications until at least October presents a massive challenge for the years ahead, with potentially no income or work for a significant proportion of our field-based staff. This will be an issue for most organisations in our sector and will lead to very fierce competition for these grants when they re-open.

It is always a challenge for small- to medium-sized organisations to appear to offer ‘good value’ in project applications, as we have no choice but to include an element of full cost recovery. Larger organisations with memberships in the tens of thousands can usually cover at least a proportion of non-direct project costs from their core income, meaning a much lower need and ask for full cost recovery, making them appear better value to funders.

It is in early 2021 that we will really need more support from funders – particularly unrestricted funding to allow us to continue to employ our skilled on-the-ground conservation staff. The crisis has also highlighted the need to develop more and better online education tools and activities to engage with potential supporters in a lockdown environment.

Finally, the pandemic has forced us to use new technology, such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom, to keep in touch with home-workers, which has in fact allowed a greater feeling of connectedness across a dispersed staff base. This could lead to profound future changes to how organisations in the sector function, and potentially a large reduction in overheads.

Paul Hetherington has been Director of Fundraising and Communications at Buglife since 2012 having previously worked at the Woodland Trust, WaterAid and Save the Children.

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