Advice to the Environmental Trust

The NSW Environmental Trust (the Trust) is an independent body established by the NSW Government to fund a broad range of organisations to undertake projects that enhance the environment of NSW. It is administered by the Office of Environment and Heritage.

The Natural Resources Commission (the Commission) works with the Trust, as requested, to provide advice on natural resource management evaluation and project design, particularly in regards to the Trust’s major projects funding stream.

So far, the Commission has provided (or is providing) advice to the Trust on the following initiatives:

  • Contaminated Land Management Program
  • Linking Landscapes project
  • Restoration and Rehabilitation Program
  • Environmental Research Program
  • Roadside Vegetation Implementation Project.

Contaminated Land Management Program

The Trust engaged the Commission to evaluate a six-year period (2011-2017) of the Contaminated Land Management Program. The Trust provided $12 million in funding over that period to support a range of contaminated land management subprograms, administered by the NSW Environment Protection Authority.

The Commission found that the subprograms varied in their effectiveness, with positive outcomes including coordination of response to large contaminated sites with shared responsibilities, and capacity building in some councils.

The Commission recommended significant changes to the program design, governance and grant administration to improve consistency with the Trust’s policies and good practice, and better target funds to specific desired outcomes.

The Trust and the Environment Protection Authority have provided responses to the Commission's evaluation, and the Trust has announced a revised Contaminated Land Management Program, which will provide up to an additional $3 million over the next three years (see letter from the Trust).

Evaluation of Linking Landscapes project

The Trust engaged the Commission to evaluate the "Linking Landscapes through Local Action" project, completed in 2016. This project is a $10 million component of the broader Green Corridors program, to which the Trust committed $40 million over four years.

Overall, the Linking Landscapes project aimed to increase the condition, functional connectivity and resilience of landscapes and ecosystems in the Sydney Basin Bioregion by identifying, protecting and managing public land of high conservation values.

The Linking Landscapes project had three objectives to:

  1. protect and manage land with identified conservation value through the establishment of biobank sites
  2. identify and promote priority investment areas for biodiversity management within two pilot subregions in the Sydney Basin Bioregion
  3. produce spatial information on conservation commitments throughout NSW.

The Commission evaluated the extent to which the Linking Landscapes project was appropriate, effective and cost efficient in achieving specified objectives.

The Commission has provided its final advice to the Trust.

Restoration and Rehabilitation Program

The Commission has released the final report on the evaluation of the Environmental Trust’s Restoration and Rehabilitation Program.

The Trust requested that the Commission undertake an evaluation of the Restoration and Rehabilitation Program, as implemented for the years 2010-2015.

The Commission’s evaluation found that the Program is well-run, the application process is rigorous and transparent, and there are strong governance structures in place. The Commission also made several recommendations in relation to program design, governance and administration, the application process, communication, and monitoring and evaluation.

The Restoration and Rehabilitation Program represents approximately 40 percent of the Trust’s total contestable grants funding. The Program has been funding projects for local priorities for over 25 years. Since 1990, the Program has funded over 1,000 projects worth approximately $70 million.

The Commission developed an evaluation framework to help improve assessment of the Trust’s contestable grants programs. The Commission tested this framework through an evaluation of the Restoration and Rehabilitation Program.

The Commission’s evaluation considered a broad range of issues including the program design, achievement of objectives and long-term impacts, program delivery and administration, monitoring, reporting and evaluation, alignment with government priorities, and value for money.

Priorities for the Environmental Research Program

In November 2014, the Trust asked the Commission to:

  • develop a framework and process for developing priority themes for the Environmental Research Program
  • apply the process to develop priority themes for the 2015 application round
  • provide advice about how the prioritisation process could be further improved for future rounds.

To help develop its advice, the Commission consulted with a range of people, including government investors in research and users of publicly-funded research.

The Commission's final advice to the Trust informed the 2015 application round. See the Environmental Trust website for details.

Roadside Vegetation Implementation Project

The Trust requested that the Commission undertake an evaluation of the Roadside Vegetation Implementation Project.

The evaluation assessed the appropriateness, effectiveness and efficiency of the Project, and informed potential future investment in the management of linear reserves.

The Commission provided advice to the Trust in December 2014 in the form of two reports (see below), an evaluation of Stages 1 and 2 of the Project, and a report with advice for investment priorities for a possible third stage of the Project. The Trust has considered the Commission’s advice and has accepted or partially accepted all of the recommendations (see below).

Further, the Trust has indicated that the Commission's advice will inform the design of a potential third stage of the Project.

To evaluate the Project, the Commission:

  • reviewed available documentation from the Trust, Local Government NSW (the administrator of the funds) and project proponents
  • visited 25 work sites across 11 projects to inspect on-ground activities
  • interviewed representatives of councils and regional organisations that delivered projects, technical experts and representatives of key stakeholders
  • analysed project and program level outputs and outcomes.