Environment funding up to £1.25m
Funding for environmental groups in Northern Ireland has been increased to £1.25 million.
The money will help protect landscape, species and access to the countryside, environment minister Mark H Durkan said.
Everest mountaineer Dawson Stelfox is among those have protested against recent cuts by Mr Durkan's department in the amount it pays organisations for tasks such as protecting public walking routes.
The minister has used some of the carrier bag levy proceeds to pay for the cash boost.
Mr Durkan said: "My department has suffered a higher percentage of cuts than any other department. I am determined to ensure that the carrier bag levy monies are used to best effect.
"I continue my pledge to do what I can and try and lessen the pain for environment groups as much as possible."
He opened the Natural Environment Fund (NEF) for applications from eligible environment non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Northern Ireland.
"In these austere times, though, I need to see every penny of money allocated spent wisely.
"This will be a competitive process and NGOs must demonstrate value for money which will be of significant benefit to our natural environment in the North.
"Co-operation among groups will play a big part. I will want to see them join forces and combine their skills when applying."