Mr Durkan said this fund will enable the NGOs to help protect our landscape, species and access to the countryside.
Following an extensive workshop with environment NGOs in Crawford burn, the Minister has increased the NEF funding to £1.25m.
He has rebalanced the carrier bag levy funding to facilitate this increase.
Given the acute pressures on DOE funding, the minister said this process will be competitive with value for money and delivery of critical environmental priorities being key criteria. Co-operation among groups will also be significant.
Mark H 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.
“Last week I set up a workshop in Crawfordsburn attended by 22 environment NGOs. I have given very careful consideration and listened to concerns that emerged.
They needed more money to tackle the most acute environmental priorities facing us in the North, such as safeguarding our most valuable sites and landscape, protecting our priority species and encouraging access to the countryside. For that reason I have increased the fund by 25% from £1m to £1.25m.
“They need money quickly. I have set this competition up one week after the workshop and the fund opens for applications.
“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.”