Yew protection

I was recently at Lambeth Palace for a day meeting with other green fanatics and agencies. These included Russell Ball from ‘The Ancient Yew Group‘. Apparently, Veteran Yews are 350-1000 years old, and Ancient Yews are 1000-5000 years old, which by any standards is staggeringly old. Yew trees have had a troubled life in the last few hundred years, being cut down to make long bows so we can kill each other. And the few that are left in this country are generally in churchyards. Now Russell is very keen that we don’t kill off any more of the Yew trees and suggested that if we have any in our churchyards that we get a Tree Preservation Order for them. This not only protects them for the next generation, but also enables people to obtain free expert advice if there are any issues with the tree.

Those of us who attended the day wandered through Archbishop Rowan William’s garden and planted a baby Yew tree. I hope he doesn’t mind.

Originally posted on Lesley’s Blog

Biodiversity and Shrinking the Footprint

A couple of weeks ago I attended Lambeth Palace for the annual ‘Shrinking the Footprint’ day (The Church of England’s Environmental Campaign). They have a new website which I would recommend visiting. This year we are particularly looking at the subject of biodiversity. Estimates vary, but it is thought that currently we are losing species at a rate between 100 and 10000 times faster than that which was typical in the geological records. This affects humans in terms of air quality and water pollution, and may make it harder for nature to survive changes in the natural habitats. A helpful website on biodiversity is here.

The Bishop of London, Richard Chartres, introduced the day and said that we have a spiritual and moral basis for action, and that he suggested four areas in which to take action:

  • Our own estates
  • Having a deeper conversation in the constituency
  • Recommiting ourselves to Public advocacy
  • Symbolic Action

He then described two symbolic actions that they have carried out in London, one where they fed 5000 people on waste from supermarkets, and the other was an ecumenical procession through Windsor Castle. The latter was described here on Oprah’s Blog:

Windsor Castle, the bucolic weekend retreat of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II and her pack of corgis, has witnessed the plague, beheadings, and centuries of state dinners, but it’s surely never seen this: a procession of bearded Sikhs in orange turbans, bald Buddhist monks in habits, Jews in top hats and prayer shawls, Japanese Shintos in white jôes—even a Greek Orthodox archbishop in a black kamilafki hat and floor-length cassock.

I hope and pray that all these things give us hope for the future and an opportunity to care for our planet together.

Originally posted on Lesley’s Blog

Conspiracy of Freedom – Oxford

Guest post by Mark Powley I never planned to get passionate about simple lifestyle. I’ve basically stumbled into the role of lifestyle-guru (I’m not really a guru at all, of course, just a bumbling amateur who just won’t let the issue drop). But after five years of co-running The Breathe Network I find myself launching a conspiracy to transform our way of living. Breathe is a Christian network for simpler living, and the Conspiracy of Freedom is our collaborative effort (with Tearfund, Stewardship and A Rocha) to kickstart a nationwide discussion about lifestyle based around regional events and small group videos. The Oxford event takes place at St Aldate’s Parish Centre on 10th June at 7:30pm. No booking is required, admission is free. Behind the Conspiracy of Freedom is a question: how does genuine lifestyle change take place? A quick glance around the environmental / ethical world all too often reveals something like the following:

  • Stark warnings from experts
  • Detailed rules
  • A passionate group upbraiding the mainstream public
  • Costly lifestyle ‘statements’ only some can afford

You may have already noticed the parallels with the Pharisees in the time of Jesus. The Pharisaic party of Judaism appears to have been terrified by the prospect of another return to exile. They also detested their Roman overlords and dreamed of ‘saving the land’ by bringing God’s blessing through their sheer obedience to the Law. But not everyone could afford the Pharisee’s particular lifestyle, and the more the Palestinian public got on with grinding out a living in compromised circumstances, the more radical the Pharisees became.

What strikes me as truly revolutionary, and a great contrast to the Pharisees, is the attitude of Jesus. He didn’t endorse any compromise in God’s standards when it came to what really mattered. But he had little time for ‘expert teachers’, exclusive rules, or a holier than thou attitude (greener than thou?).

For Jesus, lifestyle change flowed from an experience of grace – the father’s welcome, a taste of the kingdom. After that it rippled out differently in different lives. There was a sense of humble realism about the ethical ambitions of some of his followers. And yet there was also an unquenchable hope.

More than anything, he expected lifestyle change to happen in community. Mutual acceptance, mutual challenge, mutual support. No one was expected to sell everything they had without the promise that a radical community of sharing would welcome them with open arms.

The Conspiracy of Freedom hopes to follow this approach. We know that our present turbo-consumerism is ecologically damaging and shallow soil for faith. We know that change is needed. But it must be in an environment of grace, and doing it together will be crucial. That is why we’re following the regional events with four videos, to be made available online, that any small group can watch and discuss. Group members can hold each other accountable over time. Breathe’s role will be to help point people to ways they can take things further. Already this has started to bear fruit with our London event, where participants made their own commitments to live more simply, more sustainably and more generously.

If you’re interested in this, join us in Oxford on 10th June for inspiring teaching and discussion of the first video. Or email to stay in touch with what we’re doing.

Mark Powley is Associate Rector of St George’s Church in Leeds and a founder of Breathe, a Christian network for simpler living. He will be at each of the Conspiracy of Freedom events and later this year will be releasing a book on consumerism. The Conspiracy of Freedom event in Oxford will take place at St Aldate’s Parish Centre on 10th June at 7:30pm. No booking is required, admission is free. For more information visit

Get support to start a Climate Change Action Group

Get help and support from Oxfordshire Rural Community Council and Climate-X-change to develop a climate action group with your church, youth group or community group and help fight climate change in your community.

Thanks to a grant from Oxfordshire County Council, this new project will help local residents meet the challenges of climate change, by supporting and encouraging community-led initiatives to reduce carbon emissions and promote more sustainable behaviour.

An impressive amount of climate action is taking place in Oxfordshire, including swap shops, the production of ‘buy local’ guides, home energy reduction clinics, community composting schemes, community orchards, eco-weeks, talks, film screenings… Could your community do something similar? Each additional group helps spread the carbon reduction message.

ORCC and Climate-X-change can offer guidance and ongoing support on setting up an action group, offering a toolkit to showcase the variety of approaches to helping stop climate change, providing facts and figures, and signposting to useful organisations and information sources- saving time in getting new groups off the ground.

As part of the new project, a Carbon Challenge shall be launched later in 2010. This competition shall measure carbon reductions in home energy and transport usage, and ask entrants to devise a climate action plan for their community. Watch this space for more information!

If you are interested in setting up a group we’d like to hear from you! You might be a church group, a youth club, or simply a group of concerned individuals. The main thing is that you want to help fight climate change in your community.

For more information on how we can help you get your group started, contact Tom McCulloch at ORCC ( or call 01865 883 488.

Tom McCulloch is a Community Development Worker with Oxfordshire Rural Community Council. He works with communities to help deliver rural affordable housing and undertake climate action strategies.

Greening your church building

As Christians it is our duty to care for the world with which we have been entrusted. It is now clear that our modern, energy-hungry lifestyles are changing the planet for the worse. If we do nothing, simply allowing carbon emissions to continue at current levels, by 2100 the average annual temperature will have risen between 1 and 5°C. There will be 50% less precipitation in the summer months, but 30% more in the winter months. Extreme weather events such as storms and floods will become more common and sea levels could rise by as much as 80cm. Drier summers will increase the risk of wildfires and drought. Stormier winters will increase the risk of wind and flood damage. We must act now to ward off these threats to God’s creation.

What can we do?

Some of the most effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your church are also the simplest. Conventional fossil fuel fired power stations emit around 9 000 000 tonnes of carbon each per year in order to satisfy our demand for electricity. Reducing that demand therefore lowers emissions, as well as saving you money. Make sure that your use of energy is as efficient as possible by following these simple steps:

  • Heating should be tailored to the nature of the groups using the building rather then set at default levels. Remember that an active group (such as a playgroup) will require less heat than a sedentary one (e.g. a Sunday congregation). Use timer and/or thermostatic controls to prevent overuse.
  • Lighting should only be used when it is needed – low tech printed “Switch off” signs by light switches right through to motion activated lighting can help you achieve this. New lighting and heating systems should be sectional, allowing parts of the building currently in use to be lit and heated whilst other areas are not. Where possible install energy saving light bulbs – these can reduce energy consumption by up to 80%.

Combating climate change is about minimising use of all the planet’s resources, not just fossil fuels:

  • Reduce water use by using spray fitting taps, dual flush WCs, and harvesting rainwater.
  • Make sure products used in the church are recyclable or long life
  • Where possible, carry out repairs to the church building in sustainable, environmentally friendly materials, and ensure that additions to the building are “green by design”.

Should we be generating our own power?

Clearly it is impossible to do away with the need for power entirely. It is therefore important that our sources of power are clean and sustainable – that they do not put any additional carbon into the atmosphere. In most cases it will not be possible for churches to generate their own power on site, whether due to the capital costs of such an installation or planning restrictions. For example, the installation costs of systems such as photovoltaic cells are significantly higher than for other renewable energies, with standard installations costing around £15 000. The installation of such cells on historic churches can be detrimental both to the appearance and fabric of the building, and it is important to note that this technology is not carbon neutral due to the amount of energy required to make the cells. For churches that cannot meet such capital costs or that do not have a site suitable for microgeneration, switching to a green energy provider is the best way to ensure that the energy you are using is not harming the planet. For churches that can afford the initial cost or need to replace their current heating systems in the near future, systems such as ground source heat pumps and particularly biomass may be worth investigating as they are particularly well suited to the energy demands of church buildings.

There is no “one size fits all” solution for the provision of sustainable energy. The best solutions are tailored to the specific needs and resources of your church.

Further information

For further information and guidance on climate change and your church building in the Diocese of Oxford, contact or see the following websites:

The Centre for Alternative Technology ( has fact sheets on all the major types of micro-generation, has an online shop selling the parts required, and can offer consultation on individual projects.

The Energy Saving Trust ( has information on the different types of renewable energy, as well as on how to use energy more efficiently, and on funding/grants for micro-generation equipment

The Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint initiative ( has advice on how to measure the carbon footprint of your church, and how to reduce it.

Eco-congregation ( has a wealth of practical information on the green management of your church, and on introducing green issues into worship.

Remember that all alterations to the church building that are not covered by de minimis will require the permission of the Chancellor through the usual faculty process. You should contact the office of the DAC Secretary for advice on such alterations.

Natalie Merry is the Secretary to the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the care of churches in the Diocese of Oxford.

Credit: Caring for God's Acre

How wild is your churchyard?

Manage, don’t mow your churchyard and give space to endangered plant species. That is the message from Shrinking the Footprint, the CofE’s national environmental campaign, which has signed up to the United Nations’ International Year of Biodiversity (IYB).

Credit: Caring for God's AcreIn many urban areas the churchyard is often the only ‘green lung’ for the community and the rural churchyard can often be a haven of biodiversity surrounded by acres of chemical-drenched monoculture.  If all our churchyards were placed side by side and end to end they would form a huge national park open for all to share producing a festival of wildlife and nature rightly being celebrated in this very special UN International Year of Biodiversity.

Churches across the country celebrate Cherishing Churchyards Week every year in June as part of the nationwide project  run by Caring for God’s Acre (CfGA) and supported by Shrinking the Footprint. There are an estimated 12,000 CofE churchyards throughout the country and around half of them already run biodiversity projects, while remaining respectful to their users, particularly family and friends of those buried there.

During Cherishing Churchyards Week we are encouraging churches to run events to raise awareness and celebrate the treasures of their churchyard, and encouraging churches to submit wildlife discoveries as part of a new central database which will list all the biodiversity churchyards are holding in store for the country.

In St Albans diocese, St Peter & St Paul with St Andrew Flitwick Bedfordshire has recorded more than 100 species of wildflowers in the churchyard. All Saints, Odell also in Bedfordshire has won an award from the Campaign to Protect Rural England as an example of what churchyards can do with its community-led conservation project, including ‘adopt a grave’. St Andrew’s Fulham Fields in London diocese has a dedicated section to its churchyard called the Fulham Fields wildlife garden where most of the hardware, including material for the “wildlife tower”, and the herbaceous plants, have been either donated or found locally.

Judith Evans promoter of the Living Churchyard scheme for St Albans says: “Churchyards are a precious resource which can make a huge contribution to the biodiversity of the country and at the same time engage and educate the wider community. They often support species of plants and animals which have disappeared from the surrounding area, or are capable of so doing. Many churches in the diocese and nationally are managing their churchyards in an environmentally-friendly way, often with the help of their local wildlife trusts, but they are still in the minority. In the International Year of Biodiversity we hope to make them the majority to demonstrate that the church really cares about God’s creation.”

For more information visit:

Guest post by David Shreeve – Church of England’s national enviornmental adviser

How could you better manage your churchyard? How might you be able to celebrate Cherishing Churchyards Week (18-27 June)? Share you ideas and events in the comments section.

Further information: UK’s International Year of Biodiversity | Shrinking the Footprint | Caring for God’s Acre | Living Churchyards | Fulham fields wildlife garden | Ss Mary & John Churchyard Oxford

See also Supporting biodiversity in a churchyard – Case study

Supporting biodiversity in a churchyard – Case study

The first of a series of case studies from churches around the Diocese of Oxford has just been published. Supporting biodiversity in a churchyard is a case study from St Mary and St John Church in East Oxford.

It is the story of turning a churchyard that had become a forest of overgrown trees and tangled undergrowth, convenient for prostitution and drug taking, to be a much appreciated quiet green space in the middle of a busy urban area. The maintenance of the churchyard has also become an important partnership between the church and others in the local community, and it is now an educational resource on wildlife and local history.

To read the full case study download this file: Churchyard Case Study – St Mary St John Oxford.pdf