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

Feeding Oxford

Join speaker Mark Winne for this event entitled ‘Feeding Oxford: Investing in a Food Supply Fit for the Future’.

Author of ‘Closing the Food Gap’, Mark has been a pioneer in the development of just and sustainable food systems in New England for over 30 years. At a time when people are looking for more control over their own food supply, the event is being held to to spark a new debate about how we should feed Oxford.

Date: Tuesday 4th May 8pm
Venue: Vaults and Garden, Radcliffe Square, Oxford

Admission is Free, but space is limited.
To book a space or for further information RSVP to: Ruth West on info@CampaignForRealFarming.org

Earth Day – Connect with your patch of earth today

Originally uploaded by basswulf

Today (Thursday 22nd April) is Earth Day. A day celebrated around the world (although not very widely in the UK), and designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. With the sunny weather putting a spring in our step and helping people venture into their gardens or nearby parks, why not take an opportunity today to mark Earth Day by connecting with your local patch of earth?

Head outside and appreciate creation where you are. You could even walk outside barefoot, like Francis did, so he would experience no disconnect between himself and “Sister Earth”. You may like to use the following Garden Blessing from Christine Sine. Whatever you do take some time to enjoy connecting with your little patch of earth today.

God bless this garden

Through which your glory shines

May we see in its beauty the wonder of your love

God bless the soil

Rich and teeming with life

May we see in its fertility the promise of new creation

God bless our toil

As we dig deep to turn the soil

May we see in our labour your call to be good stewards

God bless each seed

That takes root and grows

May we see in their flourishing the hope of transformation

God bless the rains

That water our efforts to bring forth life

May we see in their constancy God’s faithful care

God bless the harvest

Abundant and bountiful in season

May we see in God’s generosity our need to share

God bless this garden

As you bless all creation with your love

May we see in its glory your awesome majesty

Amen

Garden blessing prayer from Christine Sine’s ebook To Garden With God

Car clubs – a way to reduce carbon emissions and congestion

If you can’t cover your travelling entirely by public transport, cycle or on foot, you still don’t need to own a car: join a car club instead! Members get access to a fleet of cars parked in designated bays in local streets without any of the hassle or cost of ownership. Once a member, you can book a car, online or over the phone, for periods upwards of half an hour, and you’re charged according to the length of booking and distance travelled. Members each get a smart card to open the car when they have a booking, so there’s none of the hassle of collecting a conventional hire car.

Oxcar's first birthday celebration - Photo: Oxford Mail

One such car club was set up in East Oxford just over a year ago when a local residents’ group, Oxcar, joined forces with a national not-for-profit car club, Commonwheels. An innovative move was to lease suitable cars from residents, which has made a mix of cars available – small runabouts (including new fuel-efficient Polos), medium-sized hatchbacks and a 7-seater MPV – as well as allowing lower than conventional booking rates. Any car that is leased to the club is fitted with the necessary electronics and becomes part of the fleet, available for use by all members. In return the Club takes on the costs of the car (tax, insurance, service, cleaning etc) and gives the owner free driving hours per month (mileage fees still apply). This can offer the owner significant savings. (For anyone living in East Oxford, Oxcar / Commonwheels are looking for more cars to adopt!).

But crucially, this is not just about saving money – it is about reducing carbon emissions. An independent survey of the first year of the East Oxford scheme, conducted by Carplus, showed that with growth to over 200 members and 8 cars (more on the way) each Commonwheels car had reduced by 10 the number of cars on the roads of Oxford. There’s no doubt that more thought is given as to whether a car journey is really necessary. Congestion and dangerous overparking are reduced too! This is encouraging the County and City Councils to offer more parking bays to the car club which, provided there are more offers of cars to lease (or loans to buy new cars – with the promise of a small return on the investment) will attract more members, in turn providing the resources for more cars, attracting more members ….. . A growing success story!

So why not explore starting a community car club in your area? Perhaps, if needed, you could offer a parking place on your church’s property? Join the discussion about Car Clubs in the comments below.

If you want to hear more, you are welcome to Oxcar’s first AGM: Tuesday, 9 March, 7.30pm at the Gladiator Club, 263 Iffley Road (corner of Percy Street) 0X4 1SJ. There will be an opening address by Monawar Hussain, Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Oxfordshire, followed by reports of activities to date and discussion of possible directions in the future. For further details, email: oxcar2@yahoo.co.uk

Or you could go to websites: for information about the Commonwheels Car Club (which has cars in Reading, High Wycombe, and Headington as well as East Oxford): www.commonwheels.org.uk

For Oxcar details: www.oxcar.org.uk (currently being rebuilt and updated) – for details of the car adoption scheme, write to oxcar2@yahoo.co.uk

For general information about car clubs: www.carclubs.org.uk and www.carplus.org.uk

Grow Zones – reconnecting with the land

Guest Post by Chris Sunderland of EarthAbbey

It is not yet widely recognised that there are spiritual issues at stake over climate change. Many people seem to consider it all as a technical or political problem. They look anxiously into the future for a piece of geo-engineering that will save us, or campaign furiously to get politicians to act. Yet the environmental issues that we face are so serious and so multi-faceted that they demand nothing less than an inner transformation.

There are lots of paths in to the spirituality of climate change. We could talk about finding a proper humility about our abilities to manipulate and engineer the earth. We could consider the transformation of our wills so that we are truly able to live differently. But I would like to focus in this article on another problem, which is simply that we have lost touch with the creation.

More than 50% of humans in general and 80% of the people in the UK now live in towns or cities and, across the world, the great exodus from country to town continues. City living has great benefits in terms of easy communication, opportunity for development and change and some say that it is even ‘greener’ in terms of carbon footprint. But one thing it tends to lack. And that is a deep, heartfelt connection with nature.

I have recently been involved in the formation of a new Christian community known as EarthAbbey, whose members simply commit themselves to encourage one another to journey towards a life more in tune with the earth. It is a neo-monastic community, open to all people everywhere, with a strong focus on practical living. Here in Bristol, where it began, we have been trying to find meaningful ways to reconnect with the land and we came up with a very simple idea we have called Grow Zones. What we did was this.

A small group of us teamed up to turn each other’s gardens over to growing edible produce. Some of us were gardeners already. Many were not. We were particularly interested to learn something about Permaculture in the process. Permaculture is about designing growing systems so that they work in harmony with the local ecosystems rather than against them.  Permaculture has a strong fit with EarthAbbey’s aims. So, the way we did it was that each person spent some time thinking about what they would like to grow and then we met on a series of Saturday mornings, once at each garden, and did the business. The host would produce a list of jobs, we would choose what we wanted to do, and we then spent the morning working. The host then provided us all with a lunch based on fresh local produce.

Now at one level you could see this as a simple carbon reduction strategy. We each produce more of our own food, reducing fossil fuel use from industrial scale agriculture with its irrigation, fertiliser, pesticide and food miles. Yet strangely this was rather far from our minds. We found that we just loved doing this. There was something about working the land itself. A contact with reality, a stillness, the seasons, the hope of fruit. We found ourselves friends, somehow joined in a deep way through our work together. And I think we sensed something of God in it all, a sort of being blessed that is hard to describe, but very powerful to experience.

Last year saw an astonishing resurgence of interest in growing food across this country. Seed manufacturers were overwhelmed at the demand. I know that others have experienced that same sort of joy that we encountered and likewise discovered how powerful working land is as a means of creating community. David Hughes of Eco-Congregations sent us in a great story about a project on the land around  his home ( see the article here)

Receiving this and hearing other similar accounts has made me wonder whether it is right to call this a movement of the Spirit of God? The result of our surprising joy at Grow Zones is that EarthAbbey is now developing a whole range of projects on the land in Bristol and we are very keen to encourage others around the country to try Grow Zones. Our aim is to get 50 or more teams of people around the country turning their gardens over to edible produce and having great fun in the process.

If you would like to host a Grow Zones, please get in touch with us through www.earthabbey.com/growzones . It is all very easy and unburdensome.

If you would like to understand more of the biblical basis for EarthAbbey and what it is doing, try ‘The Dream that inspired the Bible’ by Chris Sunderland available from www.earthabbey.com/publishing for more on the experience of Grow Zones see ‘We have been grow zoned’ and ‘A short film_about_grow_zones.

Chris Sunderland Feb 2010

Contact Chris through www.earthabbey.com or phone 0117 9574652

Is Climate Change Natural?

The debate about climate change is not whether the temperature of the earth is rising, it is about whether humans have caused this and whether humans can thus reverse it. In other words is it a natural phenomenon that we have to accept, or not? A few weeks ago ‘The Express’ published an article with 100 reasons why climate change is natural:

http://www.dailyexpress.co.uk/posts/view/146138

This was quickly followed by an article in the ‘New Scientist’ describing why Climate Change is not natural:

http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2009/12/50-reasons-why-global-warming.html?DCMP=OTC-rss&nsref=online-news

Of course neither article claims global warming is entirely natural or entirely due to humans, but the question is whether human activity has a significant impact or not. If it does then we must change our lifestyles, if it doesn’t then we must eat drink and be merry..

For me, graphs like the one below are convincing. The red line appears in all three graphs and is the earth’s temperature and no one will disagree that this is rising. The first graph also shows a model in grey of natural effects on temperature, such as solar flares, in the second graph the grey line instead shows a model of solely human effects on temperature due to CO2 emissions, and in the third graph the grey line is a model combining the two.


This begs the question about what happened before 1850, as 1850 was a comparatively short time ago. The graph below shows the temperature of earth and compares it with the CO2 in the atmosphere at that time:

Human activity has only really caused a rise in CO2 emissions since the Industrial Revolution, as burning wood is carbon neutral, hence shown in the graph below is the effect of us in the form of solids – coal, liquids – oil and gas.
I suppose my conclusion is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere causes the temperature to rise or fall and that since 1850 we have put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, hence we might expect to see the rapid increases in temperature we are experiencing: