Operation Noah at Greenbelt Festival: Church Land and the Climate Crisis Panel


Held on the grounds of Boughton House near Kettering, the Greenbelt Festival is a unique gathering that focuses on faith, arts and activism and which is attended by many friends of Operation Noah. 

This past August bank holiday, Operation Noah ran an information stall alongside Green Christian and Christian Climate Action and we also hosted a Saturday evening panel discussion in the Hot House venue – an amazingly decorated tent that held talks on the climate emergency throughout the weekend. The panel audio is available to download here.

Image of panel event in Hothouse venue

Our panel on Church Land and the Climate Crisis was chaired by our own Julia Corcoran, with contributions from Andy Atkins, CEO of A Rocha UK; Elizabeth Perry from Anglican Alliance; and our Bright Now Campaign Officer Sharon Hall, whose specialism is church land use. 

Julia introduced the event, taking the starting point that the climate crisis is an urgent, serious threat, and that many of the people who did the least to cause it are already suffering the most devastating effects. She stressed the need to be cutting greenhouse gas emissions in all areas, and briefly mentioned our campaign on divestment, particularly the recent decision by the Church of England Pensions Board and Church Commissioners to sell their shares in oil and gas.

She then handed over to Sharon to introduce the topic and summarise some of the key points from our Church Land and the Climate Crisis report. Sharon explained how much land is owned and managed by Churches and Christians in the UK, and how owning this land brings responsibilities for the emissions it produces. She pointed out how agricultural land in particular creates a lot of greenhouse gas emissions but can also be a carbon sink when the land is managed well.

Given that we also have a biodiversity crisis with massive declines in insect and animal populations due to deforestation, pesticides, pollution and a rapidly heating planet, Sharon stressed how important it is that solutions to the climate emergency do not harm biodiversity, such as harmful monoculture tree plantations and the large-scale farming of bioenergy crops. Operation Noah’s Church Land the Climate Crisis report makes three main recommendations to Churches: grow more trees, protect and restore peatland and support farmers to reduce their agricultural emissions.

Panel with Andy Atkins speaking
Left to right: Andy Atkins, Julia Corcoran, Sharon Hall, Elizabeth Perry

Andy Atkins then presented some examples of the effects of the climate crisis before moving on to examples of Church landowners in the UK who are using their land for the benefit of climate and nature. He included an example of a large landholder in Scotland who was undertaking significant work to restore peatland across the estate. He also described the diverse work being done by Lichfield Cathedral in using the land around its buildings, and he gave an example of Kendal URC, a small UK church that has very little land but has welcomed wildlife with bug boxes and building some planters for its car park.

Elizabeth Perry then took us on a whistle-stop tour around the world with some inspiring examples of Church projects using land to address the climate emergency. From restoration of prairie grass in Kansas to tree-growing in Kenya and reforestation projects in the Philippines, Elizabeth showed how some of the best examples of environmental restoration are happening in places with limited resources. 

Moving to practical areas where the audience could get involved, Sharon suggested three ways to take action:

  • Join the Eco Church scheme, encouraging more progress on ‘land’ (more information below)
  • Find out more about Church land in your area or local diocese, and see if your local church or diocese could be involved in Communion Forest (more information below)
  • Get in touch with Operation Noah to find out more of the national picture for Churches, and, if you are in the Church of England, approach your representative on General Synod to support the Land and Nature motion, expected to be debated in February 2024

Andy spoke more about Eco Church, the cross denominational project run by A Rocha UK. All churches can register and complete a survey across five areas of church life: worship, buildings, land, community engagement and lifestyle. Achievements in each of these areas can lead to a bronze, silver or gold award, and there are lots of resources available to help churches make changes. 

Why not have a look at their map and see where your nearest Gold Eco Church is, and be inspired by them? There are webinars coming up in September on Getting Started with Eco Church and Working Towards an Award and Maintaining Momentum.

Elizabeth introduced the Communion Forest initiative which was launched at last year’s Lambeth Conference. It is a global initiative comprising local activities of forest protection, tree growing and ecosystem restoration undertaken by provinces, dioceses and individual churches across the Anglican Communion to safeguard creation. Their website includes a lot of inspiring stories, and they have webinars coming up in September including one on the Lambeth Call and Communion Forest.

We closed with some questions from the audience, including a few exciting examples of work being undertaken in one local church that has a relationship with the Woodland Trust. Watch this space for more about how your church or diocese could work with the Woodland Trust to grow more trees.

Panel at Greenbelt event
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