Bronze award for eco church but we must do more

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Archive photograph from 2019, showing Edward Gildea on the right - Credit: Supplied

St Mary’s Church in Saffron Walden has been awarded the ECO Church Bronze award for helping to preserve the environment in practical ways.

Recycling, twinning toilets to support sanitation in Africa and investing church savings in carbon free, ethical funds had their role to play, but much of our work during lockdown has been focused on encouraging biodiversity, pollinators and wildlife in the churchyard.

Eco Church is one way in which the church shows leadership in the world, but we have much more to do if we are to reach the General Synod’s ambitious target to become carbon neutral by 2030!

Our aim must be to transform lifestyles to something cleaner, more connected to nature and healthier. Biodiversity mustn’t stop in our churchyards and gardens; it must extend to the food we buy and the sort of agriculture we choose to support.

Last month the UN summit on biodiversity called upon leaders to make a 10 point pledge. It included commitments to:

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Move towards a resource-efficient, circular economy, nature-based solutions and ecosystem-based approaches;
Shift land use and agricultural policies away from environmentally harmful practices and promoting sustainable land and forest management to reduce habitat loss;
Mainstream biodiversity into cross-sectoral policies at all levels, including food production, agriculture, fisheries, energy, tourism, infrastructure and extractive industries.

Sadly the US, Russia, Brazil and Australia did not sign up, and I question whether we should enter into trade deals with them until they do. Not least because our farmers need a level playing field.

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Boris Johnson, however, took the pledge. He said: "The British Government is absolutely committed to tackling biodiversity loss." He called for ‘"ambitious goals and binding targets".

We must hold him to that! We have a great opportunity in the Agriculture Bill to support Regenerative Agriculture and Permaculture, but it needs to include serious goals and targets on:

soil health, carbon sequestration and water retention
regenerating the micro-organic life in our increasingly barren soils
closing the loop of massive food waste into compost returning organic matter to the soil.

If you used to listen to Round the Horne in the 1960s, you will remember Kenneth William’s colourful rendition of Rambling Sid Rumpo with his constant refrain: ‘The Answer Lies in the Soil!’ We are about to discover that he was absolutely right!

Thanks to conventional farming practices, nearly half of the world’s most productive soil has disappeared in the last 150 years. In the US alone, soil on cropland is eroding 10 times faster than it can be replenished. If we continue to degrade the soil at the rate we are now, the world could run out of topsoil in about 60 years, and with it our ability to filter water, absorb carbon, and feed people.

Our economic model of intensive tilling, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides have stripped the soil of the miraculous complexity of nutrients, minerals and micro-organisms that support healthy plant life. We lie at the heart of an agricultural community. Let’s encourage the change here.

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