10,000 reasons why churchyards matter in a changing climate

A new film produced by the Church of England’s Shrinking the Footprint Campaign sets out ways in which parishes can think about small scale practical steps to promote biodiversity and contribute to a more sustainable world.

Recent research has highlighted alarming warnings about biodiversity and the impact of climate change. One in six of species on the planet could face extinction in the future if the world’s leaders fail to take action on climate change, according to a study in the journal Science.

Another report published by the Natural History Museum showed a 14% decrease in biodiversity in local ecosystems with the majority of plant and animal decline seen over the last century.

The study pointed to an opportunity that humanity has to repair the damage that has been made to creation, through carefully stewarding of the natural world and taking significant steps towards a low carbon future.

So how does our Christian faith fit in with this?

First, the Biblical precedent. In the words of Sue Mallinson, Southwark Diocese environment officer, who is interviewed in the film: “We believe that the earth is the Lord’s and that we are part of creation.” The creation story in Genesis 1 is a powerful reminder of the calling that humanity has to care for God’s creation.

The importance of supporting the fragile balance of biodiversity in nature cannot be understated, and churchyards are wonderful examples of the richness and variety, hosting everything from 2,000-year-old ancient yew trees through to waxcap fungi, slow worms and hedgehogs. Churchyards are also homes to a range of different plants including meadow saxifrage and the green winged orchid.

In practical terms, our natural environment – including the Church of England’s estimated 10,000 churchyards – is important to the nation’s biodiversity.

In many communities, churchyards are the only green lung and even in rural environments, the churchyard can be a vital oasis when nearby fields are chemical sprayed monoculture, offering little hospitality to wildlife.

As Bishop Nicholas Holtam, the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment, says in the film, churchyards cover the area of a small National Park. All our contributions to a more sustainable future, however small, matter. “It is the way we do things together that is going to make a difference,” he tells the Environmental Engagement Programme film.

From June 6, the Church of England marks Cherishing Churchyards Week, with parishes across the country celebrating their churchyards.

The week is run each year by Caring for God’s Acre, which provides resources and event plans for local churches looking to get involved. Whether you build a bug hotel, or learn to scythe like Ross Poldark, the hero of BBC’s Poldark, there’s plenty to help you think about the contribution that 10,000 churchyards make to our world.

Tim Mayo, media officer for the Church of England and David Shreeve, national environment adviser to the Church of England

Back to top