Investigation of the C of E forest operation
Even before Covid Lockdowns gave us a new appreciation for our neighboring parks and forests, the love for forests was growing.
A 2019 study found that 95 percent of the UK believed forests and forests are important to the public because they are wildlife habitats, and 88 percent would like "a lot more trees to be planted" to fight climate change.
Despite enthusiastic tree-planting promises in the last general election, planting rates in England are currently 71 percent below the government target, and deforestation continues to increase worldwide.
Last year 4.2 million hectares of primary rainforest – an area the size of the Netherlands – were lost: an increase of 12 percent compared to 2019. The resulting CO2 emissions are equivalent to the annual emissions of 570 million cars – more than twice as many on the road in the United States.
The Church of England plays an important role in this. The Church Commissioners, who oversee a £ 8 billion mutual fund, are one of the UK's largest commercial forest owners after purchasing 15 separate forests in 2014. It currently manages 95,000 hectares of forest: 64,000 hectares overseas and resting in the UK, with the majority in Scotland. 31 megawatts (MW) of installed wind power are also installed in these forests. A further 168 MW are currently under construction in the existing forests.
The Church's forest portfolio represents approximately 4.9 percent of the total value of the Commissioners' Fund and has been a profitable investment. The wood portfolio achieved a return of 10.1 percent in 2019.
These investments have generated less controversy than their holdings in fossil fuel companies. When properly managed, trees can be antifossil fuels that suck heat-binding carbon dioxide from the air and lock it in their trunks.
Because of this, they are an integral part of the equation in order to achieve the net zero emissions goal. The best way to keep carbon dioxide out in wood is with live trees, which can also reduce air pollution and provide habitat for wildlife. In commercial wood plantations, however, the trees are felled and sold to sawmills.
In terms of carbon, trees used for construction are the best as it is hoped that this wood will be part of a house or structure for many years or even centuries, with its carbon stored in the fabric of the building. Although the commissioners do not have exact numbers, an indicative table they provided showed that 46 percent of the wood sold by the church commissioners was used in construction.
Another eight percent is accounted for by fences, six percent by home improvement products and 18 percent by plywood, chipboard and MDF. These uses are not as effective as carbon stores because they generally have a shorter lifespan before they are thrown away and decomposed, releasing their carbon. The fencing is rotting away and needs to be replaced.
At the worst end of the commissioners' wood life cycle, the 15 percent that is turned into pulp and paper, which is mostly short-lived, and the six percent that is burned for energy.
Using wood with short life cycles is problematic as it takes many years for the trees to grow and absorb carbon from the atmosphere and only seconds for their carbon to be returned to the atmosphere, further driving climate change.
These felled trees can be replanted instantly so they look like a sustainable process on a table. However, it will take many years for the new trees to grow to the point where they can fix the equivalent carbon of their predecessors. Even fast growing conifers take around 30 years to reach maturity.
In addition to being an important carbon sink and habitat for wildlife, forests are also an important amenity for humans to enjoy and benefit from. Researchers have found that visiting a forest can improve attention span and improve recovery from mental stress.
Walking between trees can lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, while reducing anxiety. It can even boost the immune system when the hiker inhales phytoncides, which trees give off to protect themselves from germs and insects.
Although some forests are made accessible by their owners, too many commercial forests, while open to the public, are not well suited for visitors.
Aside from “maintaining footpaths,” Church commissioners have not listed any specific measures they are taking to provide access to their forests, despite one of their largest forests, Llandegla in North Wales, a mountain bike center with public access for one Has range of recreational activities.
Morag Paterson is a councilor in Dumfries and Galloway, an area surrounded by Scotland's commercial forestry. As an activist for better access to forests, she says: “Forests are such a valuable commodity. Aside from their environmental benefits – when planted in the right places – anyone can use and appreciate them.
“Unfortunately, many commercial forests are difficult to access or have been created without taking amenities into account. Despite Scottish roaming legislation which allows people to go virtually anywhere, some of these forests feel like access is not being encouraged.
"This is one of the reasons why the forestry business feels like another extractive industry to many locals that belongs to and benefits from distant people." It would be great to see forest owners doing more to ensure that their forests not only generate a financial return but are also places to be enjoyed by the local communities who live next to them.
"It would be wonderful if the Church Commissioners, as one of the largest commercial forest owners in Scotland, made public access a real priority."
The Forest Policy Group, a Scottish think tank, also urged commissioners to take greater leadership as forest owners. They said: “The focus of their Scottish forests appears to be on maximizing profits with no interest in or concessions to the local community, and the Commissioners' annual report covers forestry performance like any other forest investor.
“We are disappointed that an institution like the Church Commissioners, who advocate Christian values such as poverty reduction, individual and community well-being, and friendliness, is advocating a fully for-profit nature of industrial forestry with little or no local involvement and we would like to encourage the Church of England to become more involved in land investment and leadership in this sector. "
A commissioner spokesman said the profits have been used for a variety of good causes across the UK: “Church commissioners use their fund to generate returns on investments and provide sustainable funding for the church, with a focus on areas of particular need .
“The Church runs approximately 35,000 community and social projects that have a tremendous and positive impact on the local communities they serve. These range from food banks to debt counseling to group support for the elderly.
“The Church Commissioners are a leading responsible investor and our forest portfolio is an integral part of our approach. Proactive low carbon investments are an integral part of our approach to tackling climate change, and our sustainably certified forest portfolio is the cornerstone of that strategy. "
LAST year the Church of England received global praise – from climate researchers and climate-damaging communities, among others – for setting a net zero target for 2030: a target that was supported by the majority of the public (56 percent) recent YouGov survey.
The motion of the General Synod, largely adopted in February 2020 (News, February 14, 2020), calls on all parts of the Church of England, including the National Church Institutions (NCIs), which include the Church Commissioners, to pursue the goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2030.
Instead, Church commissioners have set their own goal of zeroing their investment portfolio by 2050, no more ambitious than the 2050 target that the government has set for the UK as a whole.
The Suffragan Bishop of Dudley, Rt. Rev. Martin Gorick
A commissioner spokesman said: “As the owners of assets with interests in all areas of the global economy, Church commissioners have no direct operational control over the assets in their portfolio. Therefore, their path to net zero depends on influencing changes in the economy and in the political environment as a whole, rather than taking measures to reduce CO2 themselves.
"The Commissioners are focused on using their leverage as a responsible investor to encourage companies and policymakers to set and support net-zero targets in order to bring more constituents of their portfolios onto the same path of decarbonization."
The assets they had direct control over, such as forestry, were used to fulfill their fiduciary duty while they worked to reduce global emissions.
Canon Martin Gainsborough, Chaplain to the Bishop of Bristol, who tabled the amendment to the Net Zero Synod, said: “It is understandable that Church commissioners should seek to fulfill their fiduciary duty to support the mission of the Church of England at the same time To connect with each other To cut global carbon emissions, it would be good to see all NCIs commit to the net zero target set by the General Synod in February 2020.
“If the NCIs are working with companies and policymakers to encourage them to expand their decarbonization goals, it would be good to learn more about the practical difference their involvement is making. In sum, transparency is key, and the more ambitious the Church of England can be, the better. "
Rachel Mander, a member of the Young Christian Climate Network, agrees, “For those of us who are in our thirties, when the world is likely to reach 1.5 ° warming, it is not just a disappointment but a horror, that the commissioners of the church exempt themselves from the tax from the motion passed at the general synod, according to which all NCIs should be net zero by 2030.
“The commissioners of the Church must deal with the vision of the Synod. Institutions committed to an unjust status quo always respond to a call for change with a call for gradualism, and it is clearly no different. "
The good news is that the Commissioners keep planting more trees. In the past two years they have planted five million trees: three million in the US and two million in the UK.
A spokesman for the commissioners said: "The majority of the trees were pine, spruce and Douglas fir, but also a variety of other coniferous and deciduous species carefully selected for each location."
However, there are criticisms that with almost all of the UK forests in Scotland and Wales the Commissioners could make better use of their English land. A study by Friends of the Earth mapped tree cover in England and ranked the largest landowners based on the percentage of their forested land.
Unsurprisingly, the Forest Service came out on top with 85 percent, but Church commissioners came out on top with just three to four percent of their English forest, behind the Crown Estate with 15 percent and the RSPB with ten percent.
With much of England owned by relatively few large landowners, activists have a responsibility to plant more trees and use their landbeds to help tackle climate and natural crises.
The Church has an even higher calling as she has declared her responsibility to protect the environment and to observe the fifth mission sign to "maintain the integrity of creation and to maintain and renew the life of the earth".
This was highlighted in Parliament in November when Church Second Estates Rep Andrew Selous MP was pressured by Rep Kerry McCarthy to see if more could be done to plant trees on commissioners' land.
Mr Selous replied that he "really welcomed her examination of the matter" but that since most of her arable land is farmed by tenants, she has limited ability to take action and encourage her tenants to act sustainably farm and plant trees.
A commissioner spokesman said 39 percent of commissioners' land is high quality, grades 1 and 2, suitable for food production, and another 56 percent is grade 3 and is considered good or moderate quality.
“Such land is capable of strong crops, including grain and grass, and therefore over 95 percent of the commissioners' portfolio is considered essential to the production and grazing of livestock across the country. The Commissioners may believe that peripheral areas will be the focus for additional tree planting and other environmental improvements. "
BUT that doesn't convince activists like Guy Shrubsole, author of Who Owns England, which mapped land owners and uses in England. He said: “Tenant 'encouragement' is clearly not very effective when only three to four percent of Church Commissioners' land in England is forested.
"I spoke to a Commissioners tenant who told me that their landlord's agents were actively preventing them from planting trees.
“The reality is that Church commissioners have a great deal of influence over how they use their land. Of the five percent of their land that they consider not "essential" to food production, I look forward to their plans to give it back to nature.
“The natural regeneration on this land alone would more than double the forest area on your English lands. And of course there is plenty of Class 3 land where orchards and other forms of agroforestry would be perfectly adequate, thereby increasing living space and carbon sequestration, as well as food production. "
A new campaign is about to begin calling on Church commissioners to do just that and adapt their land to nature. The long-term goal of the WildCard campaign is to revitalize 50 percent of the UK. They define that "untamed life can return to ecosystems and landscapes so that they are again sustained by the natural processes that created them in the first place".
First, the Church Commissioners, Crown Estate, and Oxford and Cambridge colleges are persuaded to rethink their land management practices.
These landowners are not just traditional administrators of the land but "teachers or leaders of the British people" and the campaign calls on them to "step into that role of administration in a real and meaningful sense, rebuilding and restoring their dead lands." ".
Campaign co-founder Clarice Holt says the Church, as the nation's moral leader, is in a unique position to promote a new relationship between people, nature and the land we share.
She said: "The royals are responsible for the country and the people. The church offers moral, religious, and spiritual guidance. Oxbridge brings up the next group of people who are likely to rule the country and shape young people's ideas about how things should work.
"If these famous names changed their view of reconstruction, they would bring a lot of people with them and set the gold standard for reconstruction as a general concept."
The campaign is in part a response to the environmental crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. The 2016 report on the state of nature, produced by more than 50 conservation and research organizations, found that the UK "is one of the most nature-affected countries in the world".
This dire state of affairs is reflected around the world: Scientists predict that on our current path of habitat loss and global warming, between a third and half of all species will be threatened with extinction by the end of this century. Obviously, this will have a significant impact on human communities.
This year, these twin crises will be addressed on a global scale. The COP26 climate negotiations will take place for the first time in the UK in Glasgow in November and at a UN conference on biodiversity in China in October.
In response, a number of countries, including the UK and the European Union, have signed the 30 by 30 initiative and committed to protecting 30 percent of their land for biodiversity by 2030.
When asked if the commissioners would consider keeping the promise, a spokesman said: “The 30 by 30 targets are currently supported by national governments. Once the UK government details their plans to achieve this goal and the role landowners can play, we will evaluate our engagement in line with our financial goals and net zero ambitions. "
A new government sponsored program launched by Forestry England could help the church increase tree cover on their English estate, improve public access and the biodiversity of their woodland, and achieve a guaranteed financial return.
The Forestry England Woodland Partnership is looking for landowners who can offer at least 50 acres of land for long-term leases of between 60 and 120 years. Under the agreement, Forestry England will design, plant and manage each site including local consultations.
The Forestry England website states, "This means that landowners can see forests in bloom on their land without the need for capital investments or their own forestry expertise, and receive an annual rental payment for the duration of the lease."
The payments come from the Nature for Climate Fund to support the government's commitment to tree planting.
The Suffragan Bishop of Dudley, Rt. Rev. Martin Gorick, urged Church landowners to investigate the initiative. “There has to be some church-owned land that can be linked to this win-win program. A guaranteed income, more biodiversity and a contribution to our net zero carbon target for 2030.
“The Church is involved in the long run as an investor and as an institution that cares for both creation and our communities. It seems to me that church landowners are an ideal candidate for a program that seeks long-term partners who could create a permanent amenity with so many benefits. "
The growing urgency associated with the environmental crisis has shed a new light on our relationship with the land. It is clear that many expect the Church, as one of the largest and most distinguished landowners in the country, to build on their current forest holdings and lead the way in modeling a restorative relationship with creation.
The executive director of the Christian conservation organization A Rocha, Andy Atkins, says there are many people who are ready to help. Fortunately, many in the Church are awakening to the need to act for both nature and climate change. However, Britain urgently needs all denominations with land in order to act quickly and true to scale and avert a national wildlife disaster. "