Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Mission and Public Affairs Commmittee of the Archbishop's Council of the Church of England has sent a response to Defra's consultation
An Invitation to Shape Rural England

This response is from the Mission and Public Affairs Council‡ of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. The Archbishops’ Council is a registered charity, which gives strategic direction to the work of the Church of England, engages with Government and other bodies and supports and resources parish churches. Across the whole of England there are around 16,000 Anglican church buildings, 9639 of which are in rural areas (as defined by the Defra rural definitions of 2004).

The response to this consultation does not deal with the technical question asked in the document but seeks to offer some key points on the issues raised.

1. The natural world and human life are intricately connected and need to be seen as a whole rather than separate and competing issues.

Natural resources can too often be thought of simply as commodities by policy and decision makers, typified in the understanding of the natural environment purely as a source of personal relaxation and enjoyment or economic gain. The intrinsic value of the natural world is often unrecognised and the primacy of its value for human beings underplays that intrinsic value. The natural world is not just the plaything or resource base for humans.

Land, landscape and biodiversity all have a spiritual element associated with them, for people of all faiths and none. This spiritual relationship with natural resources cannot be quantified and yet is an inseparable part of the natural world. A Christian view of the essence of existence values the inter-relationship between habitats and species and human beings. A right relationship with and respect for nature brings health and happiness to humans. This supports the view that human beings should be seen as much as a part of the natural world as plants and animals are and not set apart. We may value aspects of nature as instrumental to our purposes, but our own lives are trivial and pointless without a wider framework that nature communicates. Unless all is valuable, how do we have value? Self-evaluation carries no weight, either psychological or moral. The spiritual value of nature is not an ill-defined figure to incorporate into a total economic value framework, it is the framework within which we humans and our plans are graciously assigned a significance. This understanding of the intricate relationship between humans and nature needs to be more strongly reflected in policy and decision making so that they do not happen in isolation from each other. Both are part of an holistic whole.

Taking all this to its logical conclusion: policy should not be made solely on the basis of what is appropriate for humans alone.

The overarching challenges identified in the White Paper are appropriate for the issues being faced but the challenges of stemming species decline and rate of extinction need to be given more emphasis, particularly in relation to the impact of climate change.

A multi agency policy framework with greater integration of functions and practical action on the ground is needed, to prevent organisations such as Natural England working in a silo mentality. A clearer set of targets and indicators would help define success and drive delivery.

2. Community involvement and community led planning

The management of natural systems and their protection and enhancement can be greatly assisted by the involvement of local people in decision making and practical action. Techniques of community consultation and involvement, and community led planning have much to contribute to environmental programmes and offer a sense of local ownership of the problem and the solution. Within the concept of the Big Society there is space and capacity to stimulate the development of community /voluntary organisations that address the most pressing issues at a local level. These may operate through schools, churches or groups of individuals working together. This inclusive approach involving local communities in managing the natural environment, whether rural or urban, will enhance the impact of resources that can be made available from Government.
The recent resurgence of interest in gardening and growing your own food gives much that can be built on in terms of addressing carbon emissions from food production and transport. We would like to see greater encouragement given to private landowners to provide land for allotments. Diocesan owned glebe land is often used for this purpose. An education campaign on wildlife friendly gardening would help make small changes at the most local level. There is much expertise in wildlife protection already being applied in the management of many churchyards.

The localism agenda should provide incentives for local communities to champion biodiversity and the protection of ecosystems as of intrinsic value and part of the balance needed within the landscape agenda.

The Mission and Public Affairs Council of the Church of England is the body responsible for overseeing research and comment on social and political issues on behalf of the Church. The Council comprises a representative group of bishops, clergy and lay people with interest and expertise in the relevant areas, and reports to the General Synod through the Archbishops’ Council.
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