Exploring how the Church of England land can adopt Functional AgroBiodiversity

Exploring how the Church of England land can adopt Functional AgroBiodiversity

Dr Alan Radbourne from UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (UKCEH) reports on a joint initiative looking at how to support the Church of England, one of the largest land holders in the UK, to transition to more sustainable land management.

Church of England as landowners

There are more than 16,000 Church of England churches, many of which have land associated with them (known as glebe land). This land is managed by their dioceses, and accounts for large areas of farmed land in the UK.

There are also more than 20,000 church burial grounds in England and Wales, mostly managed locally.

Moreover, the Church Commissioners (who administer a separate large land asset) manage a large estate portfolio that includes farmland and forestry, and are one of the ten largest land-holders in the UK.

The Church of England commits to reach net-zero by 2030

The Church of England has recently committed to a net zero carbon target for 2030. To make this ambition a reality, a range of agri-environmental measures are needed that are impactful for our climate, financially viable for the farm business, and align with the principles of these faith-based organisations.

The Church of England and FABulous Farmers

UKCEH and Soil Association initiated a conversation with the John Ray Initiative (JRI) to engage the Church of England to implement FABulous Farmers measures and agroecological farming practices.

FAB stands for Functional AgroBiodiversity and is a Europe-wide project that helps farmers in practical, robustly researched ways to identify and adopt nature-friendly practices on their farms. These are designed to work towards a whole-system approach that enhances biodiversity and organic resource use in and around the field, improving pollination, pest management, and soil and water quality on farmland.

Making way for nature is good for carbon capture and the wider farm system

Sustainable land management is vital in this effort.

Defra’s 2009 report, ‘Safeguarding our Soils - A Strategy for England’ calculated that, ‘a 1% loss of soil carbon would be equivalent to the UK’s annual fossil fuel emissions.’ This makes it clear that much hard work on energy saving devices can be undermined rapidly if we do not protect environmental resources.

Moreover, it’s estimated that managing 2-3% of a farm’s land for nature, often the unproductive field corners or boundaries, can have a significant benefit for nature and the wider farm system. By carefully choosing a wild flower mix, for example, it’s possible to attract the right insects to control pests, reducing reliance on pesticides, while supporting pollinators.

Next steps – exploring ways to create lasting and impactful change

The conversation has begun.

Staff from UKCEH and the Soil Association are actively engaging with faith-based organisations through the links with JRI, including Caring for God’s Acre, the Church of England and the Church in Wales, to explore opportunities to develop a blueprint for impactful change through an evidence-based approach to more sustainable food production with environmental benefit.

Working together there is genuine opportunity to support continued improvement in large areas of farmland for the benefit of carbon capture, biodiversity and sustainable farm production.

Find out more:

Find out more about FABulous Farmers, including the project background, measures and regions.


For more information:

For more information about this work with the Church of England, contact

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