Salisbury Cathedral is the first Cathedral to achieve an Eco-Church Gold Award

Photographer: Ash Mills

On Wednesday 16 June Salisbury Cathedral became the first cathedral in the UK to achieve a Gold Eco-Church Award from A Rocha UK, singling it out as a beacon of good environmental practice for churches addressing the climate crisis.

Helen Stephens, head of A Rocha UK’s Eco Church initiative, presented the prestigious award to Canon Robert Titley, the Cathedral’s Canon Chancellor, after touring the Cathedral and surrounding land to see and hear for herself what the Cathedral and its community has been doing towards achieving their Gold Award.

Also present when the award was handed over was The Bishop of Salisbury, Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam. Bishop Nicholas used to be the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment and is due to retire next month after ten years of service in a largely rural diocese that knows at first hand the effects of climate change.

Bishop Nicholas said, “I am thrilled that the Cathedral has got this Gold Eco Church award particularly because it comes just before I leave and because I hope it will be an encouragement to other churches, cathedrals and dioceses. It is really clear as we prepare for the climate talks at COP26 in Glasgow later this year, that the environment needs to play a central part [in all of our lives and that it matters hugely from a faith perspective.]”

A Rocha UK aims to equip churches and individuals to create a movement to help restore biodiversity at a local level in this critical year for climate ahead of COP26 climate negotiations in November. To achieve the Gold Award, the cathedral team installed solar panels on the cathedral cloisters, carried out an Eco Survey to care for nature by improving personal lifestyles, created a nesting site for endangered Peregrine Falcons at the base of the spires and committed to be carbon neutral by 2030.  They also carried out ecology mapping of the Cathedral Close which is a haven for birds and wildlife.

Now in its sixth year, the ‘Eco Church’ award scheme brings together a national community of churches addressing the environmental crisis, using a common framework, an online toolkit, learning and speaking up together.  There are now 3,500 Eco Churches in England and Wales – more than 5% of churches – which are already part of the Eco Church community. A Rocha UK is aiming, by 2025, to engage at least 15% of churches in on-going action to protect nature and address climate change through the free scheme.

The Head of the Eco Church initiative, Helen Stephens, from A Rocha UK visited Salisbury Cathedral yesterday to see and hear for herself what the cathedral team have been doing to achieve their Gold Award. The Eco Church survey covers topics as diverse as worship and teaching, management of church buildings and land, community and global engagement and lifestyle.

Helen presented a wooden plaque to mark their Gold Award achievement. She explains,“With five months to go until COP26, this is an exciting milestone to be reached by one of the most important cathedrals in the UK.  Without the team at Salisbury Cathedral’s determination and dedication during the last three challenging years this wouldn’t have been possible. Securing a Gold Award shows that even large cathedrals can help restore the environment and also how caring for the environment has enhanced cathedral life in so many ways. Everything from how the Cathedral worships and what food it serves to the energy it uses, the wildlife that lives in and around the Close, and even the water that flushes from the loos has been taken into consideration to put conservation at the heart of the cathedral’s community.”

The team at Salisbury Cathedral took up the challenge on the 800-year old, Grade 1 listed building. Winning the award has allowed the team to continue to be committed to assessing innovation, new technology, and careful design to add to the beauty of the Cathedral and its grounds. One interesting discovery was that the embedded carbon in its 60,000 tonnes is low because of the labour-intensive construction methods used by its 13th- and 14th-century builders, who were also imaginative recyclers. For example, the masons often filled the gaps between stones to be packed with oyster shells, the fast-food packaging of their day.

The Cathedral’s Canon Treasurer, Robert Titley, said, “The Eco Church Award scheme channels concern for our planet into positive action rooted in joy at God’s creation. Going for Gold has mobilised the Cathedral’s worshippers, volunteers, staff and local residents, and it has drawn in the energies of many partners, like Salisbury Cathedral School, our Friends organisation, and the Harnham Water Meadow Trust. They all have a stake in this award.”

The cathedral encourages native wildlife on their land through provision of bird boxes, bat boxes, a bug hotel and hedgehog boxes. There is a pond and wetland areas and plants are grown favoured by birds, bees and butterflies. A family of endangered Peregrine Falcons have nested again this year at the base of the spire. The chicks have recently flown the nest and people from 88 different countries watch the birds through livestream. The endangered Peregrine Falcon is considered the world’s fastest bird of prey. Since they returned to the spires of the cathedral, the team, in partnership with RSPB, have taken detailed notes, photographs, video footage and sound-recordings to learn more about the ecology, biology and behaviour of the species. The team’s next steps are to help develop a conservation action plan to identify the most effective way to preserve this flagship species of birds of prey.