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A Place at the Table

Hospitality and community have been part of what it means to be A Rocha since the very beginning. In a new book co-written by Miranda Harris, a co-founder, and her daughter Jo Swinney, our Director of Communications, these themes are explored in the context of the many colourful stories of A Rocha tables around the world, inviting us all to a deeper relationship with each other, the earth and the God who invites us to feast with gratitude and generosity. Miranda’s tragic death in 2019 was a shock to many around the world who found her approach to hospitality and community a life-long inspiration. Published posthumously, A Place at the Table explores the transformative way in which sharing food is at the heart of a shared life. 

All royalties will go towards the work of the A Rocha worldwide family. You can support our work and be among the first to get your hands on a copy in early September by pre-ordering HERE.  Why not get one for yourself and one for a friend?  

This short film tells the story of how the book came about. You might want to have tissues to hand. 

For photographs, event information and more, visit placeatthetable.info    
Bob and Margaret Pullan 1983

In grateful remembrance of Bob Pullan

Photo caption: Bob and Margaret Pullan, 1983

A Rocha is grieving the loss of Bob Pullan who was the first chair of the A Rocha trustees in 1983 when the organization was established. At the time he was a senior lecturer in bio-geography at Liverpool University and had extensive experience of living and working in Africa. He was also church warden of St Mary’s Upton on Merseyside in the UK which was effectively the founding church for the fledgling project.

His first response on being asked to take on the role proved to be prophetic when he said ‘My life is ready for a new direction’. Many A Rocha members from UK gave their time and talents during the early years during which the first field study centre was established on the Alvor estuary in Portugal, but none gave more than Bob who with his wife Margaret saw their home overrun with volunteers, sweatshirts for sale, and publicity materials as they offered hospitality to many visitors. He led field expeditions for his students to stay in the centre and contributed some of the early work that surveyed disappearing wetlands and other habitats. The tradition of rigorous science and lively faith which has remained an A Rocha constant around the world owes a great deal to Bob’s initial leadership and his wisdom will be hugely missed.

Queen Elizabeth tree planting - cropped (David McKay)

Environmental education: sowing seeds for a sustainable world

In May, A Rocha staff, and Ugandan teachers and church leaders gathered at Kira Farm in Uganda for the A Rocha environmental education conference and workshops. 

The five-day conference was part of A Rocha International’s ongoing work to strengthen capacity for environmental education and build on the excellent work already being carried out by A Rocha organizations across Africa. Participants learned about the role of environmental education for reconnecting people and nature and for inspiring action for a sustainable world. They were encouraged to reimagine how they could be more effective and reach a wider audience, including sharing new methods for delivering environmental education. 

As part of the workshops, 35 teachers and six church leaders visited Kiteezi Church of Uganda Primary School near Kampala. Five years ago, Ibrahim Ssekama, one of the school’s teachers, asked A Rocha Uganda for help growing vegetables around the school grounds and incorporating environmental topics into the curricula. Since then, the school has received fruit trees through Gifts with a Difference, and they have extended the area for growing crops. Now they have huge cabbages and lots of other vegetables growing, and their whole compound is looking very green. Sack gardens demonstrate what can be done where land is scarce and plastic bottles are reused for growing seedlings. 

The teachers and church leaders went home equipped with new ideas, and enthused by a deeper understanding and with a stronger commitment to caring for creation in their work and communities.  

The conference and workshops could not have taken place without the generosity of all those who supported A Rocha International during the Big Give Christmas Challenge 2021. Thank you for enabling work like this to happen! 

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The John Stott Birding Day

John Stott was at the forefront of bringing creation care to the attention of the global Church. He cared deeply for the plight of the planet because he was hardwired with a love of nature in general and of birds in particular. He was among the first and most faithful friends A Rocha has had and so last year, in celebration of the centenary of his birth, we launched the John Stott Memorial Birding Day. Participants in 21 countries took part in a bird race, seeing an amazing combined total of 1089 species in 24 hours!  

This year, we have an audacious goal. Will you help us reach John Stott’s life total of 2000 species? We are joining ebird’s Global Big Day, using their platform for record keeping. You can take part as an individual, but we recommend you form a team of three to five.  

Take part in the bird race on 14 or 15 May or go on a John Stott-inspired retreat using our resource. Visit www.johnstottbirdingday.com for more information. 

Here are the winners from last year


Bringing back the Black-breasted Button-quail

2021-2030 is the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration – a global call to heal our planet and A Rocha projects around the world are making a significant contribution.

In Australia, A Rocha is working with Friends of the Escarpment Parks (FEP) Toowoomba at Redwood Park – a 243-hectare property on the eastern slopes of the Great Dividing Range – to tackle invasive weeds that threaten to destroy endangered ecosystems like the semi-evergreen vine thicket by climbing and smothering the trees. On the forest floor, it can become difficult for ground-foraging animals and birds to feed, like the nationally vulnerable Black-breasted Button-quail Turnix melanogaster. This button-quail has a characteristic feeding habit: it turns on alternate legs as it scratches in the leaf litter to make a circular feeding scrape. Fresh scrapes are a good indicator that button-quail are present in the area.

In late 2020, a small team of A Rocha Australia volunteers started working alongside FEP to control major weeds at Redwood Park. Every month, they have been working at the site to weed out the invasives in the vine-thicket. The benefits for button-quail have sometimes been immediate, with fresh feeding scrapes being seen throughout the weeded areas the following day. Remote cameras have also confirmed that the button-quail are breeding in the park!

The challenge now is to complete weeding in a sizeable section of the scrub and establish a longer-term plan to maintain the habitat for button-quail and other animals.

Photo: Black-breasted Button-quail (Aviceda, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Have an A Rocha adventure!

If you have a hole in your schedule over the next few months and were looking for something worthwhile, fun and potentially life-changing to plug it, we can help! Here are two A Rocha opportunities to explore:

Volunteer week with A Rocha Czech Republic 13-21 August

Spend three days working in the living garden at the educational centre, a haven for flora and fauna with seven ponds, two bird hides and a whole lot of insect houses. You will also have a day in the Josefov Meadows Ornithological Reserve and a day in the Orlické Záhoří (Eagle Mountains).

Each day will start with a short Bible reflection in Czech and English, and in the afternoons there will be activities including catching and ringing birds, walks and shorter trips in the surrounding countryside, Czech traditional mushrooming (plus a simple mycological course), and monitoring nesting Kingfishers or Dippers.

The cost is only 10 Euros per night for simple accommodation, food and local travel. There are 30 places available. Please email [email protected] to book.

Volunteer for A Rocha Canada at the Brooksdale Environmental Centre

Whether you’re eager to get your hands dirty in the garden, help remove invasive species with the conservation team, or offer skills in your area of expertise, they would love to hear from you! If you’d like to come for two weeks or more, you’ll be staying in the Brooksdale Guest House an hour south of Vancouver BC. The rate is $40 per day which includes accommodation and breakfast. Lunches and dinners are $6 per meal. You will join along as a volunteer to help as needed in various program areas for about 20 hours a week. Find out more here.

You can find out about other opportunities to volunteer, intern or join as a staff member here.

Photo: Wildlife pond at the Kruparna centre in the Czech Republic (Filip Lastovic)

When is a woodland not a woodland? When it’s a wetland.

Did you know the Dakatcha Woodland in Kenya is also a seasonal wetland? 2022 is the first year that World Wetlands Day has been observed officially by the United Nations. Wetlands, like forests, can act as ‘carbon sinks’, attracting carbon and sequestering it so that it cannot escape into our atmosphere. Wetlands like Dakatcha are also home to incredible biodiversity.  

Sadly, wetlands are under threat. Mining and agricultural activities have destroyed nearly half of Kenya’s wetlands over the past 50 years. A report by the National Environmental Complaints Committee found that the area of wetlands had shrunk by around 40% between 1970 and 2021.   

The seasonal wetlands of Dakatcha Forest are the known breeding grounds of Clarke’s Weaver, an endangered bird found only in Kilifi County. They are particularly at risk because they appear dry for much of the year, which means the forest is converted into agricultural land. 

One of the problems A Rocha Kenya is facing is selective logging for charcoal production and pineapple farming. With easy access to chainsaws and motorbikes to transport charcoal, forest clearing has intensified in recent months, and the indigenous forest is being burnt down at an alarming rate. In turn, the price of land is also increasing as local landowners then sell their land to speculative buyers and companies interested in pineapple farming in the rich red magarini soil. 

A Rocha Kenya continues to work to secure this land before it is lost. Scouts govern the forest to make sure the area is well protected and to resolve any conflicts that may arise. The science team also go for a one-week camping trip in Dakatcha each month to record the biodiversity and set the foundation for future research and conservation decisions.


Wild and Wonderful

Wild and Wonderful is a website with free Eco resources for schools, churches and families. The school resources were initially created for A Rocha Netherlands by long time A Rocha friend Petra Crofton.  

The Explore Creation pack for churches links Bible, ecology and creation care and consists of six sessions about life in different places such as the dark, the sky, and the water. Each session offers outdoor and indoor activities.  

There is an Explore Creation workshop for schools too, with ‘Life’ stations and mini-activities. The resources have been tried and tested for nearly ten years and are meant to inspire and encourage children as well as parents and leaders/teachers. As the school materials were initially created for A Rocha Netherlands, they link in with national primary school curriculums and follow the wild adventures of four 11-year olds (Science Geek Christy and her Eco-Logbook – A Rocha International 

On the website, you’ll also find Extra Resources with crafts, trails, quizzes, recipes and a book club manual. The project supports A Rocha and Climate Stewards, and was funded by Scientists in Congregations with the aim of offering free materials to churches, schools and families using story and adventure as starting points. 



Standing up for nature

Our latest issue of Field Notes explores ways we can stand up for nature. One way is to engage with the next Convention on Biodiversity (CBD COP15). If you have no idea what that is all about, never fear: read our beginners’ introduction and all will become clear! There are also lots of stories of A Rocha’s conservation work around the world to inspire you. 

Heather and Bob Sluka nurdle hunting

Life as an A Rocha volunteer

Heather, you recently spent three months volunteering with A Rocha Portugal at their centre, Cruzinha. Can you tell us about what you got up to?

I did a mix of jobs around the centre and in the garden, but one of my main long-term projects was helping another research intern who was studying the flow of plastics in the nearby Alvor estuary.

What did you enjoy most about your time there?

The people! Everyone was so welcoming and I learned a lot from each person I met. I learned about birds from watching the ringers and about moths from Paula. And I learned about Portuguese food and traditions from the local team. We had fun all together and I made friends I never would have met if I had not gone. That is the coolest!

Sounds like you had a great time! Do you have any advice for those considering volunteering with A Rocha?

For me, the best part about volunteering with A Rocha is the community that you become a part of and getting to know all the people you are there with. One thing I did while at Cruzinha was to ask the most weird and far-fetched questions I could think of during our mealtimes. It was a way to start conversations you might not otherwise think of, and the absurdity of some of my questions gave everyone a good laugh!