Celebrating 40 years!
Issue 67 of the Field notes newsletter commemorates A Rocha’s 40 years of nature conservation. Including a look at the big changes in the environmental landscape over the last four decades, snapshots of 40 of the species we’ve cared for, environmental education highlights and what we plan to do next, this is a celebration of goodness, hope and the difference we can make by working together over the long haul. Enjoy!
Mobilising data for action
A Rocha’s two-year GBIF project with 11 partners across four African countries came to a close in April 2023, embedding data in conservation action in four forested African landscapes. And that’s just the beginning!
In Ghana, the biodiversity data digitized for the Atewa Forest contributes to the body of evidence available, informing the legal court case led by A Rocha Ghana for the protection of Atewa as well as possible future livelihood opportunities (e.g. mushroom farming).
In Nigeria, this project is directly building the foundations for the conservation of the relatively unknown and undocumented remnant Kwande Obanliku forests, even if the pre and post-election turmoil disrupted dissemination hopes. Publishing the data on GBIF has substantially raised the profile of these forests and highlighted the need for further research within them.
In Uganda, the real frustration of not having access to the seminal 1990 forest reports to inform current conservation work around West Bugwe was relieved by this digital access, informing the current restoration of this degraded forest.
And in Kenya, the case to protect the Dakatcha landscape (a Key Biodiversity Area classified by Birdlife International as ‘in danger’) has been further reinforced with the publication of important biodiversity information which highlights the little-known presence of Endangered species in this landscape to global audiences and policy makers (e.g. BirdLife partnership, KBA Secretariat and the CEPF).
A Rocha International was a key player in coordinating this project. Organizationally, we all learned to work together under the African Forest Programme – five A Rocha Organizations working together under a funded project is perhaps a first! We learned more about the landscapes we are trying to conserve and renewed our commitment to collecting high-quality data. The project allowed a substantial amount of data – previously buried and unavailable to the conservation, science and decision-making communities – to be properly organized, cleaned and made publicly available on the GBIF platform, strengthening the case for the conservation of these landscapes and our role in supporting this. This is going to be critical for the conservation of several of these sites going forward.
The next video in A Rocha’s ‘Elements of Hope’ video series, Take Root, explores the benefits of developing deep relationships and committing to a particular place or community over time.
This video shares A Rocha’s approach to conservation over the long term through two specific stories, including the protection of vulnerable habitats of the Alvor Estuary in Portugal and living by example amidst a younger population in Uganda new to ideas such as creation care.
Sara Kaweesa of A Rocha Uganda explains, ‘I think when we put down roots, God is probably doing something. Maybe using your life to speak to somebody else. You just have to get there and do what you’re supposed to do so that other people can either copy you or your light shines out to them, and they will see the light and know where to go.’
Being rooted in a community helps us grow and flourish, while also giving shelter and encouragement to others through our faithful and steady obedience to God’s calling for us, whatever it may be.
Marcial Felgueiras of A Rocha Portugal adds, ‘This is how A Rocha views conservation. You grow roots. You are dedicated to a place. I think that has made a huge impact. The reason for success is God, definitely. It is because we’ve obeyed God’s call that we’ve managed to keep the area (the Alvor Estuary) as it is.’
Join us in watching Take Root and feel free to share the video with your church, school, bible study or youth group. You can find the accompanying discussion guide here and download the video from our Vimeo channel here. Let us know how you are taking root in your own community!
Corals bounce back
Coral bleaching is one of the biggest threats to reefs around the world and one of increasing concern as abnormally hot weather events become more frequent.
In Kenya’s Watamu Marine National Park, the latest severe bleaching event took place in 2020. A Rocha Kenya’s marine team has been working with Kenya Wildlife Service, using permanent quadrats (randomly selected one-metre square samples of habitat), to collect data on four coral reefs in the reserve. Coral care packages purchased through A Rocha’s Gifts with a Difference have helped enable these reefs to be monitored for over three years, which is starting to yield some encouraging results. Although some corals died, many survived and appear to be more robust and resilient to the climate pressures they are facing. This gives us hope that Watamu’s corals may be adapting to cope better with heat stress.
Dr Benjamin Cowburn partnered with A Rocha scientists to present results of this research at the recent International Coral Reef Symposium. The research suggests a way forward to identify threats that keep the reefs from thriving and proposes rewilding through coral gardening, using local species that have adapted to the bleaching events. Exciting times lie ahead for our work in protecting and restoring coral reefs in Kenya!
You can shop for coral care packages at Gifts with a Difference to help us learn more about how corals are responding to bleaching events and produce appropriate management recommendations to protect the reefs in the future.
Taking root in tradition
An A Rocha KriNa community is taking root in Southeast Sweden, and with it, a new apple meadow is coming to life.
Anchored in the Kviinge parish (Swedish Lutheran Church) in Östra Göinge, A Rocha KriNa has sparked interest in creation theology and conservation work. In the spring of 2022, they started the process of planting an apple meadow. They began by collaborating with the local group Göinge slåttersällskap (‘mowing association’) to carry out controlled burning of vegetation. This association is working for the restoration of old meadows, sharing knowledge about managing meadows, and passing on the craft of scything. 25 people of different ages participated in the work, gaining practical knowledge on caring for meadows and their importance for biological diversity. The burnt meadow was quickly transformed as green healthy grass grew up.
In August, the Göinge mowing association returned and held a course in scything. 20 participants practiced the traditional art of mowing grass, and they were even visited by the governor of the county of Skåne, Anneli Hulthén. By October, the entire meadow was mowed. The first apple tree was planted in November and now five are in the ground. In the future, A Rocha KriNa will sow flowering meadow plants, mow the grass in the summer and continue planting trees.
The apple trees are rootstocks of various types (slow-growing and vigorous-growing) with different apple varieties grafted onto them. Before they were put in the ground, they were cared for and watered regularly for two to three years. This project strives to benefit pollinators, produce fruit in an ecological way and create a beautiful place, invoking fascination, rest and worship. Working with apple trees takes a long-term commitment, and we hope that this meadow will be a testimony of A Rocha’s Christian hope for many years to come!
Let us take you out!
Looking for getaway ideas? Want to spend time in nature, learn something new or have the chance to give back in some way? A Rocha has options for you!
Want to delve into something for a week? A Rocha Czech Republic invites you to join them at their centre, Krupárna, 12-19 August for their annual volunteer week – seven days of nature, community, learning and prayer. Fill out the application form and email it to [email protected] by 30 June.
A Rocha France offers week-long options for all ages throughout the summer, with conferences on different themes hosted at Les Courmettes (they also welcome volunteers!). The programme is normally in French, with an English presence the week of 6-12 August with Joie et Vie (Joy and Life) and in English with France Mission 17-23 September. A Rocha Switzerland runs kids’ camps in French in August, a time of wonder and discovery in nature.
If you have a day and you’re in the southern hemisphere, join A Rocha Aotearoa New Zealand for their Ocean Deep, Ocean Wide retreat at New Brighton Church, Christchurch on 30 June. If you’re in Winnipeg, Manitoba, you can attend lectures and workshops on theology, climate change and creation care at the Be not afraid / Consider the lilies conference, 9-11 June. And if it’s a Thursday and you happen to be in the Algarve, A Rocha Portugal is always happy to welcome you at Cruzinha on their Thursday Visitor Mornings.
Or maybe you are looking for something a little longer, a chance to live in community and dig into – literally! – what it means to care for the earth? A Rocha Canada offers three to six-month residencies at Brooksdale, their residential centre near Vancouver – a life-changing experience.
If you can’t get to an A Rocha place in person, perhaps you would like to bring A Rocha home to you in the form of the Wild Wonder camp curriculum for children – designed for groups and churches, it’s available as a resource for purchase from A Rocha USA to get outside and experience the wonderful world God has made. Soon available in Spanish too!
However you join in with us, we welcome you.
An A Rocha International response to latest IPCC report
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) set out the final part of its sixth assessment report on 20 March 2023. This is the most integrated and accessible assessment of climate change drivers, impacts, and solutions in a decade.
The report demonstrates the devastating reality and risks posed by the climate crisis, such as food shortages, human and animal deaths from heat and humidity, and loss of habitat and species. There is not one, but three global crises : biodiversity loss, climate change, and poverty and inequality. Each of these three crises impacts negatively on the other two.
The report makes sober reading, but it does hold out hope, and has been said to offer a ‘survival guide for humanity’ in the face of climate change’. It includes multiple, feasible and effective options available to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to human-caused climate change. We have never been better equipped to solve the climate challenge. We have what Achim Steiner, Administrator of the UN Development Programme, calls a ‘rapidly closing window of opportunity’ but if we act now, we can still secure a liveable, sustainable future for all.
Nevertheless, it is surprising that the IPCC should have listed hydropower as a tool to combat climate change. We need the tools to combat climate change to be those that don’t exacerbate other problems such as biodiversity loss and the livelihoods of river-dependent people.
At the COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, a number of countries tried, but failed, to get the UN to agree to phase out oil and gas as well as coal. This argument is not going away – with the EU now openly supporting such a move. This IPCC report will be central for COP28 when countries meet again in Dubai later this year.
For forty years, A Rocha’s integrated approach to conservation has led us to look for ways for landscapes and their inhabitants to live in healthy interdependence, whether through the livelihoods created by processing shea nuts in northern Ghana, the coastal forests of Kenya earning school fees for local children through eco-tourism, or communities learning to live peacefully alongside elephants in India. We believe God created the world to be a safe home for every living thing and in our work on six continents, we have seen the truth of this in practice.
We are committed to the places, people and species we work to protect and restore around the world and we also recognize that we do not bear the full weight of their survival. Our efforts are inadequate, but God’s love and faithfulness for all he has made enables us to remain hopeful that the story is not over.
For more information and in depth analysis, we recommend the following articles and short films:
Prof. Katharine Hayhoe: What is the IPCC Synthesis Report for the 6th Assessment
IPCC Synthesis Report: UN Climate Report 5 Facts
Simon Lewis in The Guardian: The IPCC’s climate report has drawn the battle lines for COP28: oil profits or a liveable future
Le Monde: IPCC Report: Humanity still has the means to act on the Climate
Synchronicity Earth: The myth of green hydropower
BBC: Five things we’ve learned from UN climate report
Image: The ‘warming stripes’ graphic published by Ed Hawkins from the University of Reading, portrays the long-term increase of average global temperature from 1850 (left side of graphic) to 2018 (right side of graphic). (CC BY 4.0)
Eco Church in action
The 16th century Spanish nun Teresa of Ávila wrote, ‘Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good, yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world.’ We, the Church, are the body of Christ. Through A Rocha UK’s Eco Church project, the natural world is being blessed in large and small ways around England and Wales.
Churches can take an online survey about actions relating to worship and teaching, management of church buildings, management of church land, community and global engagement and lifestyle. Each action they take gets them points – enough points gets them an award. But more importantly, each action is an expression of God’s love for the world.
St Paul’s Marylebone is adding taller plants to their outdoor space to increase biodiversity and have created a water area for birds and other wildlife. Christ Church in Higher Bebington has done years of work on their buildings, has planted an orchard and a wildflower meadow and made a woodland walk and pond areas on their land. Hathersage Methodist Church has changed all the light fittings on the premises to LED bulbs and created havens for wildlife on church land through birdboxes, bug-hotels and re-wilding. They host a regular Repair Café in the church hall and have launched a volunteer group to maintain the woodland garden next to the church. Glossop Parish Church has installed bird boxes, bug and hedgehog hotels, and abstain from hedge trimming when birds might be nesting. Lindley Methodist Church share eco-lifestyle tips in their weekly church notices and have made alterations to the heating and lighting in the church building to improve efficiency and are installing water harvesting systems.
Each church that takes part in Eco Church is participating in God’s blessing of this world he loves and demonstrating faith in action to their wider community.
Why should the church care for God’s creation?
In a new short film from A Rocha, we explore the relationship between the church and the environment and look at how God is calling the church to care for his creation.
What does the church have to do with creation care and why should we care for God’s creation? First, because God asks us to care for it. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. God made us to be part of this creation, and Genesis 2:15 tells us that God put humankind in the garden to serve and protect it.
Second, because God calls us to love our neighbour (Mark 12:31), especially the weak and vulnerable. Environmental degradation has severe consequences – such as climate change, loss of biodiversity and pollution – that disproportionately affect vulnerable populations. As followers of Christ, we are called to love our neighbours and to seek justice and mercy for all. This means we need to care for the land, sea, sky and everything in it – on which we and our neighbours all depend.
Third, because Jesus is Lord. We can share and show his Lordship by caring for this world that he created. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it (Psalm 24:1). God has never abandoned or forsaken what he has made. Instead, God became Immanuel – God with us. Our brokenness is also the brokenness of earth, and it is for God’s love of the whole world that he sent his son (John 3:16).
We, the church, can come alongside God in the work he is already doing to sustain and redeem all of creation.
We encourage you to share this film with your church, Bible study or home group. ‘Why should the church care for God’s creation?’ is available on A Rocha’s Vimeo channel here. You can learn more about A Rocha’s creation care resources or about supporting A Rocha as a Church Partner at arocha.org/church-partners.