Hereford Cathedral: Making COP26 Count

23rd September 2021

‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’ (Psalm 24: 1). 

Hereford makes amazing strides to COP26 and Eco Church status

Earlier this month members of Hereford’s Eco Working Group met pilgrims at nearby Leominster who were on their way to Birmingham as part of the Camino to CoP26 (United Nations Climate Change Conference 2021) in Glasgow.

Members of the Cathedral congregation, its staff and volunteers have already pledged to virtually walk to Glasgow to support the Youth Christian Network’s walking vigil from the G7 summit in Cornwall in June to Glasgow in time for CoP26 in early November. So far the cathedral has walked over 2,300 miles.

This virtual pilgrimage is an act of faith and love for the planet, part of Hereford Cathedral’s ongoing environmental programme that runs through every aspect of its mission and ministry and is rooted in prayer.

Preparing for COP26 at Cathedrals

There’s a bee hotel, bird boxes, eco lifestyle tips shared in their pew sheets, a rewilding project that uses only single flowers for best ecological impact, all 427 cathedral lights have been replaced with LEDs, there are plans for a first Green Fair, Advent films to share a Green Christmas, and the cathedral is currently looking at how best to harvest water from its roof and install solar panels.

Hereford Cathedral has been awarded Silver for its creation care in the Eco Church awards – the 1,000th award by A Rocha UK, the Christian environmental charity committed to equipping Christians and churches in the UK to care for the environment.

It is a journey of which they are rightly proud, as William Talbot-Ponsonby, chair of the Eco Group explains:

“In October 2019, Dean Michael approached members of the congregation to explore ways in which Hereford Cathedral could make progress towards reducing its carbon footprint and increasing its overall care for God’s creation.

“By early 2020, the Cathedral Environmental Working Group had been formed, drawing on members of the congregation, clergy and staff of the cathedral and, other than during a gap in 2020 in the first lockdown, the group have met monthly ever since. 

“We used the A Rocha Eco Church scheme as a way to plan our actions following the 5 key areas of Worship & Teaching, Buildings, Land, Community & Global Engagement, and Lifestyle. 

“By the end of 2020 we had completed their audit and were in a position to apply for a silver award; one of only a handful of cathedrals at this level,’ he added.

Hereford Cathedral is currently working towards its Eco Church Gold award, plans are underway for their first Green Fair, and members of the environmental working group are producing short films to share in Advent on planning for a Green Christmas.

This is Hereford’s response to the 5 key areas of the A Rocha Eco Church scheme:

Worship & Teaching, and Lifestyle: regular prayers and sermons based around environmental issues. The school education programme and the adult education programme have ecological aspects including the Lent Course. They have made changes to paper and waste in the cathedral offices and regularly make suggestions in the pew sheets on personal consumption, carbon footprint audits, energy use, transport, LOAF food, and recycling and waste.

Buildings: Replaced all 427 cathedral lights with LEDs and are currently working towards the same in the crypt. The recently completed Eastern Cloisters Project was all carried out with sustainably sourced materials, Forest Stewardship Council certified wood, and other Ecolabel certification for materials used. Insulation and glazing is much improved within the limitations of the listing of the building. Carbon neutral radiators in their properties And they try and source local where possible  – not just in the cafe, but using local tradespeople too.

In 2020, 76% of cathedral spend was spent in an HR postcode, with another 7% in immediately adjacent postcodes (Worcester, Gloucester etc.).

Going forward they are actively looking at harvesting water from the cathedral roof and considering fitting photovoltaic cells for electricity, but expect to come up against the visual aspect of having large amounts of cells on the roof, and they are looking at solutions to the huge cost, disruption and archaeology of underfloor heating in the cathedral

Land:  They have ducks raising ducklings successfully in the Chapter beds, blue tits in the Cathedral walls and both blackbirds and robins in climbers on the walls.

Hereford Cathedral: Making COP26 count

To encourage bees they plant almost exclusively single flowers – it is a little known fact that the doubling of flowers is achieved by the genetic change of the central organs into petals, thus the flower loses both pollen and nectar and are ecological sterile.  Plus they have lots of lavender and a bed of wild cornfield flowers, flowering all summer.  There’s a  “bee hotel”, bird boxes and, with eleven volunteer gardeners, the paths and beds are hand weeded avoiding the use of weed killer, and paths are gravelled to stop water run-off. They create enough compost for their needs and use the local council bins for other waste material no longer having bonfires to pollute the atmosphere.

Preparing for COP26

Community & Global Engagement: The series of Lent talks planned for 2020 were on environmental issues – now available on the Cathedral website. The Lent course in 2021 was also about caring for the environment and they have marked other events through the year building towards COP26 in November. There are environmental improvements in the café to align with Eco Church standards and they plan to hold their first Green Fair.

Lifestyle: Since 2019 the Cathedral Environmental Working Group has met monthly. Much of the advice to the congregation and wider public planned for the Lent 2020 series will be repeated. A report, including lifestyle tips, goes in the weekly cathedral pew sheet following each meeting. This includes suggestions on personal consumption, audits on personal carbon footprint and energy and transport.

The Revd Canon Christopher Pullin, Canon Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, said:

“The Jewish and Christian faith traditions proclaim and celebrate the goodness of creation as a work and gift of God.  The human role isn’t to exploit or ravage what’s given to every living thing, but to tend, and in reverential humility, to live and work within, the web of creation. 

“The ‘dominion’ over creation that Genesis speaks of is one of active stewardship, not one of exploitation.  We see more clearly than ever today that humanity must re-learn what that means. Here at Hereford Cathedral we’re trying to be much more proactive as those good stewards.”

Pew sheets  and the monthly eco reports can be found here.

Photos: Gordon Taylor.

A Prayer for COP26 read by the Dean of Chichester, under the Museum of the Moon at Chichester Cathedral.