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Church of Sweden Pledges to Protect Ancient Meadows

September 3 2007:

One of the faith-protected meadows at Ekeby in Central Gotland

The Church of Sweden committed itself on Wednesday to protect some of the last surviving medieval meadows in Europe as official “Faith Protected Environments.” The church owns around one quarter of the meadows on the island of Gotland, in the Baltic. And from today these are all cited as “church reserves to be preserved forever”, announced the Diocese of Visby’s forest manager Goeran Allard at a major meeting about faiths and forestry hosted jointly by the Church of Sweden, the Association of Shinto Shrines from Japan and the Alliance of Religions and Conservation.

In 1741, when Carl von Linné – Linneus – travelled over Gotland as part of a scientific survey he described how the island was covered by vast areas of broad-leafed hardwood forests. Most of these forests had cattle strolling around grazing and large areas were also maintained by hand - with the only tools used being the scythe and rake. These were the "meadows" and they were used for haymaking.

Residents of the area near the meadows celebrate the annual "day of the meadows" - November 2007 - in which the Meadows Committe rewards those people who have helped during the year.
At that time one tenth of the island of Gotland – ie around 30,000 hectares – were covered by these meadows. Today just 300 hectares are left and even so, this is still the largest such area left in Europe.

As Mr Allard explained, 150 years ago this was the most important way of farming, with farmers all over Europe completely dependent on their local meadows for haymaking - not just for animal husbandry but also for their crops.

Temperatures then were colder than they are today: cattle had to be kept indoors in winter, fed with hay during the cold months. Therefore:

1. The area of the meadows decided how much hay they got.

A tiny tree struggles to survive in a Gotland meadow
2. The amount of hay decided how many cattle would survive the winter.

3. The number of cattle decided how much manure they would get.

4. The amount of manure decided how big an area of arable land – farm land – for growing crops you could have. And five to seven hectares of meadow gave one hectare of arable land.

"So why are there almost no meadows left? Because we invented artificial fertilizers. As the meadows no longer were needed they became open farmland where artificial fertilizers could be used for producing hay or wheat. This opening up also made it possible to advance upon the traditional forest areas. And as a result the hardwood open forests of that time are gone as well."

Yet these are still important lands - partly for their biodiversity, since very special flora developed over thousands of years in these lands that had been disturbed only by scythe and rake. In the 1940s a special committee was founded to help save the meadows of Gotland, although it took three decades to stop the decline. The remaining one percent of the original from 1741 is thanks to thousands of interested people mainly in the countryside. “They do a fantastic job. And we have beautiful meadows with a very rich flora and insect fauna,” Mr Allard said.

Without the church pledge of August 29 2007 however, the future of the meadows would look bleak. Farms are fewer and bigger, while fewer people live in the countryside as schools, shops and post offices disappear and petrol is expensive. People are needed to maintain the meadow area. “In the future we need help from specialized contractors and maybe funds to pay them for education and work to be done. Many, many hours of hard work are needed. And we need a sense of purpose and of a future for these wonderful places.”

This promise is just the beginning. And it is just one of many positive outcomes of the Faiths and Forests initiative that:

* began in 2000 with an agreement between the Shinto in Japan and the Church of Sweden to manage their forests ecologically,

* continued in August 2007 with the first Faith and Forest meeting in Gotland,

* and will continue until 2013 when an agreement will be launched at Ise in Japan for many forest-owning religions to commit to a forestry management system that includes the following four criteria:

· Religious
· Environmental
· Social
· Economic.

More news on this will be posted soon.

Meanwhile link here for the press release about the Faiths and Forests conference in Visby, August 27-29, here for the programme, here for the FAQ, and here for the press release in Swedish.

Our favourite forestry links

** Link here to read more about ARC's forestry projects with the faiths.

** Link here to read a story from Friesch Dagbladet, a Dutch Christian newspaper, ARC's on the Gotland process.

** Link here for a keynote speech about faiths and forestry presented by ARC at a paper industry meeting about forests and the environment.

** Link here for details about Yews for the Millennium, launched by the Conservation Foundation to preserve ancient British yews.

** Link here for information about a community of Orthodox nuns based in France's Rhone Valley, who have undertaken to preserve their forest both as a properly managed commercial undertaking AND as a beautiful sacred place.

** Link here for the FSC website.

** Link here for the World Agroforestry Centre, which has invigorated the ancient practice of growing trees on farms, using innovative science to transform lives and landscapes.

** Link here for Skogforsk - the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden.

** Link here to view a video about forests - their history and their future from Skogforst.

** Link here for the Regional Forestry Commissions of the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation.

** Link here for Forestry: An International Journal of Forest Research.

** Link here for the UK-based Royal Forestry Society.

** Link here for the Canadian Forestry Association.

** Link here for the Center for International Forestry Research.

** Link here for the Rainforest Alliance.

** Link here for the Commonwealth Forestry Association, linking foresters around the world.

** Link here for a list of frequently asked questions about the meeting, while a programme of events is available here.

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