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Religious forests | International Religious Forestry Standard | Prayers about forests | Millions of hectares of religious forest managed ecologically by 2014

International Religious Forestry Standard

Procession of faith banners at Visby Cathedral before the Faiths and Forests meeting

The inaugural Faiths and Forests meeting in Visby, Sweden culminated in August 2007 in a unanimous agreement to go forward and create a Religious Forestry Standard.

Once accepted, it will cause millions of hectares of forests around the world to be managed according to religious, environmental, social and economic criteria.

The plan is that up to 2014 there will be a series of regional gatherings in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. These will be fed in to the proposal, culminating in the launch of an agreed International Religious Forestry Standard.


One of the more extraordinary outcomes of the WWF/ARC Kathmandu Sacred Gifts programme in 2000 was the creation of a unique partnership between the Jinja Honcho Association of Shinto Shrines of Japan and the Church of Sweden. While the Shinto made a pledge to reassess their use of forestry resources as a sacred gift, both traditions also made a joint declaration suggesting that all faith-owned forests should be run on ecologically sustainable and socially just lines and they requested ARC to work to achieve this.

The Swedish Lutheran Church has pledged to protect its ancient meadows in perpetuity, as part of the road to Ise.
Such a revolutionary new partnership, especially unusual for the Shinto, led to much discussion and debate and in 2005 this partnership really began to take off with joint meetings and discussions held, at the invitation of the Shinto.

In 2006, a joint team from WWF, ARC, the Church of Sweden and FSC, funded by WWF-UK, undertook a study tour of some of the major Shinto-owned forests in order to better understand the Shinto perspective on both sacred sites and forests. Subsequent discussions led to a plan to achieve an International Religious Forestry Standard to which all participating religions would have signed up that could be launched as a worldwide development in 2014. The Church of Sweden proposed that they host the first event of this process and that meeting took place in Visby in August 2007.

The attendees

The gathering brought together owners and managers of religious forests, from Buddhism, Christianity (Catholics – the Benedictine movement; Lutherans; Maronites and Orthodox); the Druze tradition; Hinduism and Judaism. The basic aim of the gathering was to ensure that all such forests, forest lands, watersheds and habitats could be managed to the highest religious, social and ecological standards.

We were joined by secular partners specialising in forestry issues from The Christensen Fund, Conservation International, FSC, IUCN, UNDP and WWF Sweden. Swedish Government representatives also joined us at various stages.

Inspired by, yet different from FSC

While inspired by the example of the Forestry Stewardship Council, FSC, it was also recognised that FSC was designed to counter a rapacious commercial market and not for traditions who have often owned the forests and who have had a sacred relationship with the land for centuries. We needed to create a Standard that would reflect the very different circumstances and nature of such forests but which would also help the faiths to creatively manage them to the highest environmental and social standards.

The Visby meeting

A range of papers were presented covering the theology of forests in each tradition; including practical projects from Tanzania, to Cambodia to Romania; new initiatives such as the Church of Sweden’s project with the Mozambique Churches to reforest over 100,000 hectares; scientific insights; management suggestions; stories and legends; rituals and ceremonies associated with forests and economic perspectives. Each session opened and closed with prayers and meditations about forests from different traditions and these have been added to the website.

The Religious Forestry Standard: the next Six Years

ARC agreed to draw up a six year timetable and set of milestones to be discussed with all the participating faiths and to be guided by the steering group of the three founding organisations, namely Jinja Honcho, The Church of Sweden and ARC. This document is currently being prepared. We are very grateful to The Pilkington Foundation and WWF UK for supporting the funding of this event along with the Church of Sweden.

“The protection and proper management of the vast quantities of religiously owned forests – along with their associated watersheds and animal habitats - is a visible signs of the growing role of faiths in protecting the environment in line with their own teachings,” said ARC’s secretary general Martin Palmer. “It is also one of the most specific ways of helping tackle climate change and CO2 emissions.”

During the Faiths and Forests meeting the Church of Sweden declared that the endangered meadows of Gotland, of which the Church owns the majority, would now be classified as Church of Sweden Protected Environments. Link here for more details.

** Link here to read some prayers about forests collected from those who attended the Visby meeting.

** Link here to read a powerful poem by artist Bosse Carlgrenabout the Visby conference and the Ise programme.

Link here for a story in Swedish from Miljö Aktuellt. The paper was issued in September 2007 by the National Env. Protection Board and is very well distributed all over Sweden to thousands of stakeholders.

Other Links

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

** Sacred Land worked with Yews for the Millennium, launched by the Conservation Foundation to preserve ancient British yews.

** In France, Sacred Land worked with a community of Orthodox nuns to preserve their forest as an eco-system.

** In Japan, ARC is working with Shinto leaders to preserve their sacred groves, and shift to FSC-equivalent timber for their temples.

**In an unprecedented move, the Church of Sweden agreed in 2000 to move towards certifying 15 per cent of its forests – more than 100,000 hectares – as sustainably managed under the Forestry Stewardship Council (FSC) guidelines.

** Hindu groups and the Orissa government have agreed, under the Sacred Gifts programme, to re-establish the state’s sacred forests to provide sustainably-managed wood for the annual festival of Lord Jagannath.

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Related information

Projects overview
A complete listing of all current ARC projects
Prayers about forests
Here are prayers from Buddhism, Christianity, Druze, Hinduism and Judaism, on the subject of trees and forests
September 18 2007:
Millions of hectares of religious forest managed ecologically by 2014
The inaugural Faiths and Forests meeting in Visby, Sweden culminated late last month in a unanimous agreement to go forward and create a Religious Forestry Standard to be launched at Ise in Japan.