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Visby: Faith and Forests | Faiths protect Forests: English press release | Visby Faith & Forest Meeting: Programme | Faith and Forests: Swedish press release

Faiths protect Forests: English press release


Visby, Sweden: An unlikely alliance between Shinto priests in Japan and the Lutheran Church of Sweden has led to a meeting next week that will lead to millions of hectares of forests around the world being managed according to ecological principles.

More than 50 people – foresters, bishops, religious leaders, hereditary priests, conservationists and UN representatives - will attend the Faiths and Forests meeting on the Swedish island of Gotland from August 27 to 29.

"Up till now, many people - including in the faiths themselves - have not quite realised the impact of the religions on forests around the world.” said Martin Palmer, Secretary General of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), which is arranging the meeting in association with the Swedish Lutheran Church and the Association of Shinto Shrines in Japan.
As well as the sacred forests and groves, a large number of faith groups own huge tracts of commercial forest. In Sweden for example 22% of commercial forestry is church-owned. In Austria, one Benedictine monastery alone owns 28% of the commercial forests.

“If the faiths can take their respect for sacred forests and make that into active conservation - and a sacred trust - for their commercial forests, then they could potentially play a major role in sustainable management for forests and habitats - and towards addressing climate issues.”

Visby cathedral at twilight
There are two long-term aims:

The first is to create an international standard for religious-owned forests. The purpose of this first meeting is to open discussions with religious and secular foresters on how such a standard can be developed.

The second is to protect sacred lands around the world. And several of the faiths will declare at the meeting that all their lands will now be environmentally protected and described as faith-protected environments.

As well as senior Lutherans and Shinto, the meeting also includes, (from among those who have specifically combined their faith vocation with forest preservation):

* a Druze Sheikh and Maronites from Lebanon, who are working very actively to protect their sacred places, including the sacred Harisa forest, Qadisha valley, and Lebanese cedars.

* A delegate from Orissa in India, with experience of preserving ancient forests that for years have been maintained to provide wood for the Jagannath festival (from which we get our English word juggernaut)

* A Cambodian Buddhist monk who inspires sangha communities throughout the country to respect their forests and environments – including establishing plant nurseries, organising recycling campaigns, and creating a ceremony to ordain trees, in order to protect them.

* A German-born Benedictine monk who helps manage a 50 ha forestry plantation connected to his monastery in Tanzania.

The meeting and process emerge from an unusual alliance carved in Kathmandu in 2000, during the WWF/ARC Celebrations of Sacred Gifts for a Living Planet. The Church of Sweden, one of Sweden’s major forest owners, signed an agreement with the major Japanese Shinto organisation Jinja Honcho that both would work with WWF and ARC to assist religious forest owners to develop the highest possible environmental standards.

The first stage was for the two to study their own forestry practices.

* The Church of Sweden has already FSC-certified over 40% of their own forests since 2000 and aims for 60% by 2010. In collaboration with local churches it has also established forests elsewhere including Mozambique. * The Jinja Honcho owns 2.4 million hectares of forest in Japan. In a 2006 study of their forestry practices undertaken with the Church of Sweden, FSC, ARC and WWF, the Jinja Honcho drew up procedures for the management of their own forests. It has also pledged to assist indigenous faith communities worldwide to set up their own forest management principles. This is especially important given the incursion into many ancient forests around the world of aggressive forestry companies, many of which are Japanese.

The target is that in 2014, at the formal rebuilding of the great wooden shrines of Ise – the holiest site of Shintoism in Japan – Jinja Honcho will host an international convention at which the new guidelines will be formally adopted by as many religious forestry groups as possible.

This is the first time that the Shinto have ever co-hosted an international event, on any subject.

Contact: Communications Director, ARC
The House, Kelston Park,
Bath, BA1 9AE, UK
+44 1225 758004
Link here for the programme 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 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 theCommonwealth Forestry Association, linking foresters around the world.

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Related information

Shinto Forestry
It is the forests, and not the buildings, that mark the true shrines of Shintoism. The deities are invited to these forests, where they and their environment are protected by the local community, which in turn is protected by the deities.
Religious Forests
Sacred woods, forests and trees are found in all the major religious cultures of the world. The tree forms a fundamental part of the mythology of many faiths, from the Tree of Knowledge in Judaism and Christianity’s Tree of the Cross to the sacred trees of Hinduism.<
Current projects
These are the most current projects for ARC. Last updated September 2007