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Whitechurch Parish scoops gold award for biodiversity project

Whitechurch Parish scoops gold award for biodiversity project
Canon Andrew Orr, chairperson of Eco–Congregation Ireland, presents the Gold Award to Canon Horace McKinley, Pam Sheil and Reg Richards of Whitechurch Parish.

Whitechurch Parish in Dublin has become one of just a handful of parishes in Ireland to be presented with an Eco–Congregation Ireland Gold Award. The award, which recognises the parish’s great efforts to improve biodiversity as well as mentoring another parish, was presented by Eco–Congregation Ireland chairperson, Canon Andrew Orr, yesterday evening (Monday September 13).

Whitechurch was the first Church of Ireland parish in the Republic to win an Eco–Congregation award in 2010. Since then the church grounds have been transformed into a pollinator friendly area for bees and butterflies and bat boxes have been installed in some trees. They have been following the recommendations contained in the All–Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015–2020 and 75% of their planting is pollinator friendly.

Members of the parish joined two neighbouring Roman Catholic parishes in a study of Pope Francis’s encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ and parish representatives have also attended lectures and seminars on biodiversity. A weekly crew of volunteers assist Reg Richards in tending the church grounds with much reduced grass cutting and last April 26 square metres of the churchyard was planted with wildflowers. The parish Eco–Congregation representative, Pam Sheil, keeps parishioners up to date on developments while the Rector, Canon Horace McKinley, has put an emphasis, through preaching and liturgical opportunities, on the core values of the Eco–Congregation programme.

Part of the conditions to be met to achieve the Gold Award include that a parish mentor another parish as members embark on their Eco–Congregation journey. Whitechurch is mentoring Nun’s Cross, Killiskey, as they take their first steps to improve biodiversity in their church grounds.

Presenting the award, Canon Orr congratulated the team in Whitechurch and praised the work in the grounds. “It is so important to do this kind of work. We all know about climate change… but we can also do much to improve biodiversity,” he said.

He gave stark statistics on the loss of biodiversity on the planet. Ninety percent of all large animals on earth are human beings or their domestic animals and 70% of birds in the world are poultry. This represents a staggering loss of diversity, he stated. “That’s why doing things like improving the biodiversity of a church yard is so important. So many insects depend on it,” he said adding that a great chain of life depends on insects. Canon Orr encouraged gardeners to leave a patch of their garden unmowed to improve biodiversity rather than continuing the obsession with neatly trimmed lawns.

To obtain an Eco–Congregation award a parish must focus on four areas: parochial, liturgical, working with the local community and linking with the global community. The Gold Award can be obtained when a parish continues and diversifies their efforts but also mentors another parish. Whitechurch is the fourth parish to be presented with the Eco–Congregation Ireland gold award and the first to be presented in person as the others were made virtually.

Canon McKinley paid tribute to Pam Sheil for encouraging the parish to get involved with Eco–Congregation over 10 years ago. He also thanked Reg Richards who, he said, never lost the vision of what they were trying to achieve.

“Since Covid restrictions there has been a completely new social phenomenon here. Huge numbers of walkers have emerged and have been using Whitechurch Road. Many have wandered in and have complimented the grounds,” the Rector stated.

Visiting from Nun’s Cross Church, Stella Mew, said it had been a great pleasure to be mentored by Whitechurch. “One of the wonderful things about Eco–Congregation is that it is parochial but there is also outreach. It does make a difference when we can bring people together to see what we can do… We hope to put in a wild flower area, which we will document to encourage others,” she commented.

Reg Richards acknowledged the great help he had received from parishioners who volunteered to help with grass cutting and hedge clipping every Saturday.

You can learn more about Eco–Congregation here.

The grass cutters - the volunteers who keep the grounds of Whitechurch looking fantastic.
The grass cutters - the volunteers who keep the grounds of Whitechurch looking fantastic.

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