Friday, September 30, 2016

Creation Time Day 30

If England's national tree is the oak then certainly the London plane may lay claim to be the arborial icon of its capital city. The London plane is believed to have been "born" in the city itself in the 17th century, as a natural hybrid of the Oriental plane from South-east Europe and the Western plane or American sycamore. It owes its existence to London's role as a global hub.

Now it represents more than half of the city's trees. The London plane is ideally suited to life as a street tree. The distinctive mottled bark pattern, captured in my photograph from the garden of London's Natural History Museum, indicates its resilience in the face of air pollution. Its ability to shed pieces of bark allow it to be rid of polluting toxins. Whilst the tree may grow to an inconvenient height (over 30m) it readily survives, indeed thrives on,  pollarding. It does not require an extensive root system and is not fussy about soil type. It is said that no London plane tree has yet been known to die of natural causes. 

The tree's allegorical significance has been noted, among others, by Lia Leendertz writing in The Garden magazine (May 2016, p22): "..for the excellence that can spring from inner-city melting pots." It is also a useful symbol of the importance of human influence on the natural world as we now experience it.

Some scientists have proposed that we have entered a new geological epoch in the history of the Earth. Known as the Anthropocene age, it represents the period in which human activity has become significant for the future of the planet as a whole.  In the spirituality of an ecologically-conscious Christian faith humanity may be regarded as "co-creator" with God in the renewing of the Earth. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Creation Time Day 29

Today is the Christian festival of St Michael and All Angels. In the traditional cosmologies of Christianity, Islam and Judaism angels are part of the created order, though in its heavenly rather than earthly dimension.

Interest in angels and angelic beings continues into the present day. Though none will be found in any museum of natural history at the very least it may be said angels exist in the creative imagination of human culture and its representations in the arts. Almost any British primary school child is capable of describing an angel.

In spiritual traditions angels are agents or messengers of God whose intervention or appearance signals a purposeful and wholly altruistic divine assistance. However there is also a dualism in some traditions. These posit the existence of demonic beings who are corrupted angels capable of masquerading as wholesome in order to extend the influence of evil.

One of the most significant differences in spiritual understanding in the world is that between those traditions which have adapted to the rationalism of the science -based public culture of modern European societies; and those spiritualities which were never nurtured in that cultural milieu or have reacted against it.

The majority of people with a spiritual dimension to their lives in the world today belong to the latter category and for them the creation without spiritual beings such as angels and demons is inconceivable.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Creation Time Day 28

When did you last lie on the ground and simply look up into the sky? I have a childhood recollection of doing that one sunny summer's day, mesmerised by the infinitude into which I was staring.  I've chosen today's image of a cloud to focus reflection on the atmosphere.

The earth's atmosphere is a vital element of the creation without which life in its current form and diversity, and certainly human life, could not exist. Earth is the only planet we know which has a life-sustaining atmosphere. As well as being the air we breathe, the atmosphere re-distributes life-giving precipitation and moderates temperature; protects against deadly radiation and meteorites, and allows for radio communication as waves are bounced around the globe.

The colours of the sky, as sunlight interacts with the atmosphere and the water and dust particles it holds, produce a visually stunning canvas which lifts the human spirit. In most traditional understandings of the world the sky has been the domain of the divine and in many languages the word for sky and heaven is one and the same. In the Christian faith, drawing on its Jewish  heritage, there are strong metaphorical associations between wind, air or breath and the Spirit of God. In stories of the Creation of the world contained in the Bible's Book of Genesis a wind from God sweeping over the formless void is the antecedent to the creative command; and Adam the first human is brought to life by receiving the breath of God.

Today it is the impact of human activity on the atmosphere which is the cause of greatest concern for the future well-being of human societies and all other communities and species of life on earth.

The local pollution of air in and around urban areas is more widespread and more detrimental than often reported. London was well-known in the nineteenth and early 20th century for its deadly smogs or  "peasoupers" culminating in the worst episode of this in 1952. It was reckoned an additional 4000 deaths were attributed to the Great Smog of that year; resulting in the implementation of the Clean Air Act. Today many city smogs especially in hot climates under certain weather conditions are caused by the build-up of vehicle engine exhaust. The worst episodes of smog today are found in the megacities of modern China where astonishingly high annual economic growth rates in recent decades have been sustained by rapid industrialisation.

Even where smog is not visibly evident poor levels of air quality should remain a cause for concern in Britain. The UK and more than half of the other countries of the European Union consistently register levels of air pollution higher than the safe limit recommended by the World Health Organisation. Some experts lay the blame for failure to reduce air pollution in the UK on the rise in the number of diesel cars which contribute to the increased levels of nitrogen dioxide particulates in the atmosphere. 

As well its local impact on air quality there is a global impact of human activity on the atmosphere leading to climate change. Increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have intensified the greenhouse effect whereby more of the  warmth of the sun is trapped in the atmosphere causing average air temperatures to rise. The incidence of carbon dioxide has risen from 280 parts per million before the Industrial Revolution, to over 400 parts per million in 2016. This is a result of the burning of fossil fuels and the destruction of forests. Raised levels of methane from intensive livestock farming have also contributed to global warming. Climate change is reckoned to be the single biggest threat to human well-being and security as well as ecological stability.

International efforts to co-ordinate action to combat climate change have reached a new pitch with the agreement signed at the 21st Global United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris in 2015. However there are many political and economic as well as some ideological barriers to the  effective and timely implementation of the necessary measures. Civil society and campaign groups including spiritual  leaders are called upon to press for the changes human societies need to make if climate change is to be restrained. 

"A consensus has emerged about the need to move to a low carbon economy.Whatever the scientific, economic and political difficulties, at root this is a spiritual problem."  Rt Rev'd Nicholas Holtham, Bishop of Salisbury and Church of England Lead Bishop for the Environment

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Creation Time Day 27

Today I return again to an image of a tree; in this case the most common tree species in Britain , the English oak. Familiarity need never be a reason to overlook the glory of the creation and the oak tree proves this truth. This photograph depicts an oak tree on a field boundary above the River Thames in Berkshire near the village of Wargrave. It was in early leaf on a sunny morning in mid-April.

The oak tree has acquired a status as an emblem of England. A reference to the oak is claimed for many town or village place-names. One of the largest and oldest living specimens is a tree known as the Major Oak, standing in Sherwood Forest near Nottingham and associated with the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. It is frequently voted in popular polls as England's favourite tree.

Oak trees were revered in pre-Christian European cultures and dedicated to the gods. A seminal episode in the conversion to Christianity of the Germanic peoples of central Europe is recounted in the story of St Boniface; the monk from Devon sent by the Pope to preach the gospel in the early 8th century. Famously he is said to have felled a mighty oak tree which was a sacred site of ritual sacrifice to the god Thor. The people were so impressed by his fearlessness that they accepted his message and were baptised into Christ.

The oak tree has many historic associations in English history, not least the role its wood played in the building of ships for the defence of the nation. It is a timber which continues to be valued in construction for its strength.

Oak forests are important habitats for many animal, bird, insect and plant species. They sustain a high level of biodiversity and support more species than other native woodlands. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

Creation Time Day 26

Creation Time Day 26
Today's image in celebration of the creation is an example of the popular South African flower Strelitzia, known as the  "bird of paradise" or "crane" flower. I've chosen it to represent the theme of colour in nature. The variety and vibrancy of colour found in the natural world is an astonishing and uplifting aspect of its presence to the human mind and spirit.

Whilst there are explanations for the evolution of colour and vision in plants and animal in terms of reproduction and survival, the emotional and spiritual response to colour in human experience may be received as a gift in creation inspiring in us a sense of joy and gratitude. 

The colours of nature have influenced many spheres of human creativity from painting through architecture, design, gardening, fashion and cooking. Colours have acquired symbolic meanings in religious and cultural traditions linked to their common associations; blue for the divine; red for life, white for purity, green for the earth; black for death. Like many symbolic elements colours may have several, even opposed, meanings depending upon their context and use in relation to other symbols.

Colour therapy is a field of complementary therapy which goes beyond the belief that colour enhances human well-being and our appreciation of the gift of creation, but also claims that intentional exposure to coloured light may assist in the healing of a range of physical ailments and mental distress.

Brian Keenan is a journalist and writer who was held hostage by terrorists in the late 1980s and imprisoned in colourless confined spaces for over 4 years. One day a bowl of fruits was placed in his cell. It was the first time he had experienced vivid colour for many months. In his book about this time he describes how the colour of the orange almost burned his eyes with its intensity. "I am entranced by colour. I lift an orange into the flat, filthy palm of my hand and feel and smell and lick it. The colour orange, the colour, the colour, my God the colour orange.. I sit in quiet joy, so complete, beyond the meaning of joy....I want to bow before it, loving that blazing, roaring orange colour." An Evil Cradling (1992)

"Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these." (St Matthew 6: 28-29)

For greater understanding and appreciation of our knowledge of colour in nature, London's Natural History Museum is running a special exhibition: Colour and Vision; through the eyes of nature (until 6th November 2016).

Creation Time Day 25

Creation Time Day 25
The earliest recorded winter snowfall in London was on this day 25th of September in 1885. Snow is undoubtedly one of the most wondrous phenomena of nature. Children in areas of the world where it occurs infrequently are especially excited by it. Yet people of all ages enjoy leisure and sport in snow and the skiing holiday is popular in prosperous societies with access to snow-covered mountains.

For some communities in the higher continental latitudes of the northern hemisphere or mountain communities ground snow cover is a normal aspect of winter every year and life adapts accordingly.

 In the United Kingdom there are only 15.6 days a year on average when snow is covering the ground , 26.2 in Scotland. There is also considerable variability between years as to how much snow falls. The snowiest winters in the 21st century to date in the United Kingdom have been 2009 - 2010 and 2010 -2011. This photograph is of a snowy day in southern England in January 2010.

The infrequent and relatively random distribution of snowy days in the annual seasonal cycle have given rise to the phenomenon of the "snow day" in climates such as that of Britain. Traffic grinds to a halt, and schools and offices are closed because staff are unable to commute in. On snow days neighbours and communities which do not normally communicate very much pull together to assist those who are more vulnerable such as the elderly. Local heroes are identified and praised for their efforts  to go the extra mile to help others. Meanwhile local government agencies are evaluated sometimes severely for their readiness or otherwise.

Street - corner and office coffee-time conversations assess the relative merits of the extra light levels and beauty of snow cover as compared with the inconvenience of travel and the impact on heating costs. Invariably all children are delighted when a snow day occurs.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Creation Time Day 24

Creation Time Day 24
Thousands of spider webs coated in dew are revealed to plain sight on misty Autumn mornings. The phenomenon was famously written about by one of the earliest modern naturalists, Church of England vicar The Reverend Gilbert White in his seminal study A Natural History of Selborne published in 1789. Beginning with a carpet of webs draped everywhere the day in question - 21st September 1741 -"turned out to be one of those most lovely ones which no season but the autumn produces; cloudless, calm, serene, and worthy of the South of France itself.".

Spider webs can lay claim to being one of the everyday wonders of the creation. Notwithstanding the latent arachnophobia which seems instinctive to human beings still we marvel at the intricacy and resilience of the spider web despite its obvious fragility. 

In language and culture the spider web has metaphorical associations both positive and negative. In its prolific  dust-laden manifestation as cobweb the spider web is indicative of places which are neglected and where active human life is absent, and so associated with the dead. The cobweb is a familiar motif at Halloween parties, on fairground ghost trains, and in horror films. Coupled with the fear of spiders the cobweb is a visual clich√© provoking dread of death and evil on the one hand, and yet affirming by its vulnerability that these enemies of life and joy can be cleared away and conquered.

In English the idiom "web of deceit" is commonly used in reference to criminal activities. Increasingly it characterises popular views of governments and corporations, inspired by conspiracy theories. Yet there is sufficient evidence from whistle-blowing activities such as Wikileaks, Edward Snowden and the recent release of the Panama Papers, to warrant reasonable beliefs that there is a web of information and connections between powerful agents both legitimate and otherwise which are rarely if ever cast into the light of public view.

Now the most common use of the word web in English refers to the internet's  worldwide web. A vast network of interconnected computers ensures a resilience and a distribution for information which has allowed for much greater public access to knowledge; and yet also has enabled the global spread of pernicious ideologies.

In a positive vein the classic best-selling children's novel Charlotte's Web by E.B.White (1952) has provided millions of children and adults with a wholesome assessment of spiders and their webs.

Its combination of evident fragility with symmetrical beauty and resilience and the ability of a relatively small creature to produce it gives the spider web an enduring place in the human imagination. Leaving aside its association with predatory behaviour it may inspire confidence in human endeavour to persevere in protecting the earth.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Creation Time Day 23

Creation Time Day 23
Wild elephants will have disappeared from Africa within 25 years if more action is not taken to stop poaching now. Rhinos faces extinction "in our lifetimes". This was the warning given by Prince William at an event organised by conservation charity Tusk in London. Many governments, experts and conservationists are now calling for a complete ban on the ivory trade. The African elephant population has fallen from about one million 40 years ago to under 350,000 today. 

The Prince highlighted the moral dimension of the issue. “Materialistic greed cannot be allowed to win against our moral duty to protect threatened species and vulnerable communities.”

It is worth reflecting that whilst there are 7 billlion (seven thousand million) human beings on earth; the number of large mammals now living wild in the world is probably less than 2 million; equal to what in global terms is a single small city.

Today's photograph is an image of an elephant engraved into rock in South Africa more than 1,200 years ago. This example is found on stones scattered across a small hill at what is now the Wildebeest Kuil Rock Art Centre, near Kimberley in Northern Cape. Other examples of engravings and paintings on rock by the Khoe-San are found in several locations in South Africa. This site is particularly characterised by images of the large mammals, elephant, rhino and hippo. It is thought that they were made as an expression of the spiritual life of the community.

Creation Time Day 22

Creation Time Day 22
Today is the Autumn Equinox in the northern hemisphere. It signals the end of the Spring and Summer half of the year and the start of the Autumn and Winter half; when the nights are longer than the days and temperatures fall.  This is because of the combined result of the angle of incline of the earth's axis and its annual orbit around the sun.

For today's photograph I've chosen a view of the River Cam in the City of Cambridge England, taken a few days after the Autumn Equinox in 2015. This is an image iconic of Cambridge University, both one of the oldest and also one of the leading research-based universities in the world today. The well-kept grounds and gardens of many of the historic Cambridge colleges back on to the river in an area of the city known as "The Backs".

I've chosen this photograph of Cambridge for the connection with Sir Isaac Newton (1642 -1726). Of the many influential scientists in the history of Cambridge University he is perhaps the most famous of all. It is Newton who provided the principles enabling us to understand and predict the earth’s orbit and the pattern of 'wobble' of the earth's axis which affects the timing of the Equinox .His astronomical work, with his understanding of gravity and motion, and work on optics, places him with Galileo in importance.

Newton is also a significant figure whose thought repays being studied for a better understanding of possibilities in the relationship between science and religion. For Newton greater scientific knowledge of the world enhanced rather than detracted from his belief in divine creation.

Many people today would see a leading centre of scientific research like Cambridge University as determinative of the question of whether God exists; and the latest opinion on this question of its most famous contemporary physicist  and cosmologist, Stephen Hawking,  is eagerly sought.

Nonetheless Cambridge University also includes many leading modern scientists of religious faith. The Revd Dr John Polkinghorne KBE FRS was Professor of Mathematical Physics at Cambridge University until he resigned his Chair to study for the Anglican priesthood and become a significant exponent of a mutually positive relationship between science and religion. He was President of Queens' College Cambridge for 8 years.

Today Cambridge is also the home of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion an interdisciplinary research centre which also promotes public understanding of science and religion. It is named for another hugely influential English scientist, Michael Faraday (born on 22nd September 1791, died 1867) a person of Christian faith who had a profound sense of the presence of God in nature.

Creation Time Day 21

Creation Time Day 21
Today I've chosen another photograph from the amazing Table Mountain area of South Africa which I took during a visit in 2005. This is a group of palm trees in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden, Cape Town; on the lower slopes of the mountain. The particular species of palm tree depicted here appears to be the Kosi Palm, Raphia australis, also known as the Giant Palm because it is believed to have the largest leaves of any of the more than 2,500 palm species in the world. This species originates in a small area of South Africa , Kosi Bay, in the KwaZulu-Natal region. Today its natural habitat is protected as part of a UN World Heritage site.

Trees and plants of the Palm family in general are more widely-known for their popular edible seeds and fruits, such as dates, coconuts, or bananas. Despite the great variety and diversity of species palms generally have a simple structure by comparison with other trees ; effectively their leaves are their branches.

Palms have a long history of usefulness to human society as a source of both food and also materials for building and daily life. In the cultures and religious traditions developed in the Middle East palms are strongly associated with the divine blessings of security, prosperity and peace in life. They were symbols of the gift of good governance, for example being used in the celebrations of triumphant Roman emperors. In the Christian tradition palms are linked with the Kingship of Christ; rooted in the gospel account of Christ's triumphal yet humble entry into Jerusalem in the week of his crucifixion. 

The most widely used palm product in modern society is palm oil. It is found in many mass-produced consumer food and general products and also used to make biofuel. Notwithstanding its significant economic contribution to producer countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil has become highly controversial because of the impact of extensive plantations on the environment; especially in rainforest areas.

Whilst conservation campaigners work to prevent unregulated and unsustainable palm oil production, and encourage consumer boycotts of errant companies, it seems the palm leaf may now become a symbol of the need to struggle for better governance of our use of the earth's resources and to aspire for peace between humanity and rest of creation.

Creation Time Day 20

Creation Time Day 20
Table Mountain in South Africa, rising to over 1000 metres above the city of Cape Town on the south-western tip of Africa, is iconic and well-known because of its unusual form, reflected in the name, of an extensive plateau summit falling away to steep cliffs. Recently voted in a popular poll as one of the natural wonders of the world , it is a global tourist attraction and contributes to the international  identity not only of Cape Town but of South Africa as a country. Today's photograph of a misty morning on the plateau summit I took when visiting South Africa in 2005.

What may be less widely-known is the unique botanical character of Table Mountain and its surrounding regions in the Cape Peninsula. The amazing biodiversity of the vegetation in the region means Table Mountain National Park is one of several protected conservation areas,  designated a UN World Heritage site , in what is known as the Cape Floristic Region.

The South African Cape encompasses the whole of one of the only six recognised floral kingdoms of the earth, which is an astonishing fact given that one of those floral kingdoms covers almost all of the Eurasian and North American continents! The Cape is home to some 9000 species of plants of which more than two-thirds are found naturally nowhere else on earth. In one 40 square mile area around Table Mountain there are 1,500 plant species,  as many as are found in the whole of the United Kingdom. This region is the habitat of the well- known and striking flowering species of Protea for example. As Spring arrives now in the southern hemisphere the nature reserves and national parks of the Cape are covered in a carpet of colour from the many wild flowers; and this week (19 - 25th September) admission to all Western Cape nature reserves is free of charge.

Much of the amazing diversity of species is associated with the unique fynbos; a vegetation zone of fire-adapted shrubland. This habitat is believed to have developed because of frequent exposure to fire as a result of human activity over more than 12000 years. Fynbos is now one of the top conservation priority habitats in the world, undergoing a rapid rate of species extinction because of the impact of modern human expansion.

Paradoxically Cape Floristic region developed as a unique floral kingdom partly as a product of early human interaction with the environment, but it is now under threat of losing its character because of expanding human activity. It has been the source of beautiful species of flowers transmitted to enhance gardens across the world, but is now under threat from the arrival of alien species crowding out and and reducing local variety.

Amazing as Table Mountain's eye-catching shape and form is, its awesomeness consists equally, if not more so, in the richness of its plant life. In Christian spirituality the sheer abundance and diversity of the earth's life forms are fertile also with meaning, revealing the unbounded Divine generosity and delight in creation. It is the sharing of this spirit - of generosity and delight -  which may inspire and sustain human care to conserve and renew the earth.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Creation Time Day 19

Creation Time Day 19
I return today to the topic of the bedrock and in particular limestone. This remarkable type of rock results from the accumulated sedimentation over millions of years of the remains of sea creatures such as coral and molluscs. Limestone is soluble in water and so landscapes across the world in which it is the bedrock are characterised by sinkholes and caves. Rivers and streams disappear underground and in some places huge and complex subterranean drainage networks are formed. 

This type of landscape is found in North Yorkshire. Today's photograph depicts a characteristic formation, the limestone pavement at Malham in the Yorkshire Dales. The action of rainwater along the joints and cracks of a horizontally-laid outcrop of this soluble rock produces slabs which give the surface the appearance of an architect-designed feature. Networks of underground caves and potholes exist beneath the limestone area of the Yorkshire Dales. Some of the largest more accessible subterranean chambers are open to be visited by tourists; others are the preserve of cavers and potholers who enjoy the challenges of exploring the invisible world below ground. 

In traditional mythology and religions the subterranean world was the domain of the dead, for obvious reasons in cultures where burial was the norm. Later it became associated in Christian tradition as the location of hell in its sense of the permanent abode of the damned. Today many Christians regard the ancient topography of hell as "down there" and heaven "up there" as purely metaphorical. The notion of human souls condemned to a place of eternal and cruel punishment and tortured by demons whether subterranean or otherwise, as depicted in medieval wall-paintings for example, is similarly rejected by many Christian believers today, including myself, as archaic and sub-Christian. Rather it is engaging the divine spirit and will to tackle hells on earth - the impact of the violence, abuse and degradation which humans inflict upon one another -  which is the focus of Christian prayer and action today. 

Perhaps retaining some residual frisson of its early cultural association with death and evil, the underground world retains a fascination to many; but in modern times and sensibilities,  rather what draws people underground is the opportunity it offers for further enjoyment and exploration of the wonderful and awesome scope of the creation.

Creation Time Day 18

Creation Time Day 18
Roasted sweet chestnuts for sale on the streets of London and other cities of Britain are one of the consolations to be enjoyed in the gathering gloom of our short winter afternoons. Today's image depicts windfall sweet chestnuts on a public footpath near my house. Free food!

The trees originate in the Mediterranean region and are believed to have been brought to the British Isles by the Romans. As well as a source of nuts, they are a rich provider of nectar and pollen for bees; and their wood is strong yet easily worked and so used for furniture. In Britain copses of the tree are managed to supply wooden poles. The tree fruits after 25 years and can live for up to 700 years, though currently it is susceptible to chestnut blight. The ancient Greeks regarded the nuts as the food of the gods and dedicated them to Zeus.

Whilst there is little spiritual symbolism or significance attached to the trees in the cultures of northern Europe they may nonetheless be celebrated as yet another example of the character of the creation as sheer gift. The sweetness to be unlocked inside a smooth hard shell and prickly case is an intriguing and ultimately attractive feature; perhaps providing also food for the thought that external appearance is not a necessary indicator of inner character.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Creation Time Day 17

This is a Crab Spider which I spotted having its dinner earlier this summer. Apparently quite common in southern England it was the first time in my life I had seen one. This species (Misumena vatia)
is capable of changing colour according to its background. It prefers white or yellow flowers and its body may appear white, yellow or green. The one depicted is a female, which is very much larger than a male. This spider doesn't make a web but sits camouflaged on flowers ready to pounce on insects which come close, trapping them with its pincer-like front legs, as can be seen here.

Many species in the broad group of Arthropoda, which includes all the insects and all the spiders (arachnida) , may be experienced by humans as both beautiful and fascinating and yet induce dread and repulsion. Even people not afflicted by outright arachnophobia are unlikely to be comfortable with an uninvited spider on their skin. Recent scientific studies have suggested fear of spiders could be primordial,  encoded in human DNA for  survival reasons.

The behaviour and capabilities of species of both spiders and insects nonetheless have inspired awe and respect in human cultures. Ants and bees have been admired for their industriousness, not to mention the honey from bees; and spiders for their intricate webs. Modern ecological science has come to a full appreciation of the role of many arthropods in plant pollination, and pest control, and so their importance to the human and animal food supply chain. At the same time greater popular awareness of the life-cycles and feeding habits together with the dissemination of detailed close-up images of these creatures have engendered an awe mixed with dread ; a paradoxical combination of both fascinated attraction and disgusted repulsion.

The very existence of such species has caused some people to question how faith in a loving Creator God may be compatible with them ( however beautiful some may appear even at microscopic level), especially given the deleterious effect of some of them on human health. Famously the celebrity atheist Stephen Fry has cited the activity of a parasite which burrows into the human eye as a reason for rejecting belief in God.

This is part of the general question of the problem of horrendous evil in the creation.  It is not restricted to the paradoxical combination of both helpful and harmful impacts of animal life on humans. One might also question how it is that thousands of decent, kindly "school-gate mums" and "football dads"  in Britain go to work every day to manufacture weaponry  which has been detonated in the urban areas of Gaza or Yemen, killing or maiming for life any hapless children standing by. It was professor of medical ethics Jonathan Glover in his book Humanity- a moral history of the twentieth century who starkly highlighted the paradox of a human society which employs its finest minds and directs huge resources both to treating premature babies with infinite care on the one hand, and to bombing foreign cities on the other.

The compatibility of evil, suffering and pain with faith in divine love and mercy is perhaps the most important spiritual issue, if not the most important of any question all humans must face. But it is not simply an intellectual paradox - it is a question of how to live and flourish in the world we have been given.  Faith in God is not a solution to the paradoxes the world presents us with, but one possible response, which for many millions of people today and through the ages has been found to be the most truthful, coherent , hopeful and life-enhancing response.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Creation Time Day 16

In the south of England today we've woken up after, or maybe during, the most intense thunderstorm of the year with torrential rain and hail. Despite knowing we cannot live without it, we rarely welcome rainfall. In our culture, located on the Atlantic seaboard where generally we have as much rain as we need and more, rain is a nuisance. It stops play. It's associated with being cold since temperatures in winter are not high enough to promote quick evaporation. We have enough of it and we're often sick of it both emotionally and physically.

Contrast our attitude to rain with the other regions of the world. In the desert fringe areas of Africa, or even wetter regions in which rain is very seasonal and its return after months of drought is not a foregone conclusion, the arrival of rain is a cause of great joy and celebration. Rain is a blessing not a nuisance. God is praised and thanked for the gift of rain. Attitudes to rain depend on how abundant or otherwise it is and  on how closely daily life, even ultimate survival, is affected by its immediate local availability. Perhaps the only form of precipitation to cause joy for some in the urban areas of north-western Europe is the occasional arrival of snow. Children delight in the play opportunities it offers.

Concerns around rainfall seem to have heightened in densely- populated countries like Britain. Recent decades have seen more episodes of damaging floods in Western Europe with apparently greater intensity as well as amounts of rainfall. Some of these may be related to climate change. Scientists' modelling predicts the effect of rising global temperatures will be to make temperate regions wetter and rainfall episodes more intense.

But the greater incidence and impact of flooding following heavy rainstorms is also a result of unwise development. Houses and roads are built on floodplains putting them at risk and affecting the local drainage patterns. Deforestation in hill areas upstream prevents rainfall from being absorbed and so it flows more quickly to fill streams and rivers. Schemes to address these issues are being undertaken in some areas but they are costly and divert resources from other important social and community needs.

Stronger measures to control development and to encourage appropriate land management in river basins would prevent some of the flooding, with its human suffering and economic costs. They might also re-balance our attitude to rain.

Today's image is of a rain-bearing cloud about to deposit over Sharp Haw which overlooks Airedale in North Yorkshire, England. 

“Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” Wendell Berry

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Creation Time Day 15

Creation Time Day 15
The iconic central business district of Shanghai in China may not be an obvious image of choice to celebrate the glory of the creation. Yet humanity and the environments we shape for ourselves are part of the created world. It is an important belief in the Christian faith and other spiritual traditions that humanity shares in the divine creativity, and has responsibility for inhabiting the earth in ways which reflect divine values of love, peace and justice. Spectacular urban landscapes like this are marvels of human ingenuity and skill, and there is inspiration to be found in the breath-taking forms and designs of the structures. Recently the proportion of the world population living in urban areas passed the half-way mark. I captured this photograph in 2013 when I was part of a delegation of British church leaders visiting Christian churches in mainland China.

Shanghai, on some definitions, is the largest city proper in the world. With a population of 25 million it almost equals that of the five Nordic countries combined; if it were a sovereign state on its own it would have a larger population than 22 of the states in the European Union. Shanghai's young people have access to a top -performing education system. A recent World Bank report ranked the city's 15-year olds first in global indicators of attainment in reading, maths and science; as a result of a strong education system with efficient public financing and a "great teacher workforce". But the success or otherwise of the Shanghai education system is contested. There are dissident voices that report the negative impact this highly standardized testing-focused education is having on family life and on student mental and physical health. A large proportion of college graduates are not able to find employment in the city commensurate with their level of education; and many of the wealthy families send their children to the universities of Europe and North America for higher education. Inequality of income in Shanghai is comparable with London, which itself is relatively high for a developed economy, comparing unfavourably with cities like Tokyo and Stockholm where the distribution of income is more even.

Recent independent researchers have uncovered the human cost of the transformation of Shanghai into a world city. Forced re-location and demolition of neighbourhoods for modern development, against the will of the residents, have devastated family and community support networks . Serious questions have been raised about, at best, the disregard for natural justice, and at worst, serious human rights abuses that have come with the re-building of Shanghai. It is through study of the experience of the residents of Shanghai that global social scientists are developing the concept of "domicide" - the destruction of home against the will of its inhabitants. Other world megacities are not immune from this deficit of democratic accountability and human dignity in the face of the powerful forces of finance-driven capitalism.

As more and more of the world's population gravitate to large urban areas there is a challenge to ensure that these cities grow not only in size, power and technical prowess but also in peace, dignity and justice for all their inhabitants.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” 
― Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Creation Time Day 14

The bedrock of the earth is mostly covered with soil and vegetation but is exposed, often in spectacular ways in many parts of the world, by the erosive action of water and ice, or by the legacy of volcanic eruption and earthquakes. Globally two of the most famous and well-visited examples are the Grand Canyon in the USA and Uluru/Ayres Rock in Australia. Many regions of the world have their own local examples of impressive rock formations and outcrops, not least sea-cliffs around our own coast in the British Isles.

Spectacular rock formations, such as Uluru/Ayres Rock, may be revered as sacred sites by local populations, and regarded as icons of the nations in which they stand. In the Abrahamic faith traditions (Christianity, Islam, Judaism) the rocky Mount Sinai in the Sinai peninsula of Egypt is regarded as the place where the ancient prophet Moses encountered God and was given the Ten Commandments. In other traditions too there are examples of mountains and rock outcrops being venerated as the dwelling place of the divine. In early modern Britain the mountains of areas like the Lake District and the Highlands of Scotland inspired artists and poets, famously William Wordsworth,  who generated new interest in these rugged places of exposed rock as retreats for spiritual and emotional refreshment away from the industrialising cities. In Christian tradition from the Bible onwards rock has featured frequently in prayers and hymns as a metaphor of the reliability of God.

The apparent barrenness and inhospitality of the bedrock belies its value to human life, not only as the basis of topsoil upon which most food provision depends, but also for its reserves of groundwater on which many populations rely. The bedrock is also the source of the oil and minerals without which modern urban life would be impossible at present. Extracting these resources by drilling, mining, quarrying, or fracking  and transporting them, involves potentially dangerous operations which have had devastating impacts in local areas on human health and the environment. The burning of fossil fuels is now known to be a major contributor to climate change with a global impact on all life forms.

From the bedrock fossils have revealed the early history of life on earth. This has  allowed for the development of scientific knowledge and a re-imagination in faith traditions of the scope and majesty of the creation; although not without controversy, as the traditional scriptural accounts of the divine act of creation have been re-evaluated. In a similar way modern scientific observation and measurements have shown that the bedrock is not as fixed and unmoving as it appears  but is rather in constant motion and tension , with volcanic action and earthquakes being an integral feature of the earth's surface. The suffering and loss of human life resulting from volcanic eruptions and earthquakes have led to to a re-evaluation also of an over-simplified understanding of divine providence. Efforts need to be focused on fostering the spiritual attitudes and the moral determination of governments and society together to protect people from the potential impact of catastrophic events and to provide the most effective mobilisation of resources for rescue and recovery where they do happen.

Today's photograph depicts an impressive outcrop of sedimentary rock in the Epirus region of Greece; which lies in one of the earthquake-prone regions of the world.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Creation Time Day 13

Creation Time Day 13
Today's image for Creation Time evokes the timeless pastoral tranquillity of the traditional meadow. I took this photograph in the Isle of Wight on a balmy sunny day in mid-May ( my 55th birthday as it happens!). The ox-eye daisies were spread across the field like icing on a cake.

Meadows in Britain are grasslands which are managed on an annual cycle according to traditional practices which allow them to develop over time increasing the number and variety of wildflowers. There are different types of meadows and ways of managing them, according to their situation and climate.The field depicted here would likely have been allowed to grow without grazing through Spring and early Summer, cut once for hay in July and grazed by livestock after that.
Meadows are vital havens for important pollinating insects.

Until the 1930s every community in Britain would have had its meadows. Now because of the intensification of agriculture it's reckoned that only 2% remains of the meadowland we once had. The good news is that there are more and more conservation charities and projects working hard to reverse this trend. Local authorities are recognising the opportunity provided by highway verges and roundabouts to develop meadow-like habitats.

Local churches across Britain have played an important role in recent years with some 6000 churches now managing their churchyards under the principles of the "Living Churchyard" project. Areas of the churchyard are maintained as sacred ecosystems without pesticides or burning and the grass cut once a year. In this way local flora and fauna are provided with an increasingly rare suitable habitat,  and visitors enjoy the carpet of wildflowers in early Summer. My own church of Wokingham  (All Saints) manages its churchyard on this basis as part of its commitment to the environment as a recognised eco- congregation.

"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;  he restores my soul." Psalm 23

Monday, September 12, 2016

Creation Time Day 12

For today's image in celebration of the creation I've chosen this one depicting the glory of Autumn colours, which I captured at Virginia Water near Windsor.The colour change of the leaves no doubt serves the survival of deciduous trees through Winter in temperate latitudes, though scientists are still researching the exact mechanisms and reasons for it. Yet it is another example of a phenomenon in the creation which as humans we may experience simply as a gift, for its beauty and capacity to lift our spirits.

In human cultures and civilizations which have thrived in the temperate latitudes of the earth and which experience the four seasons,  the natural cycle of the year has symbolised spiritual truths. In Jewish and Christian faiths especially, the eternal round of the seasons has expressed the divine character, the never-failing faithfulness of God. The arrival of Autumn, heralding the cold and dark to come with Winter, has provoked reflection on mortality, and the search for deeper, more enduring, sources of sustenance for the human spirit than can be provided in the natural world alone.

In western Christian tradition the turn to the final declining quarter of the year has been marked by the feast of St Michael and All Angels (29th September). Roughly coinciding in the northern hemisphere with the Autumn equinox when the nights become longer than the days,  it commemorates an ancient story of the victory of the angels of God over the forces of evil, and so holds out belief in the ultimate inability of fear and evil to overcome courage and love in human destiny.

The seasonal cycle in temperate latitudes is the necessary outcome of an astronomical phenomenon, the orbit of the Earth around the sun combined with the angle of incline of the Earth's axis. Nonetheless  the seasonal pattern appears to be shifting in response to climate change. The trend observed by global networks of nature watchers has been for Spring to be starting earlier and Autumn later. This may seem cheerful news for those who prefer Summer to Winter but it will have unpredictable, disruptive effects on ecological systems and habitats, impacting vulnerable landscapes and species, and placing at risk supplies of food and water in certain areas.

The claiming of resources of courage and love to combat, and ameliorate,  the impact of climate change is perhaps the new fearlessness to which the gorgeous colours of Autumn might inspire us.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Creation Time Day 11

The largest freshwater lake in the world is Lake Superior in North America. Its surface area is four times that of Wales. Freshwater lakes across the world are often beautiful to the eye, offer tourism and recreation opportunities, and provide vital supplies of water and food for local populations.

In the Christian gospel accounts of the life of Jesus Christ some of the action takes place both around and on the Sea of Galilee. This is a large freshwater lake in the north of Israel which is the lowest freshwater lake in the world, about 200 metres below sea level.

Today's photo is a view of Lake Constance or Bodensee, a large lake on the River Rhine, at the northern foot of the Alps, of which it affords stunning views. As well as being a popular tourist area it supplies water to the population of south-west Germany.

" A lake is the landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature. ~Henry David Thoreau

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Creation Time Day 10

The photograph I've chosen today in celebration of the creation returns to the topic of trees.There are thousands of species of tree in the world and a spectacular variety of forms and habits. Yet the one that always lifts my spirit is common where I live - the horse chestnut when it is in full flower from late April to early June; especially the variety with white flowers. It is a striking affirmation of the return of new life at the start of the summer and a majestic sight.

The tree depicted here stands in the grounds of King's College Cambridge alongside the magnificent Gothic chapel. With its expansive fan vaulted ceiling and beautiful stained glass windows the chapel stands as a human tribute to divine glory. Thousands of tourists and pilgrims make a special effort to visit the chapel and rightly marvel at it; yet perhaps the horse chestnut tree in the garden is an equally awesome revelation of glory.

"Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush..." R.S. Thomas (1913 -2000) poet and priest.

Friday, September 09, 2016

Creation Time Day 9

There are landscapes across the world which attract attention for their great and special beauty,  and as havens for wildlife or as places with a greater diversity of flowers and plants. They are the product of unique combinations of geology, biodiversity, climate and sometimes human activity including traditional farming.They are the destination of many visitors who come to walk, run, swim, cycle , fish, climb, photograph and research;  or simply to look and see and marvel at the wonders of nature. Many are designated and protected by national or international legislation in efforts to secure them for the future in a sustainable way.

Human demand for resources is a constant pressure on these landscapes. Whether regulating legitimate demands such as water needs, or tackling criminality  - for example, corrupt governmental collusion with companies to circumvent forest protection, or the killing of elephants for ivory - protecting these landscapes can never be a matter of complacency. Legislation and funding can rarely be weakened or withdrawn without a detrimental effect. Independent monitoring and campaigning by civil society groups such as NGOs and pressure groups is an ongoing necessity to ensure that governments and politicians fulfil their responsibilities towards these landscapes. 

Today I have chosen a photograph of Wharfedale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is one of a number of popular and beautiful national parks clustered in northern Britain, most of them only an hour or two by car or public transport from a major city. Each of these parks has its own remarkably distinctive set of characteristics and beauty.

In most cases however the landscape we see is sustained by traditional farming. This farming is very vulnerable to economic and political changes. Farming and the activities which support sustainable farming communities in these areas are as much in need of detailed consideration and protection by government and all of us who enjoy these landscapes, as the plants and wildlife found there.

"Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do." Wendell Berry 

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Creation Time Day 8

I've chosen this eye-catching image from the Cornish coast because, without resorting to a video clip ( which not all platforms accessing this blog will support) it depicts an otherwise invisible wonder of nature, that is the wind.

Obviously in the form of hurricane or typhoon the wind isn't an element invariably welcomed by humanity however awesome it appears when viewed from a place of safety. Yet without wind and the movement of air across the globe there would be no weather and no rainfall to support life.

On hot days there is little more welcome than a gentle cooling breeze. In the Swahili language the wonderfully expressive word "peponi", literally "in the breezes", is used to mean paradise. In Christian and Jewish faith the divine reality is characterised as Spirit with reference to the wind or breath which gives and sustains life.

With the ever more pressing need to move away from burning fossil fuels in order to reduce global warming, harnessing the wind is growing as a viable alternative energy source. Since 2000 more than a quarter of new electricity generation capacity installed in Europe has been wind power.

"Like wind-- In it, with it, of it. Of it just like a sail, so light and strong that, even when it is bent flat, it gathers all the power of the wind without hampering its course."
Dag Hammerskj√∂ld (UN Secretary- General, 1953 - 1961)  - Markings.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Creation Time Day 7

It may seem strange to some to include gardens in this celebration of the creation. Since the rise of industrialisation and the claustrophobic atmosphere of the crowded cities it created in Europe in the early 19th century, there's been a romantic tendency to regard the wildness of  (apparently) uncultivated country, the mountains, jungles and savannahs, and also the oceans , of the world as more authentically natural and awesomely beautiful than human- influenced spheres like gardens.Yet the garden is a place where human creativity and co-operation with the natural world come together with life-enhancing result.To adapt a line from a children's hymn : think of a world without any gardens!

Creating and working a garden is a source of huge satisfaction and fulfilment, emotional and spiritual, to many people as well as an underrated substitute for expensive gym fees! Gardening is a recognised form of therapy promoting psychological well-being.You do not need to be a house dweller to do gardening- there are many volunteering opportunities as community gardens are developed - or you might get involved in creating one in a neglected public area. And millions of people all over the world find retreat and refreshment for their soul visiting a beautiful garden. All of the senses may be engaged in a garden.

Spiritual writings in many faith traditions extol the garden as a foretaste on earth of the divine home. The Christian Bible begins its story of God's purpose for humanity in the Garden of Eden and ends in the heavenly city, which with its river of life and its trees of many fruits with leaves for the healing of the nations, is clearly a garden city. (Revelation 22).

This photograph is of the garden at National Trust property Mottistone Manor in the Isle of Wight.

"God writes the gospel not in the Bible alone, but on trees and flowers and clouds and stars" Martin Luther, (1483-1546) , Christian theologian and church reformer.

Monday, September 05, 2016

Creation Time Day 5

Who doesn't enjoy seeing butterflies fluttering around on a sunny summer's day? The life cycle of the butterfly is one of the wonders of nature. It's understood from our earliest school days not only as a fascinating fact, but also a symbol of the possibilities of new life and beauty through transformation. Whilst the radiant colours and patterns of butterfly wings may be explained though natural selection and survival needs, their beauty may be enjoyed as a sheer gift in creation.

This photograph depicts a Marbled White; which is widespread and expanding in central and southern England, South Wales and east Yorkshire. But the general outlook in Britain for biodiversity is not so good. Climate change and habitat loss is having a significant impact. A recent major study  has found that many of the species that perform the important role of pollinating plants and trees such as bees, moths and hoverflies are in decline; as are those such as ants which act as important pest controllers. Increases in some species like the Marbled White butterfly are not compensating for the loss of the others. 

"We do not need to be heroes to save the world; all we need is humility, a critical view of the commercial and political interests of those who would mislead us into wrong-doing, and a sense of wonder." John Burnside (New Statesman, 22 April 2013)

Sunday, September 04, 2016

Creation Time Day 4

Trees and humankind have a long, rich and complicated relationship. In evolutionary theories the separation of human species from other primates involved a move away from time spent in the trees. In modern human history, farming and the building of cities has required deforestation. The forest has come to symbolise a wilder, more pristine space; a place of danger even.

Yet trees have constantly inspired awe and respect, lifting human spirits with their majesty and beauty. Towering over the human form, their longevity and their capacity for re-generation has caused trees to be revered spiritually. In the holy scriptures shared by Jews and Christians, trees are metaphors of the blessings of life,  health and prosperity; signs of the dependable presence of the divine in the world. Modern research has revealed that time amongst trees and green plants decreases measures of bodily stress and increases feelings of well-being in urban residents.

On the other hand,trees have been and continue to be vital for humanity's existence in practical ways; source of food and medicine, material for building and industry; and for fuel. Still today millions of people in rural communities across the world are dependent upon daily access to firewood for domestic use. As well as demand for tree products, the demand for more land for extensive farming is driving the destruction of tropical rain forests at an alarming rate; destroying irreplaceable habitats which contain many unique and, no doubt, as yet undiscovered species of all kinds.

There is a growing public awareness, though still not strong enough, that trees and forests need to be preserved and protected; not only for the enjoyment and refreshment of the human spirit, but to prevent irreversible loss of biodiversity, and to sustain the balance of the global climate. Burning of forests worldwide is one of the main human activities contributing to global warming; but planting more trees can combat climate change. In the United Kingdom The Forestry Commission has made climate change a major focus of its policy; and the leading woodland conservation charity The Woodland Trust is committed to creating thousand of new native woodlands across the country.

Today's photograph is a beech tree seen from the ground; captured in Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens.

"The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction." Rachel Carson.

Creation Time Day 3

The coastline has inspired and awed humanity always. It is the interface of the human habitat with the element in which we cannot naturally survive. The ancient Hebrews feared the sea as symbolic of chaos and disorder; whilst other pre-modern civilizations found ways to cross thousands of miles of ocean harnessing the wind, and using the stars for navigation.

Storm surges, flood-tides and tsunamis continue to act as a powerful reminder that the coast is a place of particular human vulnerability, where the wildness and freedom of the elements remain unconstrained by human effort. Yet the very vastness and apparently limitless power of the ocean may have contributed to the carelessness of humanity towards the coast and the sea in modern times - the false belief that since the ocean is so big our trash and waste products can be dumped in it with no repercussions.

Our society's thirst for oil and for plastic is the most obvious culprit of sea pollution and coastal degradation, when the oil is spilled and as plastic litters our beaches and finds its way into the tissues of marine life. But the greenhouse effect of releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by our burning of fossil fuels has a more widespread, if virtually invisible,  devastating effect on the oceans. Global warming leading to increases in seawater temperature causes the body of the sea to expand , one of the factors leading to the rising sea-level. And secondly, the absorption of additional carbon dioxide is causing sea water to become more acid, leading to the destruction of coral reefs and other marine ecosystems. Rising sea levels ultimately threaten many of the major concentrations of human population especially people who are poorest and, without help, have least resources to adapt.

Coastlines are also home to special and beautiful creatures sustained in unique ecosystems . Today's photograph depicts cliffs on the southern coast of the Isle of Wight. As chalk  these formation are themselves the product of the deposition of marine creature over millions of years. The British Isles is one of the richest areas in the world for seabirds with an estimated 8 million birds. For example it is home to 60% of the world's Great Skuas.

Creation Time Day 2

Photo by Lorraine Hodgson

For the second day of the Creation Time season I've selected this aerial view of the European Alps captured on a flight from Greece to London. Its stunningly beautiful snow-capped mountains and glaciers, so accessible to some of the most prosperous and densely-populated regions of the world,  have ensured the Alps are a major tourist attraction. According to some measures the Alps are the second most-visited tourist destination in the world after the Mediterranean coastline. 

For many the Alps with their towering peaks and bright white snowfields symbolise the unfettered wildness of nature. Yet the Alps are especially vulnerable to climate change. Temperatures in the region have risen by almost 2°C in the last 120 years; twice as much as the global average. Many glaciers have consistently retreated in recent decades and total ice volume today is estimated to be half what it was in 1850.

"At bottom, mountains, like all wildernesses, challenge our complacent conviction - so easy to lapse into - that the world has been made for humans by humans." Robert Macfarlane 

Thursday, September 01, 2016

World Day of Prayer for Creation

Today is the World Day of Prayer for Creation. The day for the protection of the natural environment is observed globally by the Anglican, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches . Other churches have also adopted it. Many churches including the Church of England have extended this into a special season of Creation Time, which lasts until the Feast of St Francis on 4th October.

During this time Christians are encouraged to celebrate the glory of God shown in creation, to pray for the protection of the creation; and to promote sustainability to reverse human damage to the environment including climate change. At All Saints Church Wokingham during Creation Time our main Sunday Communion service at 9.30am encourages us to cherish God's creation using a specially-adapted liturgy.

This year I will be posting every day during Creation Time a photograph from my own collection which shows the awesomeness and wonder of creation. And I will add a comment to highlight a different aspect of creation and the challenge to protect and sustain it.

For the World Day of Prayer for Creation I've chosen this beautiful image of a wheat field with wild flowers being allowed to grow alongside it. It was captured on a gloriously sunny day alongside the Ridegway, an ancient route used since prehistoric times, and now an 87 mile-long National Trail, following the high ground of chalk downs in the southern midlands of England.

I've chosen this image of wheat growing for the first day of Creation Time to highlight our dependence upon the soil and the climate for our basic foodstuffs. It reminds me too that many of the so-called natural landscapes are in fact the product of the work of humans on the earth.

Western European farmers have been encouraged to provide wildflower field margins to counteract the loss of habitat and decrease in biodiversity which results from modern intensive agriculture.

Agriculture is an all-important interface between humanity and the natural world.As well as being vital in providing food for all consumers, agriculture provides the livelihood of around a half of the world's population, concentrated especially in poorer areas. Sustainable agriculture and protection from the impact of climate change is vital to defend  millions of rural communities across the world from degradation and destitution.

"The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy, and after all our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it and to foster its renewal is our only hope."
Wendell Berry