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Church Commissioners

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 17 June 2021

The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—

Church Estates: Rewilding, Tree-planting and Sustainable Farming

Ahead of the new environmental land management schemes, we are undertaking a natural capital audit across our rural holdings. The report, which is expected later this year, will include a review of woodland management and new tree planting, including riparian planting.

The Church is a significant UK landowner, owning 105,000 acres of land, with a property portfolio worth over £2 billion. May I ask what plans it has for rewilding, tree planting and sustainable farming on its estates, as well as for being more transparent about what land it owns and how that land is used?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that like him I want to see a lot more trees planted. The Church in 2020 planted 1.1 million trees, on top of the 2.6 million we planted in 2019. Page 24 of the 2020 annual report shows our top 20 property holdings and our top 20 equity holdings.

The Church of England is in the business of restoration. Yet over the centuries we have seen our natural habitats retreat into manufactured and managed landscapes, which are just ineffective at balancing our delicate ecosystem. As a significant landowner lagging behind the national ambition on rewilding as well as planting, what are the next steps the Church will take to build our natural cathedrals of woodlands and wildernesses ahead of COP26? How much will it invest in that project, and will it set a diocesan and local church challenge in this year of COP26 for them to play their part too?

There was a lot there, but I will do my best. I can tell the hon. Lady that, of the 184,000 acres we own in total, 92,000 acres are timber, but she is right that there is more to do. I will be attending the Groundswell conference next week, as will some members of the Church Commissioners, along with a number of Environment Ministers, and we are very conscious of the important issues that she raises.

Investment in Companies: Transparency and Low Carbon Economy

What progress the Church of England has made on engaging the companies it has invested in to (a) improve transparency and (b) transition to a low carbon economy. (901329)

The commissioners have a long history of leveraging their position as an investor to increase transparency and to make sure that companies are Paris-aligned—most recently, with ExxonMobil. The commissioners’ work alongside other investors can often play a leading role in organisations such as Climate Action 100+, the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment and the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change.

This week, the Young Christian Climate Network began its relay for justice, where over 500 young people will take part in the trek from Truro Cathedral to Glasgow to call for bold action from our political and religious leaders. We all know that warm words will not stop the earth’s temperature rising, and although I very much welcome the update from the commissioner today, will he confirm that every component of the Church, including the commissioners, is on track to reach zero carbon by 2030?

All parts of the Church are absolutely committed to reaching net zero. The Church will shortly be meeting Environment Ministers to see what more we can do together, and our ethical investing has won a number of awards in that area.