Peterborough Cathedral will ring its tolling bell 492 times on Wednesday (September 22) in tune with the UN Biodiversity talks in New York – one toll for each animal and plant species that England has lost.
As bells toll at UN headquarters in both New York and Nairobi, the bell at Peterborough will peal nearly 500 times in support of the UN General Assembly discussing, for the first time ever, the crisis affecting the world’s biodiversity. Other churches across the country are also ringing in support.
Oil is major cause of the destruction. If an oil spill similar to that in the Gulf of Mexico were to happen in the North Sea, it would devastate the Wattenmeer, one of the most fragile and important biodiversity hotspots in northern Europe, experts have warned.
The North Sea, extending some 750,000 sq km, is one of the areas of the world with intense maritime oil and gas drilling. Some 600 platforms operate in the region around Britain, Denmark, Deutschland, and Norway.
In addition, the North Sea is crisscrossed by navigation routes - some 100,000 ships cross the region per year - raising the probability of an accident. Experts say it is a miracle that the oil industry has not yet caused a catastophic accident.
The Church of England has nevertheless continued to seek to make money out of oil. Some of its largest shareholdings - worth hunderds of millions of pounds - are in oil companies such as BP and Shell.
Research published earlier this year by Natural England showed that 492 species have already been lost in England, underlining the importance of how plants, animals and life are all linked and the loss of one species through human actions can affect many others.
This year was declared the UN 2010 International Year of Biodiversity (IYB) and the Church of England through its Shrinking the Footprint campaign is one of the official partners in the UK.
The Dean of Peterborough, the Very Rev Charles Taylor, said: “Each toll of the bell represents one species of plant or animal which is gone from England, probably forever.
"These losses matter. They represent a flower or a butterfly that you and I will never see. They are symbolic of the damage that humans have caused to our World, to God’s World. We have a duty to look after this planet for future generations, and we are currently failing in this duty. We are pleased to join Churches and others around the World, giving encouragement to World leaders to take strong action to reverse the current declines in nature.”
Dr Pete Brotherton, Head of Biodiversity for Natural England said: “The loss of biodiversity across the globe affects us all - in England alone, we have lost more than 400 species in the last 200 years. The church bells ringing out today are a timely reminder of what’s at stake and of the need to ensure we do all we can to avoid losses of this scale occurring in the future.”
David Shreeve, the Church of England’s national environment adviser, said: “The UN has invited anyone with a bell to ring it for biodiversity, showing how actively involved the Church is in environmental issues and concerns.”