A CLEAR majority of churchgoers believe that tenant farmers on land owned by the Church of England should adopt organic or regenerative practices and rear their livestock using ‘free range’ systems, according to a new study.

A survey of 605 regular churchgoers was undertaken as part of a study on food and farming for Green Christian led by Tim Cooper, Emeritus Professor of Sustainable Design and Consumption at Nottingham Trent University.

Preliminary findings were released ahead of a debate on Land and Nature at the Church of England’s General Synod this weekend.

Over 57 per cent of respondents indicated that tenant farmers on church land should be either ‘required’ or ‘encouraged’ to adopt organic or regenerative practices and rear their livestock using ‘free range’ systems. By comparison, 26 per cent thought that they should have to follow a set of minimum standards such as the ‘Red Tractor’ scheme, while a mere 18 per cent said they should have complete freedom to choose their preferred farming practices.

Respondents attending Church of England churches were slightly more inclined to favour stricter guidelines: only 13 per cent thought that its tenant farmers should be free to choose their farming practices.

An amendment is due to be tabled to the Synod motion requesting the Church Commissioners to report back on their progress with engagement and collaboration with tenants about sustainable farming.

Commenting on the survey findings, Professor Cooper, a co-founder and trustee of Green Christian, said: “Our survey provides clear evidence that churchgoers want the substantial agricultural assets owned by the Church of England to be farmed according to organic or regenerative practices and for its tenant farmers to rear their livestock on ‘free range’ principles.

While recent reports suggest some progress in promoting sustainable farming, this needs to be accelerated and accompanied by efforts to ensure that factory farming does not occur on church land. The Church should be leading by example, not following cultural trends.”

The Church of England is one of Britain’s largest landowners. The Church Commissioners own over 85,000 acres of agricultural land, and much of the 75,000 of glebe land owned by dioceses is agricultural.

* Source: Green Christian