A Rocha International, representing the family of A Rocha organizations around the world, has recently joined ConservationNOW. So, who are we? And how do we fit into the ecosystem of conservation organisations?

In a nutshell, A Rocha is a Christian organization engaging communities in nature conservation. We respond to the global crisis of biodiversity loss mainly by carrying out community-based conservation projects.  Our first initiative was a field study centre in Portugal, established in the 1980s, and so our name is Portuguese and means ‘The Rock’. Since then, we’ve grown and are now active in over twenty countries across six continents. Through residential field study centres, site-based projects and wider advocacy, A Rocha:

  • Carries out ecological monitoring and research in areas of high value for wildlife;
  • Spearheads practical measures for conserving and restoring habitats and their fauna and flora;
  • Encourages appreciation of nature and participation in its conservation, through environmental education and community outreach;
  • Provides a forum for understanding the relevance of the Christian faith to environmental issues, working with and through churches, faith-based organisations and in diverse communities.

The Kirosa Scott Reserve is a sanctuary of protection in the Dakatcha woodlands, Kenya (Colin Jackson)

As a faith-based nature-conservation organization A Rocha is clearly unusual (ecologically distinct!) within the world of biodiversity conservation. So, what characterises our take on Conservation Optimism? In particular, at a time when we are all overwhelmed by a tide of worrying forecasts, tragic losses of wildlife and ecosystems, and political extremism and indifference, where can we find cause for optimism or hope?

  • Good news breeds optimism … bad news sinks hearts. Psychologists are clear that we need positive stories to inspire us. If we only list the terrible things that are happening to nature, we make people feel terrible and powerless. There are genuinely positive stories: key species and habitats are recovering due to long-term, carefully-targeted, scientifically-informed, community-involved conservation work. In A Rocha’s work, we’ve seen a derelict urban dump in the UK turned into a nature-filled park, a middle-eastern wetland threatened by hunting and drainage now restored and thriving, a New Zealand seabird devastated by invasive predators restored to breeding success, and Kenyan forests, estuaries and coral reefs studied and protected through good science and community engagement. We are also seeing Christians around the world grasping that their faith must be good news for God’s earth. Of course, we face challenges and disappointments too, but it’s the good news stories that provide inspiration.
  • Optimism alone is not enough, nor is short-term hope based on the belief that humans will make good choices, or that all we need is more science, more education, more clever technology, and nature will heal herself. Blind optimism and false hope will always be shattered by the harsh realities of setbacks and loss. Things are inevitably going to get worse, but that does not mean we give up or lose hope.
  • Biblical hope offers one alternative to optimism and short-term hope. It is fundamentally relational, and doesn’t depend on our activism, but invites us to play our part within God’s renewing work, and with others who share our vision whether or not they share our faith. Biblical hope always seeks to be rooted in the local, the long-term, in patient commitment to unpopular causes, places and people. It is also always ‘both-and’ rather than ‘either-or’, because it has an integrated vision of God’s purpose for all creation. So, solutions that favour one group, or people over wildlife, or short-term versus long-term, or profit over planet, or global over local are never enough.

Oi or Grey-faced Petrel chick, New Zealand (James Russell)

Finally, Biblical hope depends on long-term certainties, not short-term results. In A Rocha, we see hope for the earth and its wildlife as a fact of future truth rooted in God’s character and promises, so current failures and disappointments upset us but don’t change that hope. It’s what allows us, in Wendell Berry’s wonderful line, to “be joyful, though you have considered all the facts.”[1] Biblical hope is not always optimistic, because it allows space for lament and grief for all that is lost, yet it always perseveres because it knows that new life follows death as day follows night, that Good Friday is followed by Easter Sunday, that a wounded world will one day be transformed. That’s what makes us get out of bed in the morning and gives us motivation to work hard for conservation and hope.

Revd. Dr. Dave Bookless is Director of Theology for A Rocha International

[1] From ‘The Mad Farmer Liberation Front’ in W. Berry, The Mad Farmer Poems, Counterpoint, 2014


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