THE small church of St Mary the Virgin, Embsay with Eastby, has done itself proud by becoming the first in the Leeds Anglican Diocese to be given an Eco Church Gold Award.

The church became the 33rd in England to receive the much coveted award from Eco Church - an A Rocha UK award scheme for churches in England and Wales who want to demonstrate that the 'gospel is good news for God’s earth'. As a 'gold-awarded church', it was told it has a 'treasure trove' of learning that others can benefit from.

Steps to achieve carbon neutrality at the church, which has had its own eco-group since 2019, include bird and bat boxes in the churchyard, as well as better habitats for hedgehogs and other wildlife, recycling, tree planting, use of a water butt and replacing its gas boiler with electric heating. It has also encouraged the congregation to carry out their own carbon footprint audit and takes part in the national 'Churches Count on Nature' initiative to assess the biodiversity in the church grounds.

St Mary's, says it is keen to share what it has learned with other churches to help them get an Eco Church award and to help them achieve carbon zero.

Churches wanting to work towards an Eco Church award complete the Rocha UK projects's online survey to see how they are doing and following a visit from a church assessor can be awarded a bronze, silver or rare gold award.

Eco Church says its vision is for churches of all denominations to care for creation as an integral part of loving their neighbours and following God faithfully and encourages all churches to help bring that vision to reality by participating.

Following a visit in early May by an Eco Church assessor, involving searching questions and inspection of work taking place at St Mary's, the team behind it all was delighted to be told it had been given a gold award.

Sara Kandiah, Rocha UK Eco Church officer, in her letter to St Mary's congratulated the team for its strength and the 'way you all work harmoniously together and support each other'.

She continued: "For a small church there are a large number of people involved in the eco group and you're regularly sharing your journey with the congregation and including them in decision making, particularly around replacement of the gas boiler. "

Praise was given for an ongoing plan to reduce the church's carbon emissions by replacing the gas boiler with electric heating, for using a green tariff and an 'openness' towards the learning from the 360Carbon website. Also a 'passion and creativity' about managing land in a wildlife-friendly way and raising awareness within the community.

The church's recycling area was praised for being 'more comprehensive than most' while it was clear from the church website that 'caring for creation is a priority.

Sara concluded: “We wholeheartedly endorse all that you are already doing around championing and influencing others around creation care. We are always looking for ways to connect with other Eco Churches to share best practices, and as a gold-awarded church, you have a deep treasure trove of learning that others can benefit from."

Diana Linford, parish environment officer, responded to the news “We have a small but very active Eco Group at St Mary’s and have the strong support of our vicar and congregation. We do feel that caring for creation is embedded in the life of our church community and we are delighted to have received the Gold Eco Church Award.”

St Mary’s vicar Rev Canon Marion Russell comments, “It’s a great honour to be given this Gold Award, and we are grateful for the Eco Church Award structure and encouragement that comes for A Rocha UK to guide us to think and act more deeply with awareness of caring for God’s creation.

"We are committed to continuing our journey through learning more and sharing in our community and with other churches and groups.”

Leeds Diocesan Environment Officer Jemima Parker added her congratulations: “This is a tremendous result and shows just what can be achieved – well done St Mary’s!”

The team at St Mary’s have learned a great deal from their progression through the three levels of award and are very willing to share what they have learned with other churches. Its website: provides a glimpse of what it has been doing. People can also email: