‘Christ Church Bioversity’ involves the stewardship of nature across our campus network.  In Canterbury if focuses on the creation of a unique identity and sense of place based on our central location in the Canterbury UNESCO World Heritage Site (WHS). The site, which includes our own campus within the former precincts of St Augustine's Abbey, is recognized as being a centre of learning for over fourteen hundred years. The WHS also includes Canterbury Cathedral and St Martin’s Church (the oldest Church in in the English speaking world still used for worship). Heritage also forms an important element of our approach to biodiversity and stewardship at our other sites.

The focus of the ‘Bioversity’ concept is on the enrichment of student and staff experience through contact with nature.  In Canterbury we aim to transform our site into an urban biodiversity hub which reflects its rich cultural and environmental heritage, but which also focuses on the future through our concern for social and environmental responsibility. Biodiversity is a fundamental to all aspects of life on our planet, without diverse ecological systems, and the plants, animals and other organisms that live and inhabit them, we could not survive.

The ‘Christ Church Bioversity’ concept supports our core values and activities - teaching, learning and research.

The concept focuses on our responsibility for the environment in which we work and the communities we serve. The concept is underpinned by the adoption of a Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) (in preparation) for the University as part of the Canterbury WHS[1], with the University at its heart in terms of both the intellectual capital involved and innovative use of estate. The transformation will involve developing the wildlife and biodiversity potential of the site by nurturing current sites, and innovative restoration and management elsewhere. This would include planting species and rare varieties that represent the monastic and other traditions of the site, and the wider Kentish agricultural and environmental heritage; for example, heritage varieties of apples and pears. The scheme will look to the future, not just the past, and engage with such issues as local food initiatives, protection of biodiversity, and community health and well-being. The concept will work if CCCU initiated this development alone, but we are also seeking to engage other stakeholders in the WHS and the wider community.

How is this central to a unique identity for the University? The concept focuses specifically on cultural aspects of biodiversity in relation to the history and heritage of our sites and will be explicitly linked to the fact that the Christ Church and St. Augustine’s has been a centre of knowledge, community and stewardship in the city for over fourteen hundred years, or the importance of science to the Salomons family (Salomons Campus near Tunbridge Wells). In Canterbury stewardship of natural resources would have been fundamental to the early monastic community, with their requirements for self-sufficiency, health and well being. In the seventeenth century, the naturalist and gardener John Tradescant laid much of the grounds to elaborate mazes and knot gardens, but also developed innovative means of growing melons. Prior to the purchase of the land for the original Christ Church College, much of the site was commercial orchards. This tradition continues with our own work in the natural sciences, and specifically the work of the Ecology Research Group (ERG), Dept. of Geographical and Life Sciences, in areas such natural pest control of green houses.

Stewardship of the natural world is a strong ideal with which all current staff and students can empathise, whatever their background or view of the ‘sustainability agenda’. It provides continuity between past, present and future linked to a strong sense of place. Good stewardship of our estate reflects our wider concern for the environment (‘Think globally, act locally’) and helps us to make direct links with other day to day issues of environmental (e.g. climate change) and social responsibility (e.g. mental health) which may otherwise be difficult to capture in a holistic and strategic manner.

The rationale for choosing to focus on biodiversity is explicitly linked to the cultural context of the World Heritage Site and our Church of England foundation but also includes the wider regional heritage of all our sites.  A concern for ‘stewardship of the natural world’, whatever a person’s background, theist, deist, agnostic or naturalist, can transcend their different views of ‘creation’. Mobilised through the Bioversity initiative, this concern provides the focus for a unique sense of place and meaning.

The Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) will focus on species and habitat biodiversity in our current pocket habitats.  Although our Salomons site contains extensive grounds, including woodland and parkland, these pocket habitats make up a surprisingly significant part of our estate, and in Canterbury for example, provides ‘green links’ to the rest of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the wider city. The BAP will focus on cultural biodiversity linked to sense of place and heritage – parkland, orchards, vineyard, medicinal and culinary herb gardens and other key elements of our sites and provide continuity with communities and knowledge systems of the abbey and cathedral communities and knowledge systems of the past (e.g. specimen the Eleventh Century Canterbury Herbal, now held in the Bodleian).

The BAP will also create connections with the wider community, generate innovations in teaching, learning and research across the arts and sciences, and into health and wellbeing, education and even business studies. It would be a motivational focus for our approach to social and environmental responsibility.  

The Bioversity concept provides a clear link to the wider sustainability agenda. While some staff and students are enthusiastic about issues such as waste management, travel plans and energy saving, they can be a turn-off to many others. The focus on stewardship through biodiversity provides a launch-pad for a wider engagement with the sustainability agenda, and also links the local and the global.

[1] UNESCO recognises two types of World Heritage Sites, those with cultural or natural significance, so exceptional that they transcend national boundaries and are of importance for present and future generations. By regarding heritage as both cultural and natural, the World Heritage Convention exemplifies the value placed on both culture and nature and the need to preserve the balance between the two.