The reason the church owns the forests
The church’s properties comprise churches, cemeteries, land and forest. In total this is about 400,000 hectares of productive forestry and 95,000 hectares of agricultural land – circa 1% of all land in Sweden.
Since the Middle Ages
The church’s ownership of the land dates back to the Middle Ages. Sweden’s first Christian king, Olaf Skötkonung built churches and installed priests as far back as the 1000s. Wages for the priests came from the congregation’s ‘tenth’ but was also provided from cultivation land and forest for fuel and timber. In 1527 Gustav Vasa claimed most of the church’s property for the state. The land that the church was allowed to keep is to a large extent the same as today’s holdings.
Keeping church fees low
Even if the church’s properties and funds are still called “priest-salary assets” the returns do not go solely to paying the priests, but also to pay the majority of the church operational costs, thus keeping the church fees low.
The diocese forests
The forests of Skara diocese comprise around 25,000 hectares of productive forest. Forestry is run commercially but with an overall objective – “Use but do not consume”. The practical forestry is undertaken so that the forest, as an environment and living space for man, animals and diverse plants, is maintained and developed.
Maintaining nature conservation is a natural part of forestry and agriculture on the church’s lands. Preserving threatened environments and plants is most important, but measures to facilitate outdoor pursuits and exercise are also prioritised. Practically all church-owned land also grants leases for hunting, wildlife control, and fishing.
Key biotope habitats
According to law, large forest-owners must themselves investigate the threatened species in their own forests. Areas that contain valuable species are called key biotope habitats and are registered with the Forestry Commission. On diocese land there are over 100 key biotope habitats extending to 300 hectares. This is equivalent to just over one percent of the diocese’ productive forest lands. Preservation of key biotope habitats sometimes requires them to be undisturbed but also maintained. For example, one may need to cut down propagating spruces on marshland with rich vegetation.
The Church wants to take on more of its environmental responsibilities than is required by the Forestry Conservation Act. Amongst other things the church establishes its own protected areas. The first diocese reserve of the Skara diocese, Gullängen, was established in 1990. Second to that, in 1992, Oxhagens diocese reserve in Berg, Lerdala, was inaugurated with the cooperation of Bishop Lars-Göran Lönnermark among others. Subsequently a further 22 diocese reserves have been established. The County Administrative Board has also designated nature reserves, in whole or in part, on land belonging to the diocese. Today there are about 2,600 hectares of reserves on church lands.