THE CHURCH of Scotland came under fierce criticism this week, after it's 'environmental chaplain' endorsed giving up meat for the duration of Lent.

Facing pressure from figures within its own organisation and the wider rural industry, the CoS has since stressed that a meat-free Lent is not its official policy, and published an 'alternative view' in support of eating meat, released as The Scottish Farmer went to press.

Towards the end of February, the environmental chaplain for the church's 'Eco-Congregation', Reverend David Coleman, revealed that he would be giving up meat during the 40-day Lent period and encouraged church members to do likewise: “It’s very easy to just sit back and lament, in resignation, at the alarming damage that is being done – now at a brutal pace – to everything which feeds and provides habitat both to us and our fellow creatures,” he said. “How appropriate to dedicate and channel Lent towards greater environmental awareness and personal active participation in our response."

However, it is well known that a huge part of Scotland’s church community has strong ties with the farming industry and Scotland’s dedicated farming industry chaplain, Reverend Chris Blackshaw, expressed his own disappointment in the message being delivered via his organisation: “I am sure the message being delivered began with the best intentions, however, the wider church community were not consulted, or else this would never have gone ahead in the first place.

“Through my position as farming minister, part of my role is to promote the industry and the food farmers produce – so this is a message I am not prepared to support," said Rev Blackshaw. “It’s all got a little out of proportion without all of the facts being shared. There is a lot of land in Scotland which you can’t do anything with but graze and if we didn’t have livestock on this ground it would get into a terrible mess.

“We should be using Lent in a positive way which doesn’t have repercussions on farming, but does pave the way to more environmentally friendly behaviour. If individuals want to reduce their carbon footprint, they could give up one aeroplane journey a year or take the time to shop locally and reduce their impact that way,” he suggested.

Rev Blackshaw, who looks after a small holding, keeping pigs, cows and sheep, suggested that now is the time to be telling people to stop buying food from all over the world and to start buying within a 30-mile radius: “Go visit your local farm shop and buy meat and eggs from the farm – let’s put a positive spin on this and get some local trade going,” he urged.

This message was reiterated by the Moderator of the General Assembly of the CoS, Rt Rev Susan Brown, who expressed her support for the farming community: "Scottish farmers work hard to give us some of the highest quality meat and dairy produce in the world. And if you haven’t noticed, it’s a tough economy for farmers with an uncertain future," she said, adding that she would not be giving up meat for Lent. "Shopping local is what counts. I am choosing to put on the table Scottish food, from farms I know, produced and grown by people I know. That way I will help create a climate of change for everyone," she concluded.