Growing up in the rural heartland of County Derry in the 1950s has had a profound impact on me.  I have always loved the countryside and appreciated the beauty of the landscape.

Our home in Bovevagh did not have had many mod cons! What we lacked in amenities was compensated for by the richness of the rural countryside.

I can still hear the call of the curlew, the unique sound of the corncrake and the cuckoos in spring.  I recall walking through the carpets of bluebells in the “wee glen” looking for pockets of primroses. We had views across the Roe Valley to Benbradagh – an ever-changing vista. There were four seasons of patterns and colours – from the ploughed fields in winter, to spring sowing of crops, which gave way to green shoots and later harvest gold.

Regretfully toxic fertilisers and pesticides have blighted so much of that beautiful landscape. Discarded waste from take away food packaging, drinks bottles and cans litter the hedgerows. It seems like people dump their detritus at will.

According to Keep Northern Ireland Beautiful, 45% of the public openly admit to littering, contributing to the £29 million cost of annual street cleaning for 2018-2019. The pandemic has seen an increase in the litter problem. How did we ever get to this state?

When I was a youngster, I attended the local Parish Church where I was taught the Catechism. There were two key sections.  The first was my duty towards God and the second was my duty toward my neighbour.  Both these vital lessons based on the Ten Commandments were woven into my faith and life.  My duty towards my neighbour is to love them as myself, and to do to other people, as I would wish them to do to me.

Later when I came in to a vital faith at the age of 19 that experience sharpened my focus on loving God, my neighbour and the world around me…

Heaven above is softer blue,

Earth around is sweeter green;

Something lives in every hue

Christless eyes have never seen:

Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,

Flowers with deeper beauties shine,

Since I know, as now I know,

I am His, and He is mine.

My faith experience resulted in my having a greater awareness of life’s values and the practical out working of my faith and Christian values. Whilst back in those pre-Millennium days I heard little talk on environmental issues within Christian circles, yet there were some Christian Leaders ringing the alarm bells.

Billy Graham speaking about why should we be concerned about the environment said: “It isn’t just because of the dangers we face from pollution, climate change, or other environmental problems—although these are serious.  For Christians, the issue is much deeper: We know that God created the world, and it belongs to Him, not us. Because of this, we are only stewards or trustees of God’s creation, and we are not to abuse or neglect it.  The Bible says, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1). When we fail to see the world as God’s creation, we will end up abusing it.  Selfishness and greed take over, and we end up not caring about the environment or the problems we’re creating for future generations”

Now environmental issues and global warming are daily demanding our attention and drastic action is urgently required. There are practical steps we can all take. The Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, said “You are never too small to make a difference” – to this I would add that all acts no matter how small have a cumulative effect.  Therefore, for me, my love for God and my love for my neighbour has resulted in taking some positive action …

 Setting up a Neighborhood Watch and connecting one hundred and seventy homes in the Norwood area of East Belfast.  We have several active WhatsApp Groups including a Prayer Group praying for community issues.  As a result, we have created a safer community, reduced the fear of crime and established meaningful friendships. For me this is a natural and practical outworking of “Loving my Neighbour.”

 Social Media. I use many of the platforms at my disposal to share good news and offer practical help. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, InYourArea, Next Door & Instagram – all are vehicles for the dissemination of positive news and a ministry of encouragement, pushing back the tides of darkness, bringing hope and encouragement and sharing practical ways of caring for and saving the environment.

 Litter picking along the roads and in the parks in my neighbourhood is a further expression of my faith. I want to be a wise steward of all that God has entrusted to me and in caring for my neighbour; I want our neighbourhoods to be a place of beauty.

Being a volunteer gardener and creating flowerbeds (in our caravan park) is my way of highlighting to others the wonder of nature.  Small acts that all combine to make a difference!

My prayer is that out-workings of COP26 will result in radical changes and that as we save the planet others will see the beauty of God in nature and value the world around them.

Peter Quigley is a motivator, mentor and community activist “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” (Martin Luther King)

Please note that the statements and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Contemporary Christianity.