Welcome to the blog of Martin and Margot Hodson! You can find out a lot about us by visiting our web site at www.hodsons.org We do not think we will use this blog very often, but we will use it to let people have details of some of our publications our speaking engagements and conferences. Some of these things seem better on a blog than on a web page, and this looks a bit easier to do as well.

Wednesday 21 December 2022

Martin and Margot Hodson, Christmas Letter 2022

Dear All,
After two years of major disruption due to the pandemic, 2022 returned to something like normal again, with just the first couple of months affected by omicron. Just as we were coming out of one crisis though the war in Ukraine began, and we still have no certainty how it will end. But for both of us we were able to travel fairly freely.

In March we visited the A Rocha France centre, Les Courmettes, for the final session with our environmental science Cross Currents IFES group. The group had lasted much longer than we had anticipated, and it was sad to see it end. We are now working with our friends from IFES on what happens next. Before our meeting we were able the stay with Chris and Alison Walley. Martin has known Chris since university days in Swansea (a long time ago!), and it was good to catch up.
May saw us return to our mid-Wales pandemic hideaway at Dyffryn Ardudwy. Lots of nice walks. Being there also enabled us to attend the long delayed memorial service for Sir John Houghton who died back in April 2020. It was a packed church to remember an amazing man. Sadly, some of Sir John’s predictions on climate change are already coming true, but we don’t think anyone was expecting the UK to hit 40C, as it did this July, so soon.

With the easing on travel restrictions, visitors have started to return once more! So we had Justus and Femke from the Netherlands; Martin’s nephew, David, and Danae from the States; Margot’s sister Karen and John from Somerset; Pam & Jan from US/Wales; Ben from A Rocha International, and most recently, Adrian from Romania concerning our IFES work. It was wonderful to be able to welcome Margot’s extended family for a lovely summer “do” in July.

Our big trip of the year was to see Martin’s family in the States in October. We had not seen most of them for three years, and it was great to catch up with them all. One highlight was a visit to the aspen forests near Flagstaff in perfect autumn colours.

Martin’s plant silica work continues to blossom. This year this included finishing off a special issue for the journal Plant and Soil, a visit to Brussels to work with archaeologist friends, and examining two doctoral theses. Still teaching at both universities in Oxford….
Meanwhile our church and environment work has been able to expand once again to in person meetings and lectures (but Zoom is still there as well!). We have been getting a lot of invitations to teach environmental issues and theology on a whole range of course and contexts (e.g. a week at Sarum College in Salisbury). Margot has joined the steering group of TCEN (Theological Colleges Environmental Network) and we had a fruitful trip to Durham in September to explore the place of environment in ministry training. In July Martin stood down as Operations Director for the John Ray Initiative after 13 years. That is one responsibility down, but there are half a dozen left!
Margot has continued her half time role at the Shill Valley and Broadshire benefice. It has undoubtedly been easier this year out of the pandemic and with her full-time colleague back after illness and we especially enjoy leading our thriving fellowship group. We hope to see many of you in 2023!
Best wishes
Martin & Margot

When we spotted bargain tickets for a match at Villa Park on 15 Dec – we did not realise it would be -2C

Tuesday 21 December 2021

Martin and Margot’s Christmas Newsletter 2021

We don’t think any of us would have expected the Covid-19 pandemic to last this long! And it still seems to have a long way to go yet. Like everyone else, our 2021 has been affected in multiple ways by the pandemic. But we have managed to fit in a lot despite the problems caused.

Martin still divides his time between secular academic work and work with the churches on the environment. He has been teaching online for Oxford University and a new thing this year has been

acting as section editor for the international journal, Plant and Soil. Margot has been doing some teaching for Ripon College, Cuddesdon and we have both spoken at a number of conferences.

The work with the John Ray Initiative has been steadily increasing, and it was particularly busy around COP26. Our distance learning course Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES) is now so popular that we had to pause admissions in June and we will reopen in January.

It was a good year for our joint publications. We wrote up a major report on environmental education in theological colleges, which seems to have had a big impact on greening a lot of colleges. The second edition of our book “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues” appeared after a lot of updating. 

It was then taken up by “The Big Church Read”, (a Christian book club), and this involved making rather a lot of videos! At the same time, we brought out “Green Reflections”, a collection of our biblical reflections, illustrated with beautiful artwork from Martin Beek.

Margot’s boss, Harry, has not been well for some time, and things took a turn for the worse at Easter and he was signed off work. He has only just returned to light duties. So, for much of the year, Margot has been running our benefice of eleven churches on three days a week! 

We had a lot of help from the deanery and most things have run pretty well. Because of Covid-19 services have varied from online to outdoor to indoors and in person, all with an ever-changing set of regulations. Hopefully, things will improve again next year.

We seem to be able to grow fruit and vegetables! With our large and wonderful garden, we do seem to be relatively successful, even if constant battles against bugs and diseases seem par for the course with organic gardening. Holidays this year have been UK-based, and often short trips. The longest was a return to mid-Wales. We also had two trips to Herefordshire and one to Staffordshire. 

With many people heading for the coast we stayed inland! Lots of walks on all of our trips and two of them were fairly genealogical. In August we had a lovely family day, with Margot’s wider family – our first get-together for many months.

So, 2021 comes to a close. For us, not a bad year. Let us hope the global situation improves next year, and we can more easily see friends and relatives again (and not just on Zoom!)

Love from,

Martin and Margot

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Christmas Letter 2020 Martin and Margot Hodson

Martin and Margot Hodson's Christmas Letter for 2020

Dear All,

Everyone in the world will say that 2020 was a different year to normal, and we are no exception! We began the year extremely busy with numerous in-person speaking events (remember those?). The highlight was Martin’s weekend trip to Guernsey in early March supporting our friends from A Rocha UK with two speaking events on Saturday and three sermons on Sunday! But then quite suddenly everything changed, and words like coronavirus, lockdown, and social distancing dominated our lives. We have been very blessed by living in such a wonderful part of the world, The Cotswolds, and we can just walk out of our Vicarage into the amazing countryside. We also have a massive garden, and actually managed to grow quite a lot of food this year, a first for us.

Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice

Alvescot Open-Air

Margot’s parish work rapidly switched from quite formal services to online film making. And when we were allowed to we had some great open-air services at Alvescot where they have a large area of church land under a huge old oak tree next to a car park- a perfect setting. Towards the end of the year there have been tentative, very careful indoor services once more. Perhaps best of all though has been the development of a fellowship group from a Lent Course, and that now operates on Zoom.


But with travels much reduced writing continued or even accelerated. Martin published three academic journal articles in 2020 and completed a two and a half year project as lead editor for “Frontiers in Phytolith Research”. That was a major job! 

Not long into the pandemic the Grove Ethics committee decided that they needed a COVID booklet. They needed it quickly- just three weeks. Working with our friends, Ruth Valerio and Tim Howles we made it with a day to spare, and “Covid-19: Environment, Justice and the Future” was published in July. 

We published our “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues” back in 2015, and it sold fairly well, but was getting a little dated. So we approached our publishers, BRF, about a second edition, and they agreed. It needed a lot of work to update it, but the 2nd edition should be published in April next year. Finally, at the same time, BRF will publish “Green Reflections”, a collection of the Bible reflections we have written over the last few years, and some new ones.


Holidays? Well, we were very grateful to fit in one at a cottage in mid-Wales in October, in between various lockdowns. We did lots of walking, saw friends in a socially distanced way, and even watched a few films!

It has, of course, been a very sad year for many people, and we have shared in that sadness. In April the President and founder of JRI, Sir John Houghton, sadly died of COVID. He was a truly great man and we were fortunate to have known him. We know of many other cases, and the pandemic is very far from over. Let us hope that the vaccines really click in next year and that 2021 can be a big improvement on 2020.

Have a good Christmas and stay safe everyone!

Martin and Margot

Sunday 1 November 2020

IPBES, Zoonoses and Biodiversity

On 29th October 2020 the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a major report entitled “IPBES Workshop on Biodiversity and Pandemics”. This looked at the links between environmental degradation and biodiversity loss and the incidence of pandemics. These links have been known about for many years, but COVID-19 has really focused attention on the problem.

Ruth Valerio posted a link to the report on Twitter on 30th October and Justin Thacker responded with three tweets:

What we're doing to the environment is atrocious, but we should be careful about linking everything to it. The evidence linking flu pandemics to environmental behaviour is not as strong as this report suggests. It is true that urbanisation and international travel increased the speed of transmission, but it's entirely possible it would have spread globally just at a slower rate without such factors. Flu pandemics are not the same as other zoonoses, and can occur without environmental degradation. The so-called Spanish Flu is evidence of that.

Ruth and I were co-authors of the recent Grove Booklet, “COVID-19: Environment, Justice and the Future”, and I wrote the section on the origins of COVID-19. So Ruth asked if I could reply. I pondered a few tweets, and decided it was too complex for that! So a short blog.

One thing to say is that the report is really good, bringing together a huge amount of literature in a logical way. So any criticisms should be seen in that light, and are certainly not intended to undermine the main thrust of the report (I am mindful of minute criticisms of the IPCC reports which were used by sceptics to try to say that the whole reports were rubbish). But Justin has a medical background and I am a scientist, and there is a place for discussion of these issues in a fair and open-minded way.

Firstly, I totally agree with Justin that we should not attempt to link everything to environmental degradation if the links are tenuous or do not exist. I have similar worries.

What does the report have to say specifically about influenza (flu)? There are 52 mentions of influenza in the report. It begins by stating, “The majority (70%) of emerging diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah encephalitis), and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV/AIDS, COVID-19), are zoonoses – i.e. are caused by microbes of animal origin. These microbes ‘spill over’ due to contact among wildlife, livestock, and people.”

It is the case that the origin of most influenza outbreaks, including the so-called Spanish Flu, seems tied to zoonosis, but in most of these events it is more likely that it was domesticated animals that were the source of the virus (particularly birds and pigs). I think if I were writing something with the title “Biodiversity and Pandemics” I would want to be clear about this. I would perhaps have a brief mention of influenza pandemics and outbreaks and then concentrate on the epidemics and pandemics that were caused by interactions with wild animals. In fact, that was the approach I took in our Grove booklet. The argument is strong enough without invoking influenza examples and muddying the water.

I would agree with Justin on his urbanisation point. COVID-19 would have spread more slowly with less urbanisation, and we can even see this at the moment in the UK where rural areas have lower infection rates than urban. I disagree though on international travel. The snag there is that a virus can spread around the world before it is properly recognised and a local lockdown can be arranged. Wuhan was probably an example of this.

So largely I find myself in agreement with Justin, but again I want to emphasise that the report is an important and useful piece of work. We can quibble about the details, but we should certainly not deny the main message.

Dr Martin Hodson

Sunday 20 September 2020

Book Sale 2020!


The Good News

We are pleased to say that the first edition of “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues”, published in 2015, has almost sold out, and we will have a new edition in 2021. Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) have agreed to us publishing a completely updated second edition in the spring of 2021. At the same time, they will be publishing a collection of our Bible reflections on environmental issues to be titled “Green Reflections”. We are very grateful to BRF for this opportunity.


The Books Under The Bed!

The Not Such Good News

The first edition of “A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues” was selling really well. Martin sold 30 copies on a visit to Guernsey at the end of February, and we were easily on target to completely sell out of our personal copies. I think you can guess what happened! Lockdown and then a whole lot of restrictions which meant all our face to face events were canceled. Soon people discovered Zoom, but selling books at Zoom meetings was much less possible. So we are left with a stock of about 80 of the first edition under our bed! What to do?


The Potentially Good News

After consultation with BRF, we have decided to sell off our remaining stock at £3 each plus post and package (they are currently £8.19 on Amazon). They will be great for you to give away to friends at church or maybe as stocking fillers at Christmas. Contact us at martinjhodson@yahoo.co.uk to make an order.

Tuesday 24 December 2019

Christmas Letter 2019 Martin and Margot Hodson

St Mary's, Haddenham

Happy Christmas for 2019 and 2018 – here is our news:

In February we celebrated ten years in Haddenham! It has been a great ten years and so much has happened. We are taking many happy memories with us and especially many friends. We also celebrated ten years of Haddenham in Transition. Thank you everyone for giving us such a special time in Wychert Vale Benefice. We miss you lots!

Moving house
In August this year we moved house to Filkins in West Oxfordshire. This came was a result of a change of roles for Margot (see below). We are enjoying our new home – though we still have unpacking to do and all those jobs needed with a new house The garden is huge and the house is big enough to have space to have people to stay, space to work, and to set up a study-library for people studying environment and faith to make use of. We still find it a bit of a surprise that we are living in the Cotswolds and it is a great place to be.

Swapping one job for two
St Peter & St Paul's, Broadwell-
one of Margot's new churches.
Last year we realised that we needed to explore a change of role for Margot. She was loving her role as Rector of the team in Wychert Vale but the environmental education work was growing well beyond a spare time activity and the John Ray Initiative (JRI) board asked Margot if she would take on an even more up-front role in speaking and teaching. We needed to find a different way of doing things. We found ourselves exploring a half-time vicar-post for Sundays and two days midweek. Shill Valley and Broadshire Benefice has lots of small parishes and the Rector, Harry MacInnes, leads the benefice as an integrated team.
The JRI Board made Margot half-time Director of Theology and Education on a self-supporting basis. Margot is really enjoying both new roles and they are keeping her busy!!

Christmas in bed!
We spent Christmas 2018 in bed with one of the worst illnesses that we could remember – we have recently concluded that it might have been whooping cough and it knocked us out for weeks. Hence no Christmas cards. The folk in Haddenham were wonderful and brought food, including Christmas dinners and lots of love. The team covered all the Christmas services, Radio 3 gave us lovely music and we emerged in January to find the Christmas tree looking all dressed up with nowhere to go!

Environment and JRI
This has been getting really busy! Our distance learning course, CRES has grown considerably, and we are now taking some overseas students. We have been speaking at evening events and day conferences and writing resources. Margot continues to do some teaching at Ripon CollegeCuddesdon and we have been running training courses for Oxford Diocese. We both continue to mentor for the IFES Graduate Impact Programme – we have a fantastic group of environmental post-grads from all over Europe and beyond.

Martin’s News
Wheat Phytolith
Martin’s work is now about 30% secular science and about 70% with the Christian environmental movement. He still teaches at both universities in Oxford, although not as much as before. Martin’s research on plant silica has suddenly taken off in quite a major way! After nearly 40 years working on it, everyone is interested. He published a major paper on carbonsequestration in phytoliths in July, which has had a lot of interest. While in the midst of the move Martin wrote three more papers which should be out next year. He has a very good collaboration with a couple of archaeologists in Brussels. That promises to make 2020 quite interesting!
During 2019, Martin passed ten years as Operations Director of JRI. Basically, he does his best to keep the whole show on the road and to supervise his wonderful administrative team, Karen and Lynda. He also leads the CRES course. Possibly the biggest change in the last year has been a considerable increase in speaking engagements. These come from many directions: JRI, A Rocha, Christians in Science, Oxford Diocese, U3A and our personal contacts. Martin’s biggest engagement this year was to speak at the Harvest Supper and two morning services at Bath Abbey! The diary is already filling up next year. Definitely not slowing down towards retirement…….

Chough on Newquay walk
We had a super holiday in Mid-Wales in May, partly at Llanarth near the coast and partly in the mountains where we had a wonderful time staying with John and Maya Bimson. It was also great to visit John and Sheila Houghton.

In November we had a very special holiday with Greg and Pam and family for a Hodsons Thanksgiving. It was wonderful to be with the family again. The grandchildren are growing up fast!

That’s all our news! Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year.

Love from Margot and Martin

Saturday 22 June 2019

Can Phytoliths Save the World?

Can Phytoliths Save the World?
Or: Plants do Carbon Capture and Storage Quite Naturally

Can Phytoliths….. Can what?? Many people have never heard of phytoliths, but I have worked on them for nearly 40 years, so let me tell you a little about them, and then I will describe some of my recent research. Yes, these unheard of phytoliths might help in the fight against climate change. But read on.
Pampas grass
Have you ever cut your hand pulling up grass? Have you noticed how sharp the edges of Pampas grass are? Have you ever been stung by a stinging nettle? This is all due to phytoliths! Soluble silica is taken up by the plants and is deposited in some of the cells as hard, solid phytoliths. If you know a little Greek you will know phyton is plant and lithos is stone or rock, so phytoliths are plant stones. They take the shape of the cells they are deposited in. So if you had a microscope you would be able to see that the edges of Pampas grass had razor sharp prickles made of silica. If you looked at the lower surface of nettle leaves you would see silica hairs which act like minute hypodermic syringes to inject poison into your skin.
When a plant dies the leaves, stems and flowers fall into the soil and are incorporated into the soil organic matter (humus). But the phytoliths are much more resistant to breakdown in the soil and can persist for hundreds or thousands of years. Because they last a long time, and have shapes and sizes that are characteristic for the plants they come from, phytoliths are used by archaeologists and palaeoecologists to work out what people grew and ate, and past environments and climates.
There is increasing interest in carbon sequestration in soils. It is recognised that the soil is a huge carbon store and that if we could find ways of increasing that storage then it could really help to suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. But one of the big problems with this idea is that carbon sequestration in the soil is reversible. So once plant materials enter the soil and form humus it is susceptible to breakdown, releasing the carbon dioxide back to the atmosphere.
Back in 2005 some Australian phytolith experts, Parr and Sullivan, had a brilliant idea. They realised that phytoliths encapsulate carbon within their structures. According to their calculations, phytoliths store a lot of carbon in the soil and potentially sequester it within the silica for a very long time. Their paper and their idea created a whole new area of phytolith research. The idea has not been without controversy, particularly over how much carbon can be stored in phytoliths. Nonetheless, the area remains a major focus for phytolith research.
In the 1980s I spent a long time looking at how phytoliths developed within the plant, and I have kept up this interest, publishing a major review on the topic in 2016. Plants have two main types of phytolith: those developing in the cell lumen; and those that form in the cell wall on a carbohydrate (largely cellulose) matrix. If you did biology at school you might remember the cell wall as a kind of box around the lumen. The lumen contains the cytoplasm and all of the organelles, including the chloroplasts, nucleus etc.
I was invited by the Frontiers journal organisation in 2017 to be a guest associate editor for a special collection of papers, "Frontiers in Phytolith Research". I assembled an editorial team of experts from around the world and started to invite potential authors. But what would I write my own paper on? I decided that I wanted to look at one aspect of the carbon sequestration in phytoliths story that I felt had been neglected. Which types of phytolith are most important in storing carbon in the soil? Is it the cell lumen or the cell wall types?
Wheat inflorescence phytolith
To answer this question I needed to consult a wide range of literature. I began by outlining the history of carbon sequestration in phytoliths and discussing the major methodological controversy over how much carbon they contain. Next, I wanted to determine exactly which phytoliths were cell wall phytoliths. In most cases, it is pretty obvious, but there is one important type where we lack clarity. Then I looked at what is known about carbon concentrations in the two types of phytolith, and not surprisingly the cell wall types have much more carbon than the lumen types.
I then needed to find out what happened to the two types of phytolith in the soil. The received wisdom is that cell wall phytoliths break down faster in soil than lumen types. But I carried out a major literature survey looking for evidence to support this contention, and I couldn't find any! Moreover, when I investigated the archaeological and palaeoecological literature I found that cell wall phytoliths were present in a wide range of contexts and could be found in samples that were thousands of years old. Having done all this, I then constructed two hypotheses: one to consider what happens to phytoliths when they are prepared in the laboratory (this also addressed the question of how much carbon is stored in phytoliths); and the second concerned what happens in the soil.
Can phytoliths save the world? Probably not! But I think we need to look far more carefully at the rather neglected cell wall phytoliths. As I say in my paper, phytoliths are unlikely to be a "silver bullet" for climate change, but they may have a role to play. We are spending large amounts of time, money and energy on trying to get carbon capture and storage to work on power stations. Why not see if plants can do it naturally? Can we find ways to increase carbon sequestration in phytoliths and in soils? In my paper, I have outlined a whole lot of work that we need to do over the next few years. Let's get on and do it!

Martin J. Hodson
(July 2019)

1) Pampas grass image- Shirley Hirst on Pixabay:
2) Wheat inflorescence phytolith- MJH