26 Apr 2021

Eco-Diocese: City Forest project in Palermo

Paolo Coniglio-Pringle and Deborah Halliday from Holy Cross Church Palermo, Sicily share this innovative story of developing a City Forest, a microcosm oasis and a bio diversity sustainability project:

Spring is in the air at the Church of the Holy Cross and in a pocket-sized flower bed of just two square meters, usually the destination of last Christmas’s poinsettias, Palermo’s first sustainability concept of City Forest was developed to become a microcosm paradise for nature. The project is also the first one of its kind in a church yard within the Diocese in Europe, Church of England.

The City Forest, the idea of the Treasurer and Environmental Officer, Paolo Coniglio-Pringle, and Safeguarding Officer, Deborah Halliday, both inspired by David Attenborough's "A Life on Our Planet" and by the Natural History Museum’s project to transform five-acre gardens into an exemplar of urban wildlife, is a bio diversity project envisaged to promote sustainability and create a microcosm heaven in Palermo.

Inviting and encouraging inner city flora and fauna to find an oasis, the City Forest is today a place for small birds to come drink, feed and nest in the previously semi-abandoned flower bed and over pruned trees that will now be encouraged to fill out more naturally. It is also hoped that the solitary “bee hotel” will become fully booked and that the bat box will soon be home to a brood of pups, as well as providing a quiet spot for meditation and prayer.

The small congregation showed immediately their enthusiasm for the project by generously donating, covering the initial cost of buying the plants and accessories within two weeks of its announcement.  During Covid-19, this chaplaincy had a congregation of around 24 who managed to raise €265 in just one Sunday service.

The plants had to be carefully chosen to suit the shady, limited plot and shallow soil, as well as to attract pollinators; to this has been added a small gazebo, which soon will be covered by two climbing hydrangeas, a bird bath, nesting baskets, feeders, a solitary bee hotel and a bat nesting box. Other plants include azalea, camellia, westringea, lorpetalum, chamaedorea, and a variety of ferns. All the accessories are made of natural material and no item with plastic was installed.

The City Forest is having an unexpected spin-off and positive domino effect on neighbours who are “greening” their balconies and windowsills, and in their gardens!  The notion is that you do not need to create a wild flower meadow: a windowsill, a doorstep, a balcony or a terrace is space enough to have plants that will attract butterflies and bees, and at the same time clean the air and give a sense of wellbeing.   

Holy Cross Palermo officially inaugurated the first City Wild Forest in Palermo on Sunday, 18 April, ahead of World Earth Day 2021 on Thursday, 22 April.

Watch Fr. Russ Ruffino bless the new City Forest here 

In addition, we have set up a JustGiving Palermo City Forest page which is linked to the Diocese in Europe JustGiving account.

Donations will help Holy Cross Church, Palermo promote the City Forest concept to increase awareness on “building nature rather than destroying it”, and funds will be used to buy on a regular basis the necessary bird food and new plants which will be given to the local community and visitors.

We hope you will be inspired and motivated, too! The congregation at Holy Cross, Palermo wishes to see several other city forests developed in church yards across the Diocese in Europe, and we are happy to share ideas.

For further information you may send an email to: 

You can follow our progress on the chaplaincy Facebook page: