EXCERPT:

UNITED KINGDOM — Druidry is to become the first pagan practice to be given official recognition as a religion [in Britain]. The Charity Commission has accepted that druids' worship of natural spirits could be seen as religious activity. The Druid Network's charitable status entitles it to tax breaks, but the organisation says it does not earn enough to benefit from this.

The commission says the network's work in promoting druidry as a religion is in the public interest. The move comes thousands of years after the first druids worshipped in Britain. Druidry was one the first known spiritual practices in Britain, and druids existed in Celtic societies elsewhere in Europe as well.

Phil Ryder, chairman of the trustees of the Druid Network told the BBC: "It's nice to have that official recognition. It's not why we applied originally. We applied because we were legally obliged to do so."

He said the organisation represented around 350 people who had paid £10 each for membership but referred to a BBC Inside Out investigation from 2003 which suggested that up to 10,000 people described themselves as druids.

He added: "You have to apply [for charitable status] if you're an organisation that is taking money off people because the Inland Revenue want to know what you're doing with it."

BBC religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott says that with concern for the environment growing and the influence of mainstream faiths waning, druidry is flourishing more now than at any time since the arrival of Christianity.

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