Prince Charles wants to have biggest organic sheep flock in the country at Sandringham
- Credit: Archant
The Royal family have always been great landowners and farming is a passion they seem to relish. Our Royal Watcher reports.
It is perhaps no surprise that Prince Charles, it emerged this week, is to develop organic sheep farming at Sandringham.
Organic farming has long been practiced by the Prince at his extensive Duchy of Cornwall estates, indeed some have suggested he has been a pioneer for the movement espousing it in practice long before it was mainstream, and long before you could buy organic produce in every supermarket in the land.
According to the Duchy of Cornwall website 'In 1985, when it was still a relatively new concept, His Royal Highness decided to convert the Duchy Home Farm into a completely organic farming system. Twenty-eight years later, Home Farm is not only a successful and viable working farm, but a flagship for the benefits of an organic, sustainable form of agriculture.'
Whether you agree with the organic movement or not – and I'm not totally sure I always understand what organic actually means – Prince Charles cares about the environment, it is one of the things we know about him, and I have no reason to doubt his principles are passionately held.
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His interest in farming should be no surprise, he comes from a long line of farmers, with Kings and Queens holding land - a sign of power, wealth and prestige – since the monarchy began.
And today the Queen draws some of her income from the Duchy of Lancaster – a large portfolio of land that has been held by the sovereign since medieval times. It is still held as a private estate from which Her Majesty can draw an income but not capital funds. With Windsor's Home Park and the privately owned estates of Balmoral and Sandringham, the Royal family is no stranger to farming.
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Sandringham Estate, in Norfolk, is known for the apples and apple juice produced in the orchards planted by the Queen's father King George VI.
The produce from the estate's 20,000 acres also includes arable farmland growing wheat, rye and barley, timber, and organic vegetables and soft fruit - including blackcurrants which go to make Ribena, at least that's what I once heard.
In a rare interview the Queen once spoke of her passion for farming. And if she weren't who she is it wouldn't take a leap of imagination to think of her preferring the life of a country lady with dogs, wellies, horses and a farm to keep going.
When Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952 and took on the estate, she handed over the responsibility for it to her husband Prince Philip. That responsibility is now in the hands of their son Prince Charles, so perhaps it is no surprise he is making his mark.
Conservation, though often associated with the Prince of Wales, has always been a hallmark of the management of the estate under Prince Philip. Since 1952 more than two million trees have been planted, 45 new woodlands created, 40km of new hedges planted (including 7km in 2008 alone), 200km of field margins established, 160 hectares of wild bird cover established, 200 hectares of uncultivated and wildland maintained, and 10 wetlands have been created.
The great agricultural shows in both Suffolk and Norfolk regularly get royal attendance – and there seems to be a natural affinity between the farming communities and the royal family – they understand because they are farmers themselves, both livestock and arable.
But for the Royal family, there must be not only the obvious attraction of escaping from it all to the private acres of Balmoral or Sandringham but there are also the deep roots of home, planted by previous generations.
It would be easy to criticise the Royal Family by suggesting they enjoy farming in some diversionary way like Marie Antoinette dressing up as a shepherdess while leaving the real work to others - but I don't think this is fair.
Prince Philip and Prince Charles have both proved to be visionary farmers – as was Prince Albert or George III before them. And it is through their estates the Queen and her family exercise their duties as private landowners and employers to the people who work and live alongside them.
Prince Charles once said: 'It is vitally important that we can continue to say, with absolute conviction, that organic farming delivers the highest quality, best-tasting food, produced without artificial chemicals or genetic modification, and with respect for animal welfare and the environment, while helping to maintain the landscape and rural communities.'
He sounds like a serious farmer to me.
Do you have an organic farm? Do you buy organic produce? Do you agree or disagree with Prince Charles' approach? What do you think? Write to me.