Duke of Edinburgh defends Madagascar mine

The Duke of Edinburgh stepped into the dispute over Madagascar's unique ecology this weekend, saying that the dangers of opening up a new titanium oxide mine under a dry littoral forest had been "blown up" by Friends of the Earth.

Andrew Lees, the environmental group's campaigns director, died in Madagascar on New Year's Eve of a heart attack while he was investigating the mining project, proposed by Rio Tinto Zinc. In January a campaign against environmentally destructive mining was launched by the group in Lees' memory. "The controversy over the mining has been blown up out of proportion," said Prince Philip, speaking to the Independent on the record after a five-day visit to Madagascar that ended on 19 March. The trip was conducted in his capacity as president of the World Wide Fund for Nature.

The Duke said that the local WWF office in Madagascar had been "slightly embarrassed" because its British director, Robin Pellew, had signed an open letter to the Madagascan President, Albert Zafy, opposing the opening of the mine.

"The thing was blown up by Friends of the Earth in the UK," Prince Philip said. "It was rather critical of the whole system. It didn't go down frightfully well, which was rather unfortunate, because it was not the position of WWF International. Those sort of things happen."

The proposed mine has been attacked by British environmentalists on the grounds that it would endanger more than two dozen species of plants and animals unique to the forest. A wholly-owned subsidiary of Rio Tinto Zinc called Qit is planning to mine three coastal areas in southern Madagascar to produce 2 billion tons of titanium dioxide over the next 40 years with an investment of at least $350m (£220m). "It's an area which is not environmentally frightfully significant. I gather it's marginal," the Duke said. "If you're an absolute purist you might say if possible, don't [mine]. If you were fairly pragmatic you could say it's actually not going to do any significant damage, provided its done in a particular way."

The WWF spends 6 per cent of its budget, $6m a year, and employs 400 people to help save the ecology of Madagascar, unique home to many animals and 3 per cent of the world's plant species. Prince Philip said the best way to help the environment was to make the people who live there realise it was in their interest to do so. "If you fly over Madagascar, it looks exactly like a huge animal bleeding in the sea. All the rivers run red and make matters worse because they clog up all the coral reefs, which are largely fish-breeding areas," he said.

The massive soil erosion was just one problem more important than the proposed mine, Prince Philip said. Another was population growth, doubling the number of inhabitants every 25 years. A third was that Madagascar, with no planes or ships, could not defend its over-fished marine reserves. A fourth was traditional cattle culture.

"They convert whatever money wealth they have into cattle. If they get more cattle and there are more people, they'll have to acquire more grazing land to put the cattle on. As a lot of the land is not at all fertile, they then encroach on the forest," he said. "One of the primary objectives of the WWF is to try and prevent this incursion of cattle and burning into national parks and protected areas. That programme has been quite successful. But the fact is that only 2 per cent of Madagascar is actually protected." Rio Tinto Zinc, co-sponsor last week of a new Queen's Scholarship for South Africa, says it can mine the titanium oxide and then put the sandy-floored forest back.

Many environmentalists dispute this claim and believe that eco-tourism would be a better substitute as a way of developing the area.

News
peopleHowards' Way actress, and former mistress of Jeffrey Archer, was 60
Sport
Romelu Lukaku puts pen to paper
sport
News
Robyn Lawley
people
Arts and Entertainment
Unhappy days: Resistance spy turned Nobel prize winner Samuel Beckett
books
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
people
Life and Style
Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson voice the show’s heroes
gamingOnce stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover
News
i100
Life and Style
Phones will be able to monitor your health, from blood pressure to heart rate, and even book a doctor’s appointment for you
techCould our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?
News
people
Extras
indybest
Travel
Ryan taming: the Celtic Tiger carrier has been trying to improve its image
travelRyanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?
Sport
Usain Bolt confirms he will run in both the heats and the finals of the men's relay at the Commonwealth Games
commonwealth games
Life and Style
Slim pickings: Spanx premium denim collection
fashionBillionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers 'thigh-trimming construction'
News
Sabina Altynbekova has said she wants to be famous for playing volleyball, not her looks
people
News
i100
Life and Style
tech'World's first man-made leaves' could use photosynthesis to help astronauts breathe
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

SAP Project Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP PROJECT MANAGER - 3 MONTHS - BERKSHI...

Senior Investment Accounting Change Manager

£600 - £700 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Senior Investment Accounting Change...

Microsoft Dynamics AX Functional Consultant

£65000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: A rare opportun...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star