Prince tells farmers to go back to their roots

Tenants told traditional methods will preserve the land
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The Independent Online
The Prince of Wales is urging his tenant farmers to return to the traditional methods of agriculture employed by their ancestors.

In a plea to preserve the "infinitely precious resource" of Britain's beautiful countryside, the Prince has told his tenants in the Duchy of Cornwall that the old ways of managing the land may preserve it for the future.

His land stewards and their staff are encouraging tenants of the Duchy's 222 farms to take advantage of schemes which fund practices that are sometimes regarded as old-fashioned.

In The Duchy Review, a magazine for tenants, which arrived on their doorsteps yesterday, the Prince wrote about the kind of schemes that he wanted to encourage.

With evident delight, the Prince described how some tenants on Dartmoor have established traditional apple orchards, and how others on the edge of the Wessex Downs were working to save rare downland turf.

While discussing the environmental movement's mantra of "sustainability", the need for decisions to be made today with the impact on future generations in mind, the Prince said this was only a complicated way of saying "we should operate with at least one eye fixed firmly on the long term".

He took a swipe at the large-scale, mechanistic farming of this "supposedly more advanced age" and said that traditional methods would not have survived so long if they had not been "sustainable".

He said he was encouraged by the number of tenants in the Duchy who are taking advantage of schemes to revert to traditional ways of farming and improve the look of the countryside.

Rex and Clive Hooper, brothers who farm in Mere, Wiltshire, will be entering the Duchy's new Habitat Award for their work on preserving the local habitat.

Pam Hooper, Rex's wife, said the farm looked beautiful when the wild flowers were out and attracting butterflies. "The Duchy are all for it," she said.

Lloyd Lyne, 73, who lives near Truro, Cornwall, worked with conservation volunteers to restore two ponds in his 400 acres and the Prince had paid for old buildings to be repaired with traditional slate.

But his son, Christopher, 37, said the task had not been easy. "We're running a business to make a profit, and at the moment there is very little profit to be made."

Despite the difficulties, Patrick Holden, of the Soil Association, said the Prince's influence was important and contrasted favourably with, for example, the "extremely commercial" attitude towards land shown by the Church of England's commissioners.

"I'm absolutely certain he's made a difference. If you did a league table of environmentally friendly landlords, I think the Duchy would be right at the top," Mr Holden said.

Anthony Gibson, who heads the National Farmers' Union in the South-west, said the Duchy took a "very responsible attitude", which was broadly welcomed by tenants.

"Sometimes they find it a bit difficult to comply with the environmental requirements that are laid down for them and pay the rent. But they have come to understand their landlord's aspirations and, in many cases, to share them."

Brian McLaughlin, the NFU's head of environment and land use, added that some of the practices that were being encouraged by the Prince were very recent.

The use of "managed field margins" as corridors for wildlife between cultivated fields was not at all traditional.

In concluding his article, the Prince stressed the ancient rather than the modern.

Some aspects of the countryside would change but people ought not to be embarrassed about wanting to protect "timeless things" like rare habitats and rural communities, he said.

"Nor should we forget that the traditions of management which gave them to us will also sustain them for us, and for our children and children's children."

Britain's changing farmland

The length of British hedgerows fell by 23 per cent between 1984 and 1990. Most of this was due to neglect. Ten per cent were removed completely.

The variety of plants in woodlands and upland grasslands decreased between 1984 and 1990.

Just over three-quarters of England's land area is farmed. The remainder is urbanised or is woodland, roads and reservoirs.

Only 7.5 per cent of England is woodland - one of the lowest proportions in Europe. A greater proportion is covered by villages, towns and cities. Broadleaved woodland is increasing slowly.

Ten per cent of English farmland is now within 22 Environmentally Sensitive Areas, where farmers can obtain grants for traditional farming practices such as maintaining dry stone walls.

In 1973 the average yield per hectare of wheat was 4.37 tons. In 1994 it had risen to 7.35 tons.

In 1973 English farm labourers numbered 320,100. In 1994 there were 191,000.