Prince Charles, who has called on the world to wake up to the threat of catastrophe from climate change, has been accused of environmental vandalism.
The Duchy of Cornwall, which the Prince of Wales holds in trust and which provides him with an annual income of almost £18m, was ordered by a court yesterday to hand over environmental data about a controversial oyster farm it owns.
The Duchy of Cornwall Oyster Farm at Port Navas, on the River Helford in Cornwall, cultivates Pacific oysters, a non-native species which local campaigner Michael Bruton believes is damaging the natural habitat of a Special Area of Conservation.
Mr Bruton was celebrating yesterday after the First-tier Tribunal on information rights ruled that the Duchy of Cornwall must hand over documents relating to the environmental impact of the oysters on the native wildlife.
The ruling by John Angel, the tribunal's principal judge, opens the Duchy to further challenges to its attempts to keep its dealings private, after he declared it to be a public authority rather than a private concern.
By treating the Duchy as a public authority under the 2004 Environmental Information Regulations – part of Freedom of Information rules – the tribunal has effectively decreed that the Prince can no longer be guaranteed confidentiality for the Duchy's activities. Mr Bruton described the ruling as a "victory for the environment", adding: "I have nothing against the Duchy as an institution but it should conform to the laws of the land."
His solicitors, Harrison Grant, said: "The tribunal rejected the Prince's claim that the Duchy was simply a private estate producing an income of over £17m per year for the heir to the throne and was not even a legal entity.
"The Prince had contended that the land was his to do with as he liked and that 'the Duchy is not democratically accountable in any meaningful sense'. The Duchy described Mr Bruton's argument that the revenue of the Duchy is effectively public money as 'no more than a political position dressed up as legal analysis'. The tribunal rejected this, finding that the Duchy provides 'indirect public funding' to the Prince of Wales. The decision will open the Duchy lands to public scrutiny in relation to the environment and its protection."
The Duchy has 28 days in which to disclose the information or give reasons why it believes it is exempt from the legislation. A spokeswoman said it was reviewing the ruling "with a view to establishing whether to appeal the decision". Anti-monarchy campaign group Republic, which is fighting the Royal Family's exemption from the Freedom of Information Act, welcomed the ruling. A spokesman said: "It sets a precedent and hopefully will subject Prince Charles' business dealings to greater scrutiny. It does remind us that Prince Charles does try to have it both ways, being a public figure and, when it suits him, a private enterprise."
The tribunal's ruling overturns a decision by the Information Commissioner in October last year that the Duchy was not subject to the regulations.