EVERY year, month and day, I realise how fortunate and privileged I am to have grown up and spent most of my life in the countryside. It’s not only the space, appreciating the seasons, the wildlife, the plant life, the arable crops and the livestock, but, most importantly, it’s the people who live and work there and understand the complexity of their environment. I was equally fortunate that both my parents had a love and understanding of the natural world through their own experiences. Perhaps even more so for my father when, during his rather disjointed young life, he ended up at school at Gordonstoun and was introduced to the wilds of Scotland, both land and sea. Scotland had its influence on my mother, too, as did the big skies of Norfolk, and the huge fields and marshes of the Sandringham Estate. Windsor’s Home Park and Great Park were a constant presence for her, as they were for all of us. They had horses, dairies, hens, pigs—you could never be bored as a child. Windsor was and is a haven of peace, although not so quiet since the growth of air travel—until the lockdown.
Superficially, not much has changed since I was young; the Jersey herd is still there, although the cows now enjoy a robotic parlour. There are Sussex cattle in the Great Park and the crops are a different mix, but the forest is still there, as are ponds and wet areas, the Savill Gardens and Frogmore House Gardens. Buildings and skills that the Prince Consort would have recognised.
I am fortunate to have grown up and spent most of my life in the countryside
Prince Albert’s influence is seen so often at the forefront of research and practical application, not least in agriculture and building design. His model farm at Windsor, for instance, and nearly all the buildings at Balmoral improved the use of space and integrated more efficient use and better distribution of water. My father was impressed by Prince Albert’s approach to forward-thinking and sustainable developments and has added his own understanding to encourage others to build on the knowledge of their predecessors. The Royal Commission of 1851 was set up by the Prince Consort after the Great Exhibition to build on its success of creativity, innovation and trade. When my father was its president, he oversaw an extraordinary investment in talent across the whole spectrum of research, including the science and practice of agriculture and sustainable land use. I now have the privilege of being its president, which also reminds me of the wealth of knowledge that I have been exposed to throughout my life and the part my family has played in growing that knowledge.
Prince Philip has added his own unique talents by being very well briefed, then engaging and bringing together all interests that are part of the countryside. He is a very hard act to follow, but I’m grateful for the time he gave us and the example he set us.
It is only later in life that you realise how much you have been exposed to and how much you have absorbed from your early years. We were taught to observe and question, to be open minded, to understand differences, to treat every person as an individual with their own skills and to remember there is very little that is completely new under the sun. We are where we are because our ancestors not only survived by living off the land, water and air, but also innovated ways of doing so more easily and successfully; so successfully that a shortage of food seems a distant threat for much of the western world. However, although we may be growing more, the access to and distribution of good-quality foods is still a challenge.
We are living through a real global pandemic that is affecting literally every person’s life in some way, even if they and their countries have barely suffered directly from Covid-19. The effect on global food supplies through the restrictions on transport and logistics (see page 124) should raise our awareness of the vulnerability of the modern—just in time—demand-and supply approach and highlight the strengths of local production and markets. Change will require all land users to work even more closely together to understand the most appropriate and least damaging way to increase production of crops and livestock that best suit our ground conditions and weather. It also means finding the right space and access for those who wish to enjoy the non-producing areas.
The restrictions that Covid-19 has placed on the entire population have accentuated the pressure between town and country. However, it has also shown that, thanks to historic houses, caravan parks, national parks, forestry enterprises, riding and cycling trails, rambling routes and assorted types of accommodation, access was quite well catered for already as an important contributor to the rural economy. The pandemic has highlighted the number of people and jobs that are crucial to that economy, too, be it the hospitality sector, conservation projects or the farming sector, such as the harvesting of many crops, fruit and vegetables and the care of livestock, especially sheep-shearing. Those jobs are still hard physical work that also need skills to achieve the standards that the buying public expect.
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July 29, 2020