The countryside means different things to all of us. For some, it is a place of beauty and tranquillity – somewhere to go to escape the stresses and strains of urban life, to be closer to Nature and to enjoy our wonderful landscapes. For many, it is a place to live and work. And of course for all of us, it is a source of our food and water, not to mention the vital role it plays in capturing carbon in the fight against climate change. But whatever our relationship with rural Britain, we can surely all agree that it is one of the greatest treasures of our nation.
It is, however, a treasure under very real threat. Did you know that farmers in the upland areas of this country, such as the Cumbrian Fells, the Yorkshire Dales, the hills of Wales and the Highlands of Scotland last year earned, on average, £6,000? Did you know that last year nearly 700 rural pubs closed? And were you aware that the number of Britain’s farmers and farm workers has declined by 26 per cent over the past twenty years?
These stark figures tell an alarming story. So many of us enjoy walking and visiting the moors, fells and dales of our country. We love them for their breathtaking beauty and for the very special communities that make up the unique rural tapestry. But both are entirely dependent on agriculture – on the farmers who for generations have cared for the land, and for their families who are so often the backbone of the villages and market towns, whether as school governors, Church wardens or members of the W.I. and Rotary. I have heard some people question whether it really matters if farming continues in these areas; that we should just let them revert to how they were before farming began over 3000 years ago. To me, that would be a folly for which future generations would never forgive us. Apart from anything else, with the threat from climate change and the risk of reliance on international transportation we should be keeping as much land in food production as possible – so long as it is done in an environmentally sustainable way. And I for one want to keep our countryside a living, breathing, working place so that it is there for everyone to appreciate.
Fortunately, my concerns are shared by a number of businesses which I am delighted have come together to support this unique national treasure through The Prince’s Countryside Fund.
These companies have made a generous contribution to The Prince’s Countryside Fund which will be channelled into grassroots projects that are helping to create a vibrant, sustainable future for rural Britain. I know from my travels around the country that there is a multitude of remarkable organizations and individuals working tirelessly to keep farmers farming and our rural communities alive. I have visited many of them and seen their work at first hand. Whether they are supporting farmers in need, helping maintain rural skills, carrying out vital conservation and restoration work, keeping the pubs and shops open that are so important in binding a community together, or helping to reconnect people to the land and where their food comes from, they are all helping to sustain its future.
And it is these organisations and individuals that my Countryside Fund will support. With the help of the companies who are backing the Fund, I believe we can make a difference for the better and help to ensure that we sustain for the future a national asset of incalculable value.
HRH The Prince of Wales, 2010