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My Earthshot? Take over the royal estates!

This opinion piece is over 2 years old

Princely benevolence will not save the planet, argues Graham Martin

When you are the living embodiment of an anachronism – when the actual fact of your existence and way of life give human form to the tensions, stresses and contradictions that set and wrack public and economic life in our weird, clanking British state – when all of those lines converge on you, I suppose you could be forgiven for lacking a bit of self-awareness.

It must be bewildering. And maybe it’s just the way you’ve been brought up, that you think it is perfectly natural to add eco-entitlement to your pile of privileges.

Now, I love a bit of Sunday night telly. Countryfile (it’s got the absolute best weather forecast) followed by the Antiques Roadshow. It’s a balm for the soul, the heart of a heartless world, to nick a line from a certain German economic theorist. So maybe that’s why I was extra-annoyed when I switched on recently to find myself (and the nation) being lectured in environmentalism by Prince William, introducing his Earthshot Prize, which aims to “repair our planet” by “incentivising” responses to the climate catastrophe.

And this is where I cycle back to wondering about the Duke’s self-awareness. He is the public face of a royal family and institution which keeps huge tracts of land – both north and south of the border – in a state of denuded monoculture, where nature is brutally suppressed so that a very privileged few can indulge in the bizarre and weirdly ritualised ‘sport’ of shooting specially reared and released pheasant and grouse for what I suppose must pass for fun in strange social circles.

And Prince Earthshot himself has a special interest here, which is best summed up by the Daily Mail headline “LIKE FATHER, LIKE GUN”, which tops a touching tale about how William had taken his seven year old son to watch “senior royals spend the morning bagging birds in Corgarff, a short drive from Balmoral”.

Let’s not muck about with this: grouse moors are massive environmental polluters. Leaving aside issues of animal welfare, they are vast ecological deserts, artificially managed through poison and trap, often owned by shady and utterly unaccountable private interests, where hugely damaging, CO2-emitting practices like muirburn are standard. They are a stain on our landscape and a shame on our souls.

The royals are no way near the biggest players here – but their profile means that they have been adequately described as being “at the apex of sporting estate owners”.

I’m not questioning the prince’s good intentions, or the positive impact I’m sure will come from Earthshot prize projects. But, as I think this lack of self-awareness shows, these intentions are set within a framework which perhaps has the effect of obscuring the real issues and reasons that we find ourselves in this horrible mess.

They assume continuing models of land and industrial ownership and usage. It may be comforting to many to believe that a bit of princely benevolence will save the day – but it won’t, our only chance will be in actual changes in how we organise just about everything.

One of our best shots, and something which can start now just about everywhere, is rewilding, which is a movement being driven by charities and which we look at on pages 10-12 of the latest TFN.

But this will always come up against questions of who owns our land, how it is used and who decides. We will see similar contradictions run through the forthcoming Cop26 event. Again, here we must employ healthy scepticism and be willing to deploy across all fronts to hold governments and big business to account.

We must step up things like rewilding projects, and take on vested interests where there is resistance.

Imagine the symbolic impact the banning of the grouse monoculture and the rewilding of the royal estates would have? There must be mechanisms to allow this, and if not they can surely be created. And the prince is such a solid environmentalist I’m sure he would approve.

How’s that for an Earthshot?

Graham Martin is editor of TFN.