UN COP26 summit in Glasgow through the myriad conservation groups he founded and supported.he Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip’s environmental credentials are being remembered as his death yesterday, aged 99, is marked. His influence will be felt at this year’s
“My grandfather and my father have been in conservation, the environmental world for years,” Prince William said in his recent climate change documentary, A Planet for Us All.
Prince Philip’s conservation efforts began as early as the 50s long before the subject was considered fashionable. They had a vehicle on taking over responsibility for royal estate management, when his wife Princess Elizabeth became Queen in 1952.
Since that time, on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk alone, more than two million trees have been planted, 45 new woodlands created, 40 kilometres of new hedges planted, 200 kilometres of field margins established, 160 hectares of wild bird cover established, 200 hectares of uncultivated and wildland maintained, and 10 wetlands have been created.
Prince Philip passed the importance of visionary farming to Prince Charles, who has said, “It is vitally important that we can continue to say, with absolute conviction, that organic farming delivers the highest quality, best-tasting food, produced without artificial chemicals or genetic modification, and with respect for animal welfare and the environment, while helping to maintain the landscape and rural communities.”
The passion is attributed to his formative years at the boarding school he attended in northern Scotland, Gordonstoun.
“It’s totally useless to wring hands in conference if no one is willing to take action”
This had been founded by German Jewish Dr Kurt Hahn, an exile from Nazi Germany. Dr Hahn’s influence extended to the creation of the Duke of Edinburgh Awards for young people in 1956, which have fostered a love of nature and the outdoors in 144 countries.
Prince Philip helped found the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 1961 and the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1963, becoming president of the former between 1981 and 1996. He wrote books concerning wildlife extinction, including Wildlife Crisis in 1970.
Addressing the Conference on World Pollution in Strasbourg, France in 1970 he said, “It’s totally useless for a lot of well-meaning people to wring their hands in conference and to point out the dangers of pollution or the destruction of the countryside if no one is willing or capable of taking any action.”
He noted at the time that, “Even naturalists drive cars occasionally.” However, he drove, and helped design, environmentally friendly cars as soon as they were available in the 80s.
Naturalist David Attenborough has said, “His importance to conservation worldwide has been absolutely huge. You can go anywhere in the world and he will know what you have to do.”
Prince Philip brought the world’s faiths together to support environmentalism in 1986, creating a movement that is now called FaithInvest but which also spawned EcoSikh, Bhumi Global, Daoist Ecological Temple Association and others.
“He was excited to hear long-term plans ahead of the UN’s COP26 climate conference”
“His Royal Highness was the first world leader to understand that the religions of the world could be natural partners for the conservation movement,” said Martin Palmer, FaithInvest’s CEO and Prince Philip’s religious advisor on conservation right up to the time of his death.
“It was his vision to bring the faiths together with not just WWF but all the major environmental organisations. It was his absolute conviction, when it was not fashionable to have such a conviction, that religions are vital forces for a sustainable planet, and that secular environmentalists needed to work with them.
“We were last in touch at the beginning of January. He was excited to hear that we were working with hundreds of faith organisations to help them develop long-term plans to be launched ahead of the UN’s COP26 climate conference.
“These plans build on a programme, Faith Commitments for a Living Planet, that he launched at Windsor Castle in 2009 with the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which have profoundly shaped the faiths’ response to the environment over the last decade.
“We had hoped to be able to celebrate yet another major programme with him, but now will do so in his honour.”
Prince Philip had called for unity among environmentalists for decades. At the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1973, he said, “It’s important for every faction in conservation to realise that we are all part of the same popular conservation movement and that, in spite of differences of emphasis within the movement, our only hope of making any impression on public, industrial or government opinion and outlook is to do our homework and to do our best to work together.”
“People can’t get their heads around a species surviving, they’re more concerned about how you treat a donkey in Sicily”
But the Duke’s passion for conservation was not always straightforward.
In 1961, the same year he became president of the WWF’s British National Appeal, he and the Queen took part in a tiger and rhino hunt during a royal tour of Nepal. They posed in safari suits with the body of an eight-foot tiger in Ranthambore, India, with the Maharajah of Jaipur. The tiger had reportedly been killed by Prince Philip along with a crocodile and six mountain sheep.
He was also an advocate of fox hunting and supported game bird shooting on British moorlands, saying it was necessary to crop such species, but, “You don’t want to exterminate them.”
In a 2011 BBC interview he said, “I think that there’s a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny-hugger.
“When I was president of the WWF, I got more letters from people about the way animals were treated in zoos than about any concern for the survival of a species. People can’t get their heads around the idea of a species surviving, you know, they’re more concerned about how you treat a donkey in Sicily or something.”
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, has said, “Today we mourn the loss of a lifelong advocate for the environment. Engaged with WWF since its foundation, the Duke of Edinburgh also extended his patronage to various other environmental causes and organisations.
“His Royal Highness believed we must safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations, and dedicated his life, and position, to inspire individuals and world leaders to protect nature and wildlife.”