I’ve just finished filming the third installment of a Countryfile show with HRH Prince Charles. This special programme was made to celebrate 25 years of Countryfile, and it explored some of the rural issues close to the Prince’s heart.
Our first meeting was at Carshalton College in Surrey, where we discussed the importance of connecting school pupils with where their food comes from. The other encounters with him were at Home Farm in Gloucestershire, the heart of the 53,408 hectares of land in 23 counties that make up the Duchy of Cornwall estate, originally created by Edward III to provide an income for the heir to the throne.
Hard work on the farm
As we stood in the bottom field at Home Farm, I was taken with how relaxed and welcoming the Prince was. With a twinkle in his eye, he described his passions for farming and the countryside – and was clearly excited to be showing us around. Here was a Prince I was used to seeing suited and booted on official engagements but, as I shook his hand, I was surprised at how much he reminded me of a grounded countryman, with farmer’s hands and a good, strong grip.
But we weren’t just on the farm for a chat; we were there to get stuck in, and it was a real privilege for Adam Henson and me to lay some of the hedges on Home Farm. It’s a skill, I discovered, that the Prince is adept at. As he told us himself, he’ll get a lot of pleasure out of the hedges as he walks around his estate. We received a certificate for our efforts from the Duchess of Cornwall and the Prince of Wales in a hay shed with straw bales for seating. Standing in muddy boots and overalls wasn’t how I’d imagined myself receiving an honour from the future king.
I was delighted to see Hebridean sheep among the organic stock on the Prince’s farm – we run a small flock of these on my family farm in Durham. I was planning on bringing some of the little black-fleeced Hebrideans down to my paddock in the Chilterns, which would have been quite a long journey for them. So, I cheekily dropped into conversation that I was looking to acquire a few of these rare breeds closer to home. I’m now in talks with the Prince’s farm manager and hopefully, sometime soon, a tiny flock will be keeping our grass down.
Keen to capitalise on some of the finest agricultural brains on offer, I also convinced the Prince’s head of trees to volunteer his services to give me a crash course with our apple tree pruning in return for a Sunday roast for him and his family next time he’s over visiting his mum, who lives down the road from me.
Farming for the future
While walking the farm, it dawned on me that many of Prince Charles’s passions were in areas that do not offer quick returns. He’s far more interested with laying sustainable foundations in areas that future generations will benefit from: planting woodland and hedgerows, conservation, the environment and food.
It’s always inspiring to meet people with a passion, who go to extraordinary lengths for their beliefs. And it struck me just how fortunate we are that our future king has chosen to champion the British countryside, its produce and its sustainable future.