Prince of Wools: Charles' plan to turn Sandringham into country's leading organic sheep farm

Camilla Tominey
The Prince of Wales wants to increase Sandringham's flock from 3,000 to 15,000 - PA Archive

He has long cast himself as the black sheep of the family, but it seems Prince Charles may soon be dubbed the Prince of Wools after ambitious plans to turn Sandringham into one of the country’s leading organic sheep farms were revealed to the Telegraph.

Sources close to the heir to the throne, who has taken over management of the Queen’s private estate in Norfolk from the Duke of Edinburgh, say he is planning to increase the sheep population of Sandringham by five-fold in a bid to boost the farm’s profitability post-Brexit.

There are currently around 3,000 sheep roaming the 20,000 acre estate where the royals spend Christmas every year but the future king plans to increase that number to as many as 15,000, according to royal insiders.

A source told the Telegraph: “The prince has got ambitious plans for Sandringham. He has enjoyed a great deal of success running Duchy Home Farm at Highgrove and turning around the fortunes of Dumfries House in Scotland and he wants to replicate that in Norfolk.

Aerial view of the 20,000 acre Sandringham estate in Norfolk, where the Royals spend Christmas  Credit: David Goddard/Getty

“He has always been a champion of sheep and now he intends to put that thinking into practise with a huge increase in the sheep population at Sandringham. The overall aim is to make Sandringham one of the country’s leading organic sheep farms.”

The royals famously go on a Boxing Day shoot at Sandringham when they kill pheasant and partridges but the insider added that their traditional Christmas plans could not be affected by the prince’s reorganisation. “It won’t affect Christmas - the royals, shooting and sheep can happily co-exist,” the source added.

According to the prince’s website: “The Prince has long been sensitive to the plight of sheep farmers in this country and abroad and through his initiative, the Campaign for Wool has sought to repopularise wool as a natural fire-retardant and sustainable fabric.”

In a curious experiment in 2016, he buried two jumpers in a flower bed at Clarence House, his London residence, to establish the comparative qualities of wool and synthetic fibre.

In 2004, he launched the Mutton Renaissance campaign to support British sheep farmers who were struggling to sell their older animals, in a bid to get the out-of-favour meat back on the nation’s plates.

As patron of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, he has played “an active role in helping to preserve the gene pool of British pigs, sheep and cattle”, according to the website.

As well as selling wool products, Charles’ ambitious plans could also tap into the increasingly profitable UK lamb market as UK farm’s face losing lucrative EU subsidies post Brexit.

The price of lamb per kilo rocketed by nearly £2 to a high of £6 per kg last May. British sheep farmers have been exploiting the growing demand for lamb from the Islamic population of the UK as well as increased sales to China.

Prince Charles throws fleece onto a table during a visit to the Leenavale Sheep Stud at Sorell, near Hobart, Australia, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012.  Credit: AP

Rebecca Oborne of the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board told the Telegraph: “There has been increased consumer demand for lamb from the Muslim population but there are also wider global trends that have pushed up sheepmeat prices in Britain. China has increased how much it has taken from Australia and New Zealand which has pushed up prices there, which along with a lower lamb crops has driven prices up over here.” She said that trend was set to continue.

The move comes after it emerged last month Prince Philip had become the first person in Britain to cultivate a successful crop of black truffles on the royal estate, which is well suited for the fungi because of its abundance of alkaline soil.

They are tucked away on the “organic zone” at Sandringham, which Charles, 70, is understood to be carefully cultivating since he took over from the Duke, who had managed the estate since the Queen’s accession to the throne in 1952.
Although it was reported in 2014 that Charles intended to take over as part of the “gentle succession” from his mother, insiders say he only fully took the reins from Philip last year, following the Duke’s retirement from public life.

Prince Charles took over the running of the Sandringham estate from his father, the Duke of Edinburgh, last year Credit: Andrew Mulligan/PA

As well as overseeing the livestock and arable land, Charles is also at the helm of the estates fruit farms, property and country park.

Sandringham has been the private home of four generations of Sovereigns since 1862 and more than 200 people, including farmers, foresters, gamekeepers and gardeners, now make a living from the estate. It is though more people will need to be employed to manage the growing number of sheep, which will be introduced gradually over the coming months.

According to the Soil Association, of which Charles is patron, organic farmers manage their flocks carefully to reduce the disease risk to new-born lambs and use clean grazing systems to minimise the need for worming. Clean grazing involves managing pastures so that sheep, and particularly lambs, are only put into fields that have very low or no worm infestation.

Sheep used to be considered ‘highly useful’ on arable farms 50 years ago but had disappeared from arable farms due to artificial fertilisers, herbicides and plant protection products and the ‘hassle’ of keeping livestock, according to research by Farmer’s Guardian in 2017.

Phil Stocker, National Sheep Association (NSA) chief executive, said the ‘tide seemed to be turning’ and sheep were returning to arable farms because they were a benefit to the environment and soil health.

“Well-run sheep enterprises can generate returns whilst building soil fertility at the same time,” he said.

Clarence House declined to comment.