More than 100 of Britain’s best known nature experts, writers, TV presenters and academics are calling on the royal family to show leadership on the climate and biodiversity crisis by rewilding the large amounts of land they control.
TV environmentalists Kate Humble and Chris Packham, broadcaster Professor Alice Roberts, chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and actor Sir Mark Rylance are amongst more than 100 celebrities, scientists and public figures who have signed an open letter saying the UK’s status as one of the world’s most nature-depleted countries undermines claims of environmental leadership, and that the royal family is “perfectly positioned” to help make major improvements.
The letter, organised by campaign group Wild Card, said the royal family has a “unique and historic opportunity to radically address the degraded state of nature on these islands.”
Wild Card noted that the royal family directly controls 250,000 acres of land via its private estates and the two royal duchies, and owns a further 336,000 acres of land through the Crown Estate; an area of land 6 times bigger than the Isle of Wight.
Of this, large areas are intensively-managed grouse moors, considered by scientists to be ecological disaster zones.
The letter said: “Taken together, the royal estates – the Crown Estate, the Duchies of Lancaster and Cornwall, and lands owned privately by the Sovereign – are larger than those of any other single landowner in the UK.
“HRH The Prince of Wales has spoken of a ‘duty to the planet that is absolute’ and HRH The Duke of Cambridge has said it is our ‘responsibility’ to avoid ‘crucial... tipping points’, while Sir David Attenborough has called on us to ‘rewild the earth’.
“The royal family, as figures of moral stewardship and as ambassadors for our nation, is perfectly positioned to now lead the charge in the great task of our age: planetary repair.”
The letter comes as the climate and ecological crisis is set to top the agenda at the G7 summit in Cornwall this weekend, and ahead of the UN’s Cop26 climate summit in Glasgow in November.
Growing apprehension about the impact humans are having on the environment has seen the issue become a pressing global concern.
With all eyes on the UK as it hosts key events this year, the country’s poor historical record is under increased scrutiny.
According to the State of Nature report, the UK ranks amongst the world’s ‘most nature-depleted’ countries.
The UK stands at a dismal 189th out of 218 countries assessed for “biodiversity intactness”.
Over 95 per cent of the country’s wildflower meadows have been lost since the 1930s – an area of over 4 million football pitches, while a quarter of all UK mammals and almost half of birds are now at risk of extinction.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall said: “A decision by the sovereign and the rest of the royal family to restore ancient forests and support the return of lost wildlife to their lands could quite literally change the course of natural history in our country, and play a massive part in counteracting the alarming loss of biodiversity and the worst impacts of the climate crisis.”
The letter also recognises the efforts the royal family have already made on dealing with some aspects of the climate and biodiversity crisis, and praises “inspiring projects already being undertaken on royal land, notably in the Duchy of Cornwall estates”.
On the same day the letter was published, in a speech to the Sustainable Growth 2021 Conference, hosted by Cornwall Chamber of Commerce, Prince Charles warned that human destruction of environmental diversity is leaving the world “dangerously exposed” to future pandemics, and said “time is rapidly running out” to act.
The prince told the online conference on Tuesday: “I hardly need to stress the planetary emergency confronting us, nor the desperately urgent need for action, yet if I may say so, I believe we now find ourselves presented with a unique opportunity to catalyse change towards a sustainable nature-based path here in Cornwall.”
Emma Smart, ecologist and co-founder of Wild Card, which coordinated the open letter said: “It is time for the royals to act now.”
“We praise Prince Charles for taking a stand for environmental causes globally, and Prince William for his founding of the Earthshot prize to fund climate solutions over the next decade. However we also need to focus on the environmental threat closer to home – the shockingly low biodiversity in huge tracts of the British landscape.”
Prof Alice Roberts added: “So many people have turned to nature over this last year – it’s hugely important to our health and wellbeing to be able to get out into wild, natural places. But we desperately need to reverse the decades of habitat loss, shrinking biodiversity and assaults on the natural environment.
“We all need nature, and in this moment, nature needs us. The royal family could really lead the way.”