Our interview with the Prince takes place in the shabby-chic summerhouse in the house’s courtyard, and covers biodiversity, rural communities, grandchildren, Lord Byron and the similarities between Transylvania and the UK. There can’t be many, I suggest. The Prince disagrees.
“It’s the same challenges all around the world. In the UK we’ve witnessed the depopulation of the countryside, the disappearance of so many family farms and the effect that’s had on the countryside, wildlife, everything.”
He explains that we’ve lost 97 per cent of our wildflower meadows in England and Wales since the 1930s and that, perhaps inspired by Romania, he has set about trying to restore them with the Coronation Meadows project. Launched in 2013, it aims to create at least one new wild-flower meadow in every county. “Something in our soul, I think, responds to wildflower meadows,” he says. “The association of the wildflowers, the butterflies, the whole thing. Why shouldn’t more people have access to that?”
In Transylvania, the Prince’s focus is on maintaining the old-fashioned approach to farming that created and now maintains the landscape. The scything competition that we watch isn’t just royal entertainment; fields in this part of the world are still scythed by hand, and there is a pride in the work and the surroundings it creates. There is no Poldark moment. I jokingly suggest it to the Prince, who laughs and momentarily seems to consider topless scything – to the horror of his press secretary.
We follow the Prince to his next public engagement – the opening of his new Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania. The centre will run courses in heritage preservation, management and hospitality for local people. “We need to remember that rural communities are vital,” he says. “People still want to live in the countryside, but it has to be a living, working one.” And that’s a challenge, as many people, particularly the young, are leaving this area, drawn by the opportunities in Romania’s cities, and abroad.
There are pressures on land here too, just as at home. While much of Romania is farmed in a modern and commercial way, the Prince argues that this part of the country should be protected, so it can evolve in a way that preserves its unique beauty. The Prince doesn’t know exactly how this can be achieved, but he is clear that it must be.
“There is a whole range of challenges, but I still think that it is not beyond the wit of man to develop a system that would allow economic development within a framework of balanced environmental protection and enhancement.”
Later, I lie in a wildflower meadow watching a soaring eagle and listening to the crickets and begin to understand what brings our future king to this place again and again…
On Your Farm is on Sunday 9th August at 6.35am on Radio 4
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