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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 October 2005, 14:19 GMT 15:19 UK
In full: Prince Charles interview
Prince Charles at Home Farm
Prince Charles gave the interview from his Gloucestershire farm
The Prince of Wales has given an exclusive interview to BBC environment correspondent Sarah Mukherjee on the future of farming and the environment.

Here is a transcript of the interview:

Q: I think I'd like to start by asking how your passion for food, farming and the countryside started?

When my sister and I were children, we had a small little sort of patch, you know, cunningly a bit tucked away at the back of somewhere at Buckingham Palace and we used to grow tomatoes and the odd bush and things.

I mean, I've always felt that's an important part of one's connection with nature and the soil, and so I suppose that was part of it.

But then when I came down here, I just wanted to get stuck in and I'd always wanted to do a bit of farming - I'm not very good at it but fortunately there are lots of other people around to help.

Q: Did you ever eat your tomatoes that you grew?

Oh yes, that was whole point. It was one of the joys - eating the things you've produced and grown. There's something about watching them from the seed and then, gradually, it takes shape. It's one of those great mysteries of life.

Q: So nursery - to you - is with tomatoes?

Well, you know what I mean - it's terribly special - they always taste better. It is like the vegetables I have here in the garden - they're infinitely better if you've grown them.

So I think that was part of it. And then I've had a particular interest in trying to grow things in as natural a way as possible - only because I just felt that it was inherently unsustainable to go on being able to expect endless chemicals and artificial fertilisers being called on and not suffer the consequences at the end of the day.

Q: You mentioned sustainability, of course in the agricultural community you're very well known for your support of small family farms.

Why do you think they are so important?

Well, because I feel that if you look at the whole of this country .... it's wonderful, it's a sort of tapestry - an intricate tapestry - of all these farms and families dotted about, and also the other thing I feel strongly about is that, you know, over hundreds of years, so many of these people have been passing on experience and knowledge and wisdom, have been looking after the countryside but so many people who go to it - but live in towns - take it for granted.

None of these things - none of the wonderful landscape we have in this country - happens by magic, somebody has to look after it and manage it and maintain it and sort out the hedges and the walls and these other things that everybody loves.

And I still think that the family farm is such a vital part of the whole intricate tapestry - not only of the landscape - but also the communities that make it up. I know that so many of the farmers and their wives play such a vital part in those communities in so many different and unseen ways.

If you remove all that, you've lost something terribly important.

If you take somewhere like Dartmoor - it can be a very inhospitable environment and if you don't pay attention to the way nature operates there, it'll kick you in the teeth.

I've seen it only too often, people coming along saying, ah, it's ridiculous these old fashioned farmers they don't know what they're doing - we can make it far more productive and everything else - and I've seen people go completely belly-up within five years, trying to do things in a part of an area like Dartmoor which nature just won't allow.

And the terrible problem I think we face is dealing with limits - this idea that we can do anything.

But the old family farmers, they often know how far you can push it - with the stocking rates and all these things.

Q: There's been a huge change, of course, in the way that farmers are paid through the Common Agricultural Policy. Now farmers are being paid - not necessarily to produce food - but to produce environment and countryside.

But do you think these small family farms that you're talking about, do you think they'll be able to cope?

Yes, because I've always felt that these changes are very difficult for people who've been encouraged to look at life in one particular way.

And they have been encouraged from elsewhere. And you know there were plenty of experts - over the 50 years - who've told them all to do this that and the other and everybody rushed around pulling up their hedges, cutting the trees down - making ever bigger fields and putting more fertilisers and chemicals on because that was the advice - the farmers achieved exactly the same thing. It's all coming around in a full circle.

But the difficulty, I think, is that now unless the family farmers see the need for safety in numbers - in other words co-operation - which is a very difficult thing. It is easier on the Continent because they've had a long tradition of it, but in this country there isn't a tradition of it and those who are seeing the point about this are, I think, going to be in a much better position.

Q: If people go out to the supermarket to get something special, it's German beer, Spanish olives or French cheese - what's so good about British food?

Well, the wonderful thing about British food is that it's quite incredible how much it's developed in the last 10 years really.

I mentioned the cheese show at Stow-on-the-Wold, three or four years ago now. You won't believe the number of wonderful British cheeses which were on show there.

Q: There will be people listening to this who will say - well, you cannot - on an average income - fill your supermarket trolley with beautiful, locally produced products. Is that a fair comment?

It's perfectly fair and this is always the difficulty, isn't it, at the end of the day.

But somehow there has to be a balance struck, it seems to me.

Interestingly, it's an odd thing, isn't it, how in this country we spend far less on food as a percentage of income than on the Continent where still they spend far more - it just depends on the priorities.

But all I'm saying is that there is a price to be paid at the sharp end - environmentally and everywhere else - for the food that is produced in a particular way.

Q: How important do you think education is? There are many young people who for them the countryside is a foreign place - they've never been out here, they've never visited the countryside, they don't really know that much about it.

And yet, as you said, to reconnect people, education is a fairly vital area isn't it?

Absolutely. I've always felt strongly about schools and the school farms.

I've been to some wonderful examples of schools where they still have farms attached, which haven't been shut down by local authorities to save money and they're some really remarkable results achieved because you could link the farm - they're growing something or looking after an animal - to a whole range of subjects, whether it's biology or environmental studies or economics or whatever or maths, so that you make it relevant.

And I think many pupils - teachers were telling me - shine when they're given an opportunity to work with animals and with plants and whatever it is.

And I still think that if schools even had little vegetable gardens, at least it connects children to how things grow.

When I was at a school in Scotland the other day, I noticed they'd tarmacked over the whole of the area around the school.

And I said but why all this tarmac - why can't you dig up some of it and allow the children to grow vegetables in it? It is as simple as that.

Q: I noticed it in your thoughts of protecting the countryside because we've had massive change in the last 3,000 to even the last 200 years... we look at it now and we say, well this is beautiful.

So why should necessarily it be now the time to protect the countryside?

Because, I think again, you've got to try and think ahead. We now have a capacity through technology to make such enormous changes and impacts on our environment.

In the past, the level of impact wasn't anything like as great as it is now. So I do think that you've got to be a bit careful because otherwise you'll end up completely industrialising the landscape because it's efficient.

I still think you have to think of agriculture as exactly that - agri-culture - not agri-industry.

And the cultural element is of enormous importance I think because it's fundamental to life itself.

And you can suck every last drop of the things that make life worth living out of it if you want to, but I just don't see... then life becomes uninteresting because you've taken the story away from everything.

Q: So there will be people again listening in urban areas who will say, well that's lovely but the miners, the car workers, steel industry - all in their own way were superseded by foreign imports and so why should we be so worried about farmers?

What about those people who had to rebuild from scratch?

Because I know - this is the problem, the moment you open mouth there's always a qualification.

But I still think there is such a thing called food security and I think we'd be very foolish to expect that we can just import everything from somewhere else and imagine that that's going to last for ever and ever and ever.

I think we're going to find, with climate change and everything else - things like global warming and goodness knows what else and the cost of fuel for a start - that things are going to become very complicated.

And I just think we have to think of the future and we have to think that because the countryside is so important, because so many people visit it and use it, somebody has to maintain it.

I actually battled away 20 years ago and for the last 20 years trying to help many of the areas where there have been steel closures and coal-mines have been shut and heavy industry gone, back in the '80s and '90s and I've battled away to try and help in some of these areas and the tragedy is the disappearance of so many of these traditions.

Q: You mention the changes - some are brought about by humans, others by, of course, disease and foot-and-mouth was one of those tragic times throughout Britain.

It had a devastating effect on all those poor old farmers - to have to witness your livestock being slaughtered in front of you - I tried my best to find those and help try to encourage others.

It's amazing at the end of the day how people have got back on their feet again - remarkable.

But there's always some other worry around the corner nowadays - because of the way in which so much has opened up - everybody is trading and sending things backwards and forwards, there is a real danger now that we introduce diseases that would never have been.

Q: Bird flu of course being the one that I think everybody is very concerned about. Do you have concerns as well?

Absolutely. I've got a few chickens here - they potter about outside, so that we can put some eggs in the vegetable boxes for the locals.

But yes, I feel so deeply for the poor old poultry farmers in this country.

There are so many people who have struggled away to get their chickens outside for all the right reasons - animal welfare and everything else, more environmentally friendly - and then to find suddenly that they might have to shut them all up - it's very worrying. But we just have to pray.

Q: You mentioned earlier climate change. Now most farmers are not considered to be radical environmentalists but most of them will say, climate change is happening, we're seeing it in the changing seasons.

Is that something you think might be an issue for farming in this country in the next 20 years or so?

Climate change - oh yes. We're all having to think about how to cope with it.

Obviously, at the same time we should be treating, I think, the whole issue of climate change and global warming with a far greater degree of priority than I think is happening now.

Again if you think about your and my grandchildren, this is what really worries me.

I don't want them - if I'm still alive by then - to say, why didn't you do something about it when you could have done.

And this is the point, at the same time trying to do something to rectify the situation - which should be the greatest challenge I think to face man, in order to ensure that there is something left to hand on - at the same time have to work out how we're going to adapt to the change - what crops to grow, for instance - this is one of the great difficulties.

If there's one message that you'd like to leave us with, what would it be?

Actually, the consumer who maybe doesn't live in the countryside but who probably does care quite a lot for it and visits it, can make a huge difference, actually, to the way in which the landscape and everything continues by the choices they make when they shop and they can push the supermarkets for instance... the retailers into doing things that perhaps they're not doing already by hopefully at some point understanding the connections that exist.

Hear the exclusive interview in full

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