Tonight, Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal will open her sprawling farming estate to BBC One’s flagship weekly rural affairs programme, Countryfile, in a special presentation to be aired at 7pm.
One year after The Prince of Wales’s successful stint as guest editor for Countryfile’s 25th anniversary episode, Princess Anne will appear on the hit programme for an in-depth interview with presenter Tom Heap to discuss some of the many concerns affecting the English countryside today.
Gatcombe Park – which is “run as a working farm” – sets a most relevant background for this important discussion, as forty years of farming have not spared Princess Anne from experiencing these issues firsthand.
“HRH Princess Anne is a working farmer who is also patron of nearly 50 countryside organisations – as such she has a unique perspective on Britain’s current rural agenda,” says Bill Lyons, Executive Editor of Countryfile.
Located between the Gloucestershire villages of Minchinhampton and Avening in England, Gatcombe Park is the private country home of The Princess Royal. Situated about 10 km north of Highgrove House, Prince Charles’s country residence, the land spans 3.0 km2, and includes a manor house, a farmhouse, cottages, extensive stabling facilities, a lake containing brown trout and the underlying land of an airstrip.
Her Majesty The Queen purchased the property in 1976 from Lord Butler of Saffron Walden, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, for Princess Anne and her then husband Captain Mark Phillips. Upon much renovating, the young couple took up residence at the estate in November 1977, within days of becoming new parents. First child Peter was born on the 15th of November.
Just how involved is Her Royal Highness in the day-to-day operations of the farm? Upon interviewing her for Country Life Magazine in 2009, Kate Green observed that, on any given day, one could open the trunk of her Range Rover to find a most “unglamourous” array of farming equipment and, though her passion for horses is legendary, few would believe just how devoted she is “to a charming flock of “Scots Dumpy hens”. And contrary to one’s expectations of royal living, the farm buildings are just as unglamorous as the contents of her car, reflecting the “no-nonsense practicality” of their owner.
Indeed, the economic uncertainties of farming have had a considerable impact on Gatcombe Park, and are of huge concern to the farming community. Princess Anne discusses this reality, and her attempts at diversifying to keep the farm running. Yet, she is quite familiar with the dilemma diversification poses to farmers who need the bulk of their land for food crops, telling Country Life Magazine: “I need every blade of grass for my sheep.”
Notwithstanding, her annual Festival of British Eventing attracts Olympians from around the world, and she co-designs the cross-country courses for two smaller events on the grounds, all of which are sponsored by Land Rover.
Of these events, she said in 2009:
“People think you’re making money out of these things, but it’s a close-run thing. You’ve got to keep livestock off the cross-country course, often at a time of year when there isn’t any grass anyway. We time our lambing specially for after the spring horse trials. (…) As it will be for everyone else running a sporting event this year, balancing cost against expectation will be key. People will be looking at food, flowers and, dare I say it, loos. If competitors think they’re going to get a drop in entry fees, they’re mistaken. We don’t make enough money.”
Diversification is not devoid of risks, however, as she explained at the time:
“Even picking up people’s hay and other rubbish from their (horse) lorries could threaten our organic status. And having the great British public tramping around is hardly organic.”
Pheasant shooting is something ‘‘the Soil Association doesn’t like much!” continued The Princess. “They don’t approve of some things that you can feed pheasants, which is probably no bad thing. And they get uptight about horse wormers, which can be rather eccentric. I do worry that one day we’ll be told that we can’t have organic status any more.”
As she discusses with Countryfile’s Tom Heap, The Princess also promulgates the need for producing rare breeds. Her own efforts to promote White Park cattle have been been so successful that the breed is no longer on the Rare Breed Survival Trust’s endangered list.
“It’s funny how some animals go out of fashion,” she told Country Life Magazine in 2009. “People forget to breed the original. The Suffolk Punch was once a good, weight-carrying hunter, but there was so much cross-breeding that it lost its identity.”
Another point of discussion tonight will be the country’s management of bovine tuberculosis. Her Royal Highness has lost 15 of her rare breed cattle to TB in the last two years, and is, therefore, very eager to investigate new ways of preventing cattle contamination.
Just last February, Princess Anne praised scientists at the world-renowned Moredun Foundation and Moredun Research Institute for their co-operation with peers around the world, and for their efforts in the prevention and management of livestock diseases which include vaccinations, more efficient diagnostic testing and greater access to information for livestock breeders.
“Education, communication and learning from each other is vital to enable the livestock industry across the world to become more resilient and adaptive to the challenges we currently face and will no doubt face in the future,” she said.
One of the issues closest to her heart is the current equine welfare crisis facing the UK. Through her work as President of World Horse Welfare, her passion for horses is put to effective use as she promotes and raises funds for the building and support of horse adoption centres to rescue, ‘rehabilitate and rehome‘ the more than 7,000 horses facing abuse, neglect and abandonment throughout the UK.
“There’s been enormous pressure over the last few years on horse owners, the cost of keeping horses has gone up and the pressure on places like this and a charity like World Horse Welfare has continued to grow,” she said at one of the charity’s events, highlighting the need to spread the word and make a difference in the plight of these horses “who who have, through no fault of their own, fallen on really bad times.”
The plight of these graceful animals is not only tragic, but it also has a devastating economic impact as their commercial value is thus reduced to £5-10, according to Jeanette Allen, head of the Horse Trust.
Faced with the enormity of the problem, Her Royal Highness urges all parties concerned to brainstorm, and at least be open to, discussing any idea that could prevent such abuse or neglect from taking place.
Other topics being discussed tonight include Princess Anne’s ideas and contributions in solving the issue of affordable housing in the countryside, her passion for engaging young people to entertain a farming career, as well as her thoughts on nephew Prince William’s farming studies in preparation for the eventual running of the rural Duchy of Cornwall.
It will be an episode not to be missed, tonight at 7pm, on BBC One’s Countryfile.