The Prince of Wales on turning Sandringham organic: ‘Ecosystems will flourish as Nature intended and we’ll always put back more than we take from the land’

Over the past three years, HRH The Prince of Wales and his team have converted Sandringham into a fully organic estate. In this week's Country Life he tells the story of why — and how — it has come to pass.

In 2017, HRH The Prince of Wales took over management of The Queen’s Norfolk estate at Sandringham. The year after, he and his team began to convert the estate into a fully organic operation.

Over the past year, Country Life has been documenting the Sandringham estate’s move to a fully organic enterprise. In the magazine this week, The Prince tells Country Life’s Paula Lester why farming naturally and sustainably is so vital for the soil, wildlife and our own health.

‘Since the beginning of the 1980s, when I first had responsibility for managing some land in my own right at Highgrove, I have wanted to focus on an approach to food production that avoids the impact of the predominant, conventional system of industrialised agriculture, which, it is increasingly clear to see, is having a disastrous effect on soil fertility, biodiversity and animal and human health,’ says the Prince in the article.

‘It has always seemed to me somewhat logical to embrace a farming system that works with Nature and not against her.’

The Prince is confident that a more holistic approach will deliver myriad ecological and commercial benefits across the 21,000-acre estate near King’s Lynn, the much-loved country retreat of British monarchs since 1862.

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‘We need to ensure that the land use is not only focused on food production, but that full consideration is given to providing habitats for wildlife,’ he adds.

‘Across the estate, we place a value on ecological delivery. This means, in practice, the implementation of measures such as the avoidance of block cropping and the provision of trees, hedgerows, wildlife corridors, bird boxes and field margins, which involves careful planning, monitoring and mapping.’

Return of the seagulls: with improved soil health come more earthworms for birds to eat. ©Simon Buck/Country Life Picture Library

As part of the programme, a flock of 3,000 sheep have been introduced to the estate, providing natural fertiliser, as well as new trees and other crops. Some older staples of the estate have had to go — sugar beet, for example, can’t be farmed organically — and changes will keep coming for many years to come.

‘There is a near constant flow of ideas, which I discuss with the wonderfully knowledgeable — and long-suffering — estate team,’ The Prince says. ‘This could be innovative sources of organic fertiliser, niche crops, adding value by converting farm produce into products to be sold in the estate shop, targeted habitat restoration for threatened species and carbon sequestration, as well as the new and evolving opportunities around creating a marketplace for biodiversity credits.’

You can read the full story in this week’s Country Life magazine, and it’s a fascinating look at making sustainable farming work. For while being kind to the land is always part of the story (The Prince talks of letting ecosystems ‘flourish as Nature intended and to ensure that we always put back more than we take from the land’) the commercial realities are also considered.

‘Sustainable business and profitable business are one and the same,’ says The Prince, concluding that farming operations in Britain are, ‘going to have to be increasingly adaptable if they are going to find a way to thrive in the changing climate.’

Read the full article about the Prince of Wales turning Sandringham organic in the 19 May 2021 issue of Country Life.

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