Following the death of Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, on 9 April 2021, I thought we would take a brief look back at his longstanding passion for the natural world.
Yes, we know what some of you are thinking… “But he enjoyed hunting…”, “How many large residences does one family need?” and “He regularly flew all over the world…” Undoubtedly some of Prince Philip’s Royal duties and personal pursuits seemingly jarred with his environmental leanings but, as he once noted: “I think that there’s a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny-hugger. Even naturalists drive cars occasionally.”
“When I was president of the WWF, I got more letters from people about the way animals were treated in zoos than about any concern for the survival of a species. People can’t get their heads around the idea of a species surviving. They’re more concerned about how you treat a donkey in Sicily or something.”
Indeed, Prince Philip helped to found the UK-based World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) in 1961, serving as its first president between 1961 and 1982, and as president of WWF International from 1981 to 1996. He was the charity’s patron and also later became president emeritus.
The Duke of Edinburgh also helped to launch the Australian Conservation Foundation in 1963 and has written a number of books about nature and conservation, most notably ‘Wildlife Crisis’, published in 1970.
Upon his passing, Pavan Sukhdev, President of WWF International, said: “The Duke of Edinburgh has been a tireless champion for the environmental cause and a passionate ambassador for conservation issues around the world for decades. His Royal Highness helped chart the course of WWF from its very beginning and has truly made enormous contributions to the organization.
“Across more than 50 years, His Royal Highness, Prince Philip’s efforts on behalf of WWF have been inestimable – visiting WWF projects in over fifty countries on five continents, promoting conservation issues at the highest government and corporate levels, and helping with essential fundraising and awareness promotion.
“On behalf of all of us at WWF, I extend my sincere sympathies to Her Majesty the Queen, to the Royal Family and to the family of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip at this very sad time.”
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, added: “Today we mourn the loss of a lifelong advocate for the environment. Engaged with WWF since its foundation, the Duke of Edinburgh also extended his patronage to various other environmental causes and organisations. “His Royal Highness believed we must safeguard the planet and its resources for future generations, and dedicated his life, and position, to inspire individuals and world leaders to protect nature and wildlife.”
The Duke of Edinburgh took the opportunity during many of his overseas visits to raise awareness of issues including poaching, conservation, deforestation and pollution at a time when such topics were far from “fashionable” or as mainstream as they are today.
He once said: “If we as humans have got this power of life and death, not just life and death but extinction and survival, we ought to exercise it with some sort of moral sense. Why make something extinct if we don’t have to?”
In 1970, Prince Philip gave a speech at the Conference on World Pollution in France that perhaps resonates even more so today, with the UK set to hold the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow this November. Addressing the audience, he said: “It’s totally useless for a lot of well-meaning people to wring their hands in conference and to point out the dangers of pollution or the destruction of the countryside if no one is willing or capable of taking any action.”
The Duke of Edinburgh’s commitment and achievements have been acknowledged by members of his own family as well as the likes of Sir David Attenborough who commented that: “His importance to conservation worldwide has been absolutely huge. You can go anywhere in the world and he will know where you have to make the connection, where you have to put the pressure, what you have to do. He’s very practical in those terms.”
In the recent documentary ‘A Planet for Us All’, Prince William described Prince Philip as being “well ahead of his time” and added: “My grandfather and my father have been in conservation, the environmental world for years.”
With Prince William having launched the Earthshot Prize, alongside Sir David Attenborough in 2020, let’s hope that future generations of the Royal Family, as with all of our families, are ready to pick up the environmental baton and run with it.
May the Duke of Edinburgh rest in peace.
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