Prince Charles has warned that the majority of the UK population has "lost any real connection with the land" as he outlined his concerns about the future of the countryside.
The prince, writing in a foreword for Country Life magazine to mark his 66th birthday this week, argued that many people were now four or more generations removed from those who worked on the land and it showed in their attitudes. Words: PA
Many only had a "vague understanding" of farming and were increasingly suspicious of it, the prince said.
The heir to the throne maintained that people still treasured the countryside and urged them to value it or risk losing its landscapes, farmers, village pubs and local foods.
"One of the things that strikes me most forcibly is the extent to which the majority of the population has lost any real connection with the land.
"Unlike in most parts of the continent of Europe, many people in the UK are now four or more generations removed from anyone who actually worked on the land - and it frequently shows in their attitudes.
"They have only a vague understanding of what farming is or does; and - as outsiders looking in - they are increasingly suspicious of it. At the same time, they treasure the countryside."
"Start pulling out the threads and the rest unravels very rapidly indeed, and is very difficult to put back again - no farmers, no beautiful landscapes with hedgerows and stone walls; no thriving rural communities, no villages - or village pubs; no local markets, no distinctive local foods ... Somehow, we need to find a way to put a value on our countryside, with all its facets."
The Prince guest-edited the weekly magazine last year to mark his 65th birthday. He turns 66 on Friday.
Charles highlighted the importance of farmers, insisting: "I simply cannot see a viable future for the countryside that does not have the farmer - and the family farmer is a vital element in this - as food producer, at the front and centre of the picture.
"It would not only be a folly to lose agricultural land, it would be equally foolish to use it in ways that are not environmentally sustainable in the long term."
He stressed the benefits to the wider economy of the countryside's "ecosystem services" - with meadows and other grasslands storing millions of tonnes of carbon, providing homes for pollinating insects, supporting the agricultural economy and areas of beauty attracting visitors to boost local tourism.
Mark Hedges, editor of Country Life, said: "We are delighted that the Prince agreed to mark his 66th birthday by writing a powerful leader on the importance of preserving the countryside and its way of life.
"The Prince has a deep understanding and connection with every aspect of people working and living in rural Britain, from highlighting the hardship facing hill farmers who, last year, earned on average £8,000 to the 60,000 new entrants needed in the UK farming sector to secure its future, to the importance of preserving village schools, pubs and shops at the heart of country communities."
The Prince's Countryside Fund, which was established in 2010, has provided £4.4 million in grants to those who care for the countryside, helping more than 80,000 people and 140 communities.
A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: "Prince Charles is right that we need to value our countryside and protect it for generations to come.
"The rural economy is worth £210 billion and that's why the Government is improving the environment and providing better broadband so we can add to the almost 10,000 new countryside jobs we've already created.
"Our £100 billion food and farming sector is a powerhouse of the economy, employing one in eight people."
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