The Queen's Green Canopy (QGC) was a tree planting initiative created to mark Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee in 2022

While the Queen may have spoken less about the climate than some of her family members, perhaps her actions spoke louder than words.

For a leader in her position, the Queen trod relatively lightly on the planet, according to royal historian Kate Williams.

“As a person, she was very frugal, and it’s very much about her upbringing as a war baby,” she said.

Her Majesty’s simple diet of local produce and meat had low food miles – likely easier when one owns vast farm and hunting land.

She reused wrapping paper, kept furniture for decades, re-wore outfits, farmed honey at Buckingham Palace and took holidays in Scotland at her Balmoral estate.

“She wasn’t explicitly saying, ‘Look at me, I’m so eco’,” said Prof Williams. But the way the Queen lived was “very much the ways in which people live in the 1940s and 1950s,” when rationing was familiar.

And while some of her family members were more prominently associated with environmentalism – Prince Philip was president of the World Wildlife Fund; Prince Charles championed organic farming; Prince William founded the environmental Earthshot prize – the Queen held dozens of patronages and links with environmental organisations, from African Parks to Botanic Gardens.

Her love of the natural world was on display in a 2018 TV programme with Sir David Attenborough, in which the nonagenarians admired even older trees in Buckingham Palace gardens.

Not to mention her love of animals – particularly corgis and horses – and gardening.

Domino effect

Prof Williams noted that “it’s quite difficult for the Royal Family to [speak] about environmental issues because of the natural carbon footprint of being a royal,” including the vast palaces they call home and extensive travel on official visits.

But the Queen’s greatest impact may have been in the form of the domino effect that her actions had on public behaviour.

Following the news in 2019 that the Queen had stopped wearing fur, searches for faux fur products spiked 52%, according to Lyst’s 2020 Conscious Fashion report.

Trees sprang up all around the country in her Platinum Jubilee year, after she requested everyone mark the occasion by planting trees as a part of her Queen’s Green Canopy project.

Queen Elizabeth II meets with schoolchildren before the start of the official planting season for the Queen's Green Canopy
Queen Elizabeth II meets with schoolchildren before the start of the official planting season for the Queen’s Green Canopy

Queen ‘irritated’ by world leaders talking not doing

In her older years the Queen became more outspoken.

“I think because she knows when she’s outspoken, it means a lot, it says a lot, it does a lot,” said Prof Williams.

Before the UK hosted the COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow in November 2021, the Queen criticised world leaders’ inaction on the crisis.

Caught speaking privately on a livestream, she said: “Extraordinary, isn’t it? I’ve been hearing all about COP… Still don’t know who is coming. No idea.

“We only know about people who are not coming… It’s really irritating when they talk, but they don’t do,” she was captured saying.

Although not intended for public circulation, that criticism was later echoed in her official address at the climate talks.

In an unusually personal video message, she said many people hoped the “time for words has now moved to the time for action”.

The Queen had planned to attend the Glasgow climate talks in person but “regretfully” decided to pre-record the address after being advised to rest.

Pic: AP
Pic: AP

‘Ecological wasteland’

But the “single biggest thing” the Royal Family could do for the environment would be to re-wild the approximately 850,000 acres of Crown land, argues campaigner Joel Scott-Halkes.

Rewilding involves reversing damage to nature through active, large-scale restoration, to the point where the ecosystem can then take care of itself again.

The Queen held vast amount of land, some enjoyed through her position as sovereign, such as through the Duchy of Lancaster, and some owned privately, irrespective of her title, such as the 50,000 acres of Balmoral and 20,000 at Sandringham.

But the Duchy of Lancaster, which has around 44,000 acres, is an “ecological wasteland… dominated by grouse moors that they set fire to promote the sporting enjoyment of a few paying aristocrats,” Mr Scott-Halkes claimed.

The United Nations says the world must re-wild and restore an area the size of China to prevent ecosystem collapse and climate breakdown.

Together the Royal Family owns 1.4% of England’s land, an area twice the size of Greater London, according to research by campaigner Guy Shrubsole.

Re-wilding Crown land would send “an immense sign to all other landowners in the country, particularly aristocratic landowners, who look to the Royals for sort of stylistic leadership on what to do with your estate,” said Scott-Halkes, who orchestrated a petition to the Royal Family.

Queen Elizabeth II plants a tree in the Diamond Jubilee Wood on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk to mark her Diamond Jubilee. 2012
Queen Elizabeth II plants a tree on the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 2012

The management of some Crown land may soon change as Prince William, as next in line to the throne, takes over the Duchy of Cornwall, some 130,000 acres of land, from his father.

“He is much more outspoken about the need for restoration,” said Mr Scott-Halkes, referring to the Prince’s visit to the 3,500 acre Knepp Estate in West Sussex, a poster child for the re-wilding movement.

Currently around 6% of the 130,000 acres of land in the Duchy of Cornwall is covered with trees, according to the Wild Card campaign, half the national average of 10-13%, and far less than the EU average of 39%.

“Prince William will have to set out his vision for how he manages all of that land,” Mr Scott-Halkes added.

It was Queen Victoria and Prince Philip who started the grouse moor shooting fashion in the 1850s.

“Could we see a time when the monarch sets the trend for re-wilding?,” asked Shrubsole.

On receiving the petition in 2021, Buckingham Palace said the family had a proud history of over 50 years of championing conservation and was continually looking for new ways to improve that work.

A Royal Estates spokesperson said the Royal Family have a proud history, over 50 years, of getting involved in conservation and are always looking for new ways to further that work.

Queen Elizabeth II plants an oak tree in the grounds of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire to mark her visit. 2012
Queen Elizabeth II plants an oak tree in the grounds of Hatfield House in Hertfordshire to mark her visit in 2012

Further challenges

A further key challenge for the new generation for the monarchy is “dealing with the private jet,” argues Prof Williams.

The Queen ascended the throne in 1952, well before concern for the environment had spread widely.
“The kind of diplomacy she’s done has been very much want to be being present and being there,” said the historian.
“She couldn’t really say, ‘I don’t want to get on a plane.'”

But as the world seeks to curb its dangerous amount of climate heating pollution, “the Royal Family do need to think about their carbon footprint”.

Measures might include swapping private jets for first class flights and helicopters for cars for domestic travel, suggested Prof Williams, as well as address the energy efficiency of the palaces.

Throughout the seven decades of her reign, issues that used to be the Queen’s concerns about living frugally have become matters of global importance.

Looking back on her reign, “I think that’s the biggest change that she would have seen, is what happened to the environment” Prof Williams added.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.