- For all the latest Royal news, pictures and videos click here
With Prince William on the Earthshot stage in Singapore and Charles continuing to beat the drum for our natural heritage at every opportunity, it’s easy to forget that it was another member of the family who led the way on the environment.
The late Duke of Edinburgh, who passed away in April 2021 at the age of 99, was a long-time conservationist who raised concerns about collapsing biodiversity long before it became fashionable to do so.
As 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?’
Philip’s interest in conservation is believed to have started in the Royal Navy during the 1940s and 50s.
In an interview with Sky News, Dr Claude Martin, a former director of the World Wildlife Fund, once suggested that the Duke of Edinburgh’s passion for wildlife might have started with an interest in birdlife developed during his time at sea.
‘Since he was in the Navy, he started getting interested in birds…’ he said.
‘That was not the only a trigger for him but that made him interested in the world.’
Philip’s interest in photography might have contributed, also. And then came a friendship with Sir Peter Scott, a conservationist with whom the Duke helped to establish the World Wildlife Fund in 1961.
Philip served 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.
In 1970, WWF established its highest conservation award – the Duke of Edinburgh Conservation Award – to recognize and encourage significant achievement in the global environmental field.
Among his trips abroad, Philip was pictured with seals in Antarctica, pandas in China and feeding elephants in Africa.
Across more than five decades, Philip’s efforts on behalf of WWF were inestimable – he visited projects in more than 50 countries, promoted conservation issues at the highest government levels, and helped with fundraising and awareness promotion.
The Duke of Edinburgh worked to raise awareness for issues including poaching, deforestation and pollution at a time when such topics were far from mainstream.
He also wrote several books about the threats faced by many of the planet’s creatures, notably Wildlife Crisis in 1970.
As well as being president of the WWF, he also held the position of president of the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
In 1961, the society named one of its awards the Prince Philip Award, which is presented to teenage conservationists.
Closer to home, he was also heavily involved in the management of royal estates including Balmoral, Sandringham and Windsor Great Park.
However, the same year he became president of the WWF’s British National Appeal, he and the Queen took part in a tiger hunt during a royal tour of Nepal.
The royal couple even posed with the body of an eight-foot tiger in Ranthambore, India, with the Maharajah of Jaipur, reportedly killed by Philip along with a crocodile and six mountain sheep.
When questioned, Philip insisted the tiger was lame and had simply been put out of its misery and that there was no harm in keeping its pelt once it was dead.
It is hard to imagine Prince William taking the same view today.
‘I think that there’s a difference between being concerned for the conservation of nature and being a bunny-hugger,’ he told the BBC. ‘Even naturalists drive cars.’
Unfortunately for Charles, Prince Philip’s views on global warming also occasionally differed from those of his eldest son as he struggled to accept that renewable energy offered a complete answer to global warming.
For Philip, indeed, overpopulation – and humanity’s devouring of resources – was an issue that outranked climate change.
The author of Philip’s 2020 biography, Ingrid Seward said: ‘Philip thought the biggest problem facing mankind was the population expanding far too quickly for the planet to sustain. Of course, it is a delicate issue nowadays and one none of the politicians seem to want to take on.
‘Philip reckoned engineers and scientists would invent ways to make food – which is indeed happening to some extent – but with overpopulation we would run out of water.
‘So he was pragmatic and would have supported Cop26, although he would say a lot of waffle was being talked, and not enough action.’
As with so many other aspects of his life, the Duke of Edinburgh made up his own mind based on the evidence he saw before him and did not care whether this bothered others or not.
But despite his sometimes contentious views, Philip worked tirelessly for the planet.
One of Philip’s most memorable campaigns was his charge to save monarch butterflies, which had been under threat due to numerous factors including climate change and deforestation.
In 1988, he visited Mexico to support a conservation group trying to save the species and while he was there, Philip snapped in a stunning photo standing among the animals as they embarked on their migration.
It is the same picture that the Queen displayed proudly behind her during her video speech at the COP26 summit in 2021.
Here, Queen Elizabeth told leaders how the ‘impact of the environment on human progress was a cause ‘close to the heart of my dear late husband’.
As long ago as 1969, she said, the former Duke of Edinburgh warned that pollution would make every other problem ‘pale into insignificance’ if it was not dealt with.
She also praised Prince Philip for lighting the flame of environmentalism in King Charles and his son, Prince William.
The Queen said: ‘It is a source of great pride to me that the leading role my husband played in encouraging people to protect our fragile planet lives on through the work of our eldest son Charles and his eldest son William. I could not be more proud of them.’
In the 2020 documentary ‘A Planet for Us All’, William described Prince Philip as being ‘well ahead of his time’. He added: ‘My grandfather and my father have been in conservation, the environmental world for years.’
The royal also praised his grandfather while he was a guest on the Climate of Change podcast series with Cate Blanchett and Danny Kennedy, where he sat down to discuss how Prince Philip and King Charles inspired him to take on his own causes.
‘I think my grandfather and my father both kind of having a deep passion and interest in this area for many years has sort of piqued my interest and my curiosity,’ said William.
‘So growing up, I was surrounded by kind of this adventure and this idea of exploring and being out in the garden.’
Between the Prince of Wales’ Earthshot Prize, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle ‘s net-zero carbon pledge, and Charles’s long history of outspoken environmental activism, the royals are following in the well-trod footsteps of Prince Philip.