The Prince of Wales during a visit to the Land Rover Experience driver training programme at Kitridding Farm, Lupton, Cumbria, where he announced the opening of the Land Rover Countryside Bursary Fund
A new bursary to support rural communities will help ensure "we can maintain the priceless national asset which is our precious countryside", The Prince of Wales said today.
Land Rover has teamed up with The Prince's Countryside Fund to offer five Freelander 2 vehicles for a year to individuals and groups who can prove they can put it to good use for the benefit of their community.
They could be a young entrepreneur starting a rural enterprise, an apprentice hill farmer or an organisation offering free transport to rurally-isolated people.
The Prince of Wales visited Kitridding Farm near Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria, to officially launch the scheme and also view a Land Rover training programme which provides off-road, winching and towing activities.
He showed off his own driving skills as he drove a vehicle on a mini-Terrapod, an off-roading mobile unit that uses a combination of steep slopes, low friction surfaces and other obstacles to emphasise the grip and traction abilities of the vehicle.
Launching the bursary, The Prince said: "I want to use this opportunity to express my warmest possible gratitude to Land Rover for their really remarkable generosity in ensuring we now have this splendid scheme.
The Prince of Wales drives a Land Rover Freelander during a visit to the Land Rover Experience driver training programme at Kitridding Farm, Lupton, Cumbria, where he announced the opening of the Land Rover Countryside Bursary Fund
"This is a wonderful act of generosity. It is the sort of willingness to become involved on the part of different companies which can make such a fantastic difference, above all in ensuring we can maintain the priceless national asset which is our precious countryside. In particular, the upland areas which tend to be the ones that visitors want to go to - millions of them every year.
"The important thing to remember is if we do not look after it, of course it is the farmers who do much of that, then once that is lost you just cannot recreate it. It is not something you can start again so easily.
"So far as I am concerned, the Countryside Fund will do its utmost to help the future of all of these smaller family farms and the rural community."
The fund's director Victoria Harris said: "We are excited about the variety of people and businesses that we are expecting to apply. 4x4 vehicles are crucial in helping rural businesses get around the countryside for their daily business needs."
Laura Schwab, marketing director of Land Rover UK, said: "Having reliable and dependable transport to work in the countryside is essential and we hope these bursaries will benefit entrepreneurial farmers."
The Prince set up the fund three years ago to support Britain's hard-pressed rural areas. So far it has given more than £2.1 million in grants distributed to 60 projects and directly benefiting nearly 40,000 people.
Earlier this week, the fund authorised £219,000 from its emergency relief fund to help farmers during the Easter period following the recent cold snap and late arrival of spring.
He said: "I know at the moment that the farming community must be suffering the most awful difficulties and challenges, what with the weather and last year's awful difficulties again with the weather.
"On top of that comes diseases of all kind and also rising prices, the beef costs, and also the difficulties so many farmers have been experiencing in not being able to drill their autumn crops and now with more difficulty in trying to drill the spring crops.
"And of course the snow now, the cold, lambing, people losing their lambs and sheeps...all of these things combining.
"What we find is that the farming charities are experiencing more and more calls to their offices, in despair many of them at the situation they are facing. So that stress levels are rising all the time."
The Prince later enjoyed an hour-long tour of the historic market town of Kirkby Lonsdale which he last visited in 1993.
An enthusiastic crowd braved the chilly temperatures to greet him as he walked around the market square and met stallholders, shopkeepers and well-wishers who lined Main Street.
One member of the public gave him an early Easter present of a Maltesers Easter egg.
Among stallholders he met was Sarah Peel, 46, from Milnthorpe, who runs Cool Crafting which runs sewing and crafting workshops.
She said: "He was very interested in hearing about it. He wanted to get London knitting for the Jubilee last year.
"He liked our Doggy Doorsteps."
The Prince then enjoyed a tipple of Jubilee stout, courtesy of the Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery Company.
Set up in February 2009 by local men Plug, Roger and Stuart Taylor and Alan Stephenson, the brewery is a thriving business with its beer names all linked to the town and its history.
The idea for the name of its first beer produced, Ruskin's Bitter, came from Ruskin's View which Turner painted in 1816.
Given a choice from its ranges, His Royal Highness aptly plumped for a drop of Jubilee and gave it the thumbs-up.
He was then presented with a selection of the brewery's ales.
Pupils from Queen Elizabeth School were among the well-wishers in the crowd and a saxophone quartet from the school provided musical accompaniment along with Kirkby Lonsdale Brass Band.
St Mary's Church, which dates back to Norman times, was his final stop as he presented a long-service certificate to church verger Peter Briggs.
The Prince moved on to walking holidays company HF Holidays at Thorns Hall in Sedbergh, Cumbria.
He met members of the co-operative society and also guests enjoying a walking break.
To mark the visit he was invited to cut a cake to mark the firm's 100th anniversary and sign a commemorative copy of The Story Of HF Holidays.
HF Holidays chief executive Brian Smith said: "We are honoured and pleased that the Prince of Wales took the time to visit one of our country houses and help us celebrate our centenary year.
"In our 100 years, HF Holidays has welcomed over five million guests on our very special, sociable and active holidays."
He finished the day in Alston, Cumbria, on a visit to Bonds Precision Castings, to view a specialist manufacturing process of steel castings.
The company is a significant employer in rural Cumbria and a leading producer of pump impellers, exporting to 25 countries.