Ladies and Gentlemen, I am so glad to welcome you to the garden of Clarence House to watch in horror as my garden is dug up! I look forward with the burial to seeing what comes up later in the year. I am pretty sure we will discover that wool does no damage to the Earth, simply replenishes it, whereas the masses of synthetic material we put in the ground simply stays there and then eventually leeches many damaging chemicals. At the end of 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit a celebration event for the Campaign for Wool of which I've been Patron for some years in New Zealand, where I saw, first-hand, the miraculous properties of wool and its remarkable response to fire. I was shown a similar demonstration to the one you have seen this morning, which I'm afraid I have been urging my Campaign to put on ever since. So this whole thing is my fault!
I sometimes think that too many people have forgotten or perhaps they never even realised in the first place that not only is wool one of the most resilient, ecological and sustainable natural fibres in the world, it is also one of the safest because it is so fireproof. As you have seen, it is very hard to set fire to wool. It smoulders, as you've seen, and then quickly burns out, unlike Man-made, oil based synthetic materials the ones you now find all over the world and, which, as any fire officer will tell you, can so easily be a fire hazard and highly flammable.
As I never tire of pointing out, wool is not only one of the oldest fibres known to mankind, it is also one of the most beneficial, but, again, as with so many other things; we have abandoned and thrown away (such as rare breeds and varieties of species). During the 20th Century, we have lost sight of the long-term value of Nature and her genius. It is perhaps a sobering thought that only 1.3 per cent of clothes today are made from wool, whereas 60 per cent are made from synthetic materials. And in the world of carpets, only 20 per cent still use wool, while 80 per cent are synthetic which, apart from anything else, will take decades to biodegrade in landfill, if they degrade at all.
I take some heart from the fact that my Campaign for Wool which I brought into being to prevent its complete demise and to help struggling sheep farmers and the rural communities associated with them, all over the world has already enjoyed some success in alleviating this alarming state of affairs. Obviously, all sorts of factors play a part in the health of a business as far-flung as the wool industry but it is encouraging that sheep numbers, which had been in almost continuous decline since the 1990s, first stabilised and have now begun to increase again in Britain and Australia and several other important markets. And I don’t like to tempt fate, but it is also the case that, since my Campaign was launched, the price of wool has tripled, which means that farmers and wool-growers in this country, and across the Commonwealth, are receiving a little more than they were for their wool, which might thus enable farmers and rural communities to remain doing what they do so well, helping to maintain the countryside we take for granted.
What really pleases me, if I may say so, is that we are no longer faced with the crazy situation whereby farmers were being paid less for a fleece than the cost of shearing it, which was very much the reality, I can assure you, when I convened this Campaign. That is why I brought together wool interests, wool organizations and the fashion sector to encourage them to work together for a better economic landscape and common benefit.
The primary aim of the Campaign is simply to increase the demand for wool by explaining its many benefits to consumers. It is the most remarkable fibre. Because wool is a living material, it has a natural cell structure which allows it to adapt to its environment; wool absorbs moisture and releases it later to regulate humidity so, of course, this makes it a brilliant chemical-free insulating material. Most importantly, though, as you have witnessed today, wool has remarkable fire resistant and fire retardant qualities.
And that, Ladies and Gentlemen, is just one of the reasons why I very much hope that you can continue to support my Campaign.