What we have discovered after several years of experience is that here is a really practical way of benefiting both those who work for you and those aspire to do so

Personally, I sincerely hope that the Soil Association, in its second half century, will continue to follow that example, encouraging us all to look with fresh eyes at the relationships between society and agriculture; between food, health and our environment, and between ourselves and our planet.

For many places, the process of uglification through insensitive development for mass tourism and the destruction of natural environments, townscapes and fragile eco-systems have demonstrated, vividly and tragically, the limits to sustainability.

I wanted to say a few words about a subject which I suspect is not often discussed on occasions like this - the importance of the sacred in the modern world.

So the kind of work we are celebrating today is essential if we are to succeed in constructing a society of such diverse origins as our own, which can understand and be at ease with itself, and to be able to promote self-respect among minority groups and also break down the sense of isolation.

I am delighted at the way in which the Trust is becoming increasingly professional in all sorts of ways, both in terms of how we present ourselves to the outside world, and how we organise our own affairs.

A high proportion of these buildings are not just of architectural value, but also are eminently suited to a range of other uses. Yet many will be lost if a concerted attempt to rescue them is not put in place.

The importance of this opportunity becomes clear once we appreciate what the Millennium means. Surprisingly, there has been little obvious attempt to look beneath the surface of this event as it applies to us in the waning years of the 20th century, or to try to understand the significance of the Millennium and the power of its symbolism. To achieve this we need, I believe, to delve a little deeper than normal into the sacred basis of our existence.

I am sure the word biodiversity will sound odd to those children, and I can't help thinking that we really have made life awfully difficult for ourselves with terms like 'sustainability', 'biodiversity' and 'Local Agenda 21'. They don't exactly provide many clues to the uninitiated about their meaning!

The ancient idea that mankind has a responsibility for the stewardship of the natural world, and hence of the countryside, may not be particularly fashionable, but I believe that it lies at the heart of the concept of sustainability, which has currently received so much attention.