LONDON — Prince Charles must lift the veil of secrecy covering his lucrative 700-year-old royal estate and answer public requests for environmental information, a British tribunal has ruled.
The First-Tier Tribunal on information rights said Thursday that Charles' 136,000-acre (55,000-hectare) estate – the Duchy of Cornwall – must abide by some of the same regulations followed by other government bodies.
The ruling stems from a 2008 demand for information made by environmental activist Michael Bruton, who was concerned over the Duchy's oyster farming in Port Navas, a protected area of salt meadows and mudflats 300 miles (480 kilometers) southwest of London.
Bruton told The Associated Press on Friday that he was concerned the Duchy was allowing the introduction of nonnative oyster species into the local waterway as well as the buildup of unsightly refuse on the coast.
"What are you doing in the Helford river, that's all I asked," he said.
The prince's estate declined to answer, arguing that it was effectively a private inheritance and should be exempt from disclosing the information.
Judge John Angel acknowledged that the estate had a "historical context which is complicated and possibly unique" but ruled it was a public authority as regards Britain's environmental information rules, which work like freedom of information laws.
The tribunal's decision is unlikely to have much of an effect on the rest of Charles' affairs, according to Marc Dautlich, a partner at U.K. law firm Pinsent Masons. Still the rebuff was an embarrassment for the prince, an outspoken proponent of organic farming and other green causes.
Charles' office said it was still considering whether to appeal the judgment.
The Duchy of Cornwall was created in 1337 by Edward III for his son and heir, Prince Edward, to provide him and future heirs to the throne with an income from its assets.
The land is broken up over 23 counties and includes residential and business properties besides agricultural tracts. The largest chunk is in Dartmoor, in southwest England, where farmers rear cattle and sheep. It also includes the Isles of Scilly, just off the coast, which are known for their flower farming.
The duchy earned Charles almost 18 million pounds ($29 million) last year. The bulk of the money is used to fund the prince's travels and his charity work; the rest is for Charles to keep.
Bruton, a fan of the prince's green agenda, said it was important that the heir to the throne be honest about how his business activities affect the environment.
"There's a dichotomy between what the prince preaches and what the Duchy does, and that's not right," Bruton said.
Tribunal ruling: (PDF) http://bit.ly/sBUZkwDuchy of Cornwall: http://www.duchyofcornwall.org/