William's first key speech as Prince of Wales suggests he'll take on the King's environmental mantle

ITV News Royal Editor Chris Ship reports on Prince William's first speech as Prince of Wales

Prince William has referred to the global fight against the illegal wildlife trade as “a war” and said the crime has “terrifying” consequences.

 He was speaking at a summit where he acknowledged his love for the natural world was something he learnt from a young age from his family including his “much-missed grandmother”.

 It was the first speech by the new Prince of Wales since he became heir to the throne and was given the title by the King on the day after Queen Elizabeth’s death.

The Prince met delegates before his speech. Credit: PA

Prince William said: “Our natural world is one of our greatest assets. It is a lesson I learnt from a young age, from my father and my grandfather, both committed naturalists in their own right, and also from my much-missed grandmother, who cared so much for the natural world.”

But referring to the on-going fight against poaching and the illegal trade in wildlife, he said: “In times of loss, it is a comfort to honour those we miss through the work we do.”

The Prince knows the dangers facing those who campaign to end the trade.

Last November, he spoke to Anton Mzimba, a ranger in the Timbavati game reserve near South Africa’s Kruger National Park.

But in July, Mr Mzimba was shot dead at his home in front of his family.

Its estimated 150 rangers working to end the illegal wildlife trade are killed every year.

The Prince of Wales listened to speeches ahead of his own. Credit: PA

The Prince of Wales said the crime was “heinous” and “vicious” and spoke about Anton Mzimba.

“Anton dedicated himself to the protection of wildlife, undertaking his role diligently and professionally despite threats to his life. He stood up to violent criminals and paid the ultimate price. It is only right that we pay tribute to him and all the other selfless rangers”.

 A friend of Mr Mzimba, and fellow ranger Altin Gysman, told ITV News today that rangers face threats to their lives from both from the poachers they fight against and through accidents with the wild animals they work to protect.

 Choosing to speak out on this issue in his very first keynote speech as Prince of Wales, suggests William is planning to pick up the environmental crusade from his father, who campaigned for the natural world during his time as Prince of Wales, before he became King.

When King Charles was Prince of Wales he was a passionate advocate for conservation. Credit: PA

Prince Charles, as he was then, made his first speech on pollution in 1972.

But King Charles has acknowledged he will be unable to pursue his passions and causes in the public domain in the same way, now he is Monarch.

Prince William has spoken about the environment during the Platinum Jubilee celebrations, but he says it’s something he became passionate about as a child.

The United for Wildlife organisation, which brought global leaders to London today for the summit on ending the illegal wildlife trade, was set up by Prince William through his Royal Foundation in 2014.

He said the illegal trade in animals for elephant tusks, rhinoceros horns and tiger skins was “one of the largest, yet often overlooked, international crimes” which blight our world. 

The Prince of Wales said today’s summit should honour the memory of the rangers who had been killed “by continuing our work with renewed focus and vigour.”