I was once told off for watching quiz shows on the TV. But the entertainment value of trying to outdo university students or imagine yourself in that black chair puts at least some point into an otherwise pointless half-hour. It’s the questions as much as anything. Contestants are required to show an esoteric knowledge one moment, then bathos. A childishly simple fact fortuitously remembered scores the same as untangling some mathematical problem totally unintelligible to mere mortals like me.

We landed on Mars last month, but since then there has been worrying silence from the space vehicle. Could it be, perhaps, that little green men have pinched it and are now preparing a return visit? One thing is certainly true: Mars has environmental problems which we, with our knowledge of treelessness, must find familiar. And we can help to turn the Red Planet into the green planet by suitable afforestation. One day soon, a little green man will land in a Forestry Commission forest and make the usual request: “Take me to your leader.”

Now there’s a Mastermind poser for you. Name any Forestry Commissioner (apart from Julian Evans, that is). An even harder problem to solve, you will have noticed, is to get through to anybody within the Commission who can speak with any authority about anything. They don’t answer the phone and if they do, hardly ever return calls. You can email, if you like – here, just try it. But you have to, because there are no contact numbers. And my international informants tell me they have the same problem in Ireland. A conspiracy theory. Is this Martian influence?

Of course, they can shelter behind some kind of rather smug forest policy that tells us that we will plant trees everywhere in response to our efforts to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2035, I think it is. This will mean planting 75,000 acres a year. It’s going to involve changing a lot of deeply engrained mindsets. And we are going to enlist the help of school-children and local authorities who will aim to plant a tree per pupil per year, and to fill our wasteland, our urban landscape with trees in towns. 44,000 trees are allocated to this side-show. Big, big deal. Again, historically not a universally popular thing to do. There will be underground problems and as for schools, they’re okay to plant (they already do in South Korea), but we must also teach maintenance (which they also do in South Korea).

READ MORE: Forester's diary: A blast from the past

But I digress. The Sunday Times had a half-page on the subject a week or two ago quoting some highly questionable figures comparing the carbon storage capacity of oak, and – yes, you’ve guessed it – Sitka spruce. They pose the “tricky question”: what species of tree will be grown? Will the new plants be of slow-growing oak, ash and chestnut favoured by wildlife charities (and all threatened by virulent diseases – the trees, that is, not the charities, or less so since the vaccination programme) or densely planted spruce and pine in coniferous forests grown for the timber industry?

It’s about persuading sheep farmers to become foresters, we are told. And planting the right trees in the right places. Flash! A Mastermind question! What is the difference between a truism and a platitude? Answer: there ain’t much. OED says that a truism is a self-evident or indisputable truth. A proposition, it goes on, that states nothing. A platitude is a commonplace remark, especially solemnly delivered.

Look, get real. We are not going to plant a tenth of our targets with current attitudes and structures. The only answer to our Martian invaders’ question is: “Leader? What’s that? We don’t seem to have one, do we?”

What we need is leadership, imagination, drive and above all, personality. There is evidence from past controversies that we as a nation love trees. Let’s really feed on this. Let’s make forestry fun again as it was in the 1970s and 1980s. Let’s free ourselves of stuffy, useless committees and special interest groups. Sensible forestry can and will bring smiles to all manner of faces. To do this will mean a new concentration on PR and promotion.

It’s unsurprising that the only response to the Sunday Times was from the Deputy President of the NFU, who doesn’t think much of the whole tree-planting operation. It will mean more food imports, say poor old farmers. Not like us foresters. We only import 80 per cent of our timber.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £75 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link: https://www.forestryjournal.co.uk/subscribe/

Thanks – and stay safe.