IT’S alluring to believe that after that all-too-short burst of publicity in Glasgow, the beginnings of plans to confront climate change are actually taking place. But ... Glasgow? What was all that? 

Lost amongst the gathering storm over gatherings in Number 10, the sale of honours to wealthy Saudis, and COVID, COVID and yet more COVID (plus a convincing walloping delivered by the Aussies to our test team), all of which have driven any timetable for change resulting from that Glasgow gathering off the front pages and, indeed, out of our conscientious minds. But reminders are all too present. Close to home, we’ve seen electricity supplies disrupted by storms, then unprecedented tornados in the Midwest of the US which should keep our collective eyes on the ball as it is a future of extreme events such as these that awaits us.

READ MORE: Forester's COP26 Diary: Deforestation deal takes centre stage

What are we doing about changing our commerce and culture in a meaningful way? Anything? Hard to understand, isn’t it? Whichever genius concocted the acronym for DEFRA’s Environmental Land Management Scheme, ELMS, clearly had no idea of the realities we have tried to live with down here in the South where gaunt, dead trees are such a feature of the landscape. Elms, indeed! lf you ever wanted to project a vision of catastrophic failure, them calling your scheme ELMS must surely be unprecedented. But perhaps there are plans for small farmers, called the Agricultural Small Holdings scheme, or ASH, which haven’t yet made it onto the agenda of the All Party Parliamentary Group yet?

It’s great to see Scotland powering ahead with lots of energy, imagination and success.

The Welsh initiative – giving children a tree each – seems pretty dead in the water and I fear we are going to hear a lot more about native species. For goodness sake, let’s at least try to wean the next generation off the absurd prejudice against conifers we have come to accept. Grotty hardwoods, home to families of grey squirrels, are not at all what we need. We continue to import over 80 per cent of our softwoods, so growing crabby Welsh oak is not going to supply a building programme which is already suffering shortages of sawn wood. This is only going to get worse in the immediate future. It’s not for nothing that timber prices have skyrocketed and, by association, commercial plantation values continue to outperform the property market.

Something else which never gets a mention is research. Research into squirrels, into new and existing tree diseases. We have come to respect Alice Holt and its minions, but we seem now to have lost our way. While accepting the clear differences between saving the life of trees and human mortality, the COVID pandemic continues to show how targeting research efforts can, in these days of artificial intelligence, produce spectacular successes. Can it really be more difficult to find treatments for larch, for Corsican pine, for acutely declining oak and, yes, you’ve guessed it, for ELMS?

Then there are the basic problems arising from land ownership. Land values have been sustained during the era of the Common Agricultural Policy by subsidies enjoyed by no other commercial activity, which the NFU would have us believe as essential to keep inefficient and poorly focused farming from bankruptcy. 

Valuing farmland at present must be more than difficult. Traditionally, Grade 3 farmland changed hands at a level 10 times that of even the best forest land. So if Jeremy Clarkson realises that diddly squat will be the future profits for his Cotswold estate and wants to get out, he can expect a thumping fall in his land value – unless, of course, ELMS gallops to his rescue with another massive grant, enabling him and his neighbours to carry on, this time as paid park-keepers looking after sustainability. 

Nice to think that such a change in the status quo could make more land available for planting, producing something that is really needed. Timber!

Things move pretty darned quickly in today’s world, and throughout land use and crop production – be it barley or Douglas fir – there is a very clear lack of new thinking. We need new ideas to address new visions of land use in rural England, just as we need new blood in recruitment into all aspects of forestry from planners and marketers to machinery operators. But that is another story, for another day.