EVER since the birth of this diary – long, long ago and almost lost in the mists of time – a constantly recurring theme has been how bad we are at public relations. By “we” I mean forest managers. Those of us concerned with delivering our unique raw material (man’s oldest and best raw material) as well as caring for the environment, sequestering carbon, improving the view, and all the myriad benefits which forests can deliver. 

For all too brief a moment, before and during COP26 in Glasgow, recognition dawned.

Ambitious new targets were promised, new controls on felling and deforestation proposed. Brave words were said, but it must be admitted that after just a month or two, the whole subject has, once again, gone off track and, when asked to confront the practical problems which might arise, lofty forestry ambitions are forgotten.

READ MORE: Forester's Diary February 2022: Woodland Creation Offer won't solve UK's timber issues

Take land use. Countryside TV programmes, of which there are many, show farmers having a nice time, seemingly confident about their post-CAP future, never being examined about why this particular aspect of our economy should continue to receive support. I’m only going to say this once. We import 80 per cent of our sawn wood requirements. Then there’s the glorification of our national parks – worn out and degraded from centuries of exploitation but now considered breathtakingly beautiful.

Forestry Journal: There seemed to be a moment of recognition during COP26There seemed to be a moment of recognition during COP26

Clapped out, I call it.

I watched one such programme, in which a couple of girls in the Lake District set about trying to eradicate gorse colonisation not by burning it off or swiping it or spraying it, but by reaching through the spikes with a pair of secateurs. Rewilding in reverse. Could a more futile activity, all funded by the taxpayer, ever be contemplated? And how could you do half an hour of telly time on national parks, all in our uplands, without mentioning the 30,000-hectare target of new planting, all of which, it would appear is to be with native species. Squirrel food. My computer starts to make a strangled noise whenever I type those two words together. There, stopped it.

The one shining beacon is Scotland. But where is the planting land? Where is the will? Where is the simple, plain understanding of our industry south of Hadrian’s Wall? Where is proper grant aid, where is the Forestry Commission to speak, shout and repeat a positive forestry message?

We need, then, in the words of the song, to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. I started by suggesting that we are pretty poor at getting our message across – point made. But there are also some pretty worrying negatives.

As I write, the terrifying prospect of war in Ukraine has hogged the headlines. There is war in Myanmar, in Yemen, a world of mistrust, falsehood and instability. A world of hackers, of fraudsters and, of course, a world of COVID. Can anyone seriously consider a world where the climate might be warming as top of this current agenda? And planting trees as a means to address the problem? Will President Putin be swayed by his carbon footprint? Could he and his 120,000 soldiers be constrained by CO2 emissions coming from unrest in Central Europe?

Can anyone seriously contemplate the almost daily bad news coming from extreme climatic events around the globe when the national news media make headlines over garden parties/gatherings/call them what you will? Tsunamis in Tonga, volcanic eruptions in the Canaries... And it’s not just abroad. Looking out of my window here, where it’s blowing a gale, are more present anxieties about changes to our environment. The recent disaster in North Scotland, with the devastation it caused to native pinewoods, made scant column inches down south.

But it does raise some worrying factors about the role of forests and afforestation in the general picture of tackling rising temperatures. Forestry is a long business. It works slowly and steadily over decades, centuries even. This means it is exposed to risks for longer. Droughts, fires, floods, frost, and (topically, as I write this) storms are set to recur around the world.

Forestry Journal: War has since broken out in Ukraine War has since broken out in Ukraine

You might recall my recollections of my early days in forestry in the brown, dry, molinia-clad hills of the Welsh valleys, where fires in the young, established spruce woods put the whole planting programme at risk. Today, I hardly dare look at the weather forecast. Last time I looked it was predicting, once again, 90-mile-an-hour winds, electricity supplies cut off and structural damage to houses, buildings and forests. If it happens, that’s three gales in the North in one winter. And it’s not over yet.

READ MORE: Forester's diary January 2022: Our writer on the need to lose the 'absurd prejudice against conifers'

It’s time, I think, to latch on to the affirmative. In our normal lives we face up to risks daily. We have unrealistic but existing targets for new planting. Last year, we glimpsed a new dawn for both commercial and environmental forests. But now we really need to grasp this opportunity and get on with the job. We need to tackle public opinion, fight our land-use corner, tread upon some national park toes and point out publicly that it is commercial agriculture which is the surmounting cause of river pollution, of soil degradation, of unacceptable animal welfare practices, and of the impoverishment of our countryside.

And don’t let’s mess with Mister In-between.