WELL, the sun shone, the sky to the west gave a display of vivid colour and the waning moon waned above as I wended my way back across Salisbury Plain following one of my visiting sessions on Druidical silviculture at the university.

Look, I don’t want to appear cocky, but we have no shortage of students here in the Department of Post-Druidical Botany, and our post-graduates are at the forefront of all manner of problem areas, from the most obvious – that of wildfires – to a shortage of teak transplants in Myanmar where Druidical science has a long history.

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Some of this expansion is in the response to climatic events, which have become, in the last year or so, the stuff of world news, but some has a more deep-rooted and subtle source.

Looking back on my early days, fire was in the offing, but fires in those days were predominantly in ground vegetation, and burned quickly through young plantations. These were – surprise, surprise – called ‘ground fires’. They could be tackled with beaters and by men on the ground. The heat generated was usually bearable, and burnt-over Sitka on furrows and plough could be fairly easily and quickly replanted.

Whole-tree blazes, which can be seen on any TV news programme these days and are called ‘crown fires’, were unknown in the UK and remain the exception to this day. Helicopters and tanker planes drop fairly futile clouds of spray without success. It’s all too intense, and when smoke darkens city skies miles from the causal blaze you can get some ideas of the scale of the problem.

Prevention is always better than cure, and in our little heather- and molinia-clad hills it is relatively easy to leave fire breaks unplanted and to cultivate roadside strips which can act as a line to be defended and to fight ground fires.

As the Australians soon learned, it is better to burn off dry dead vegetation from the previous year’s ground flora, resulting in a manageable fire, than to provide a wick made up of several years of unburned dry stuff which, when it burns, burns hot.

But fires on the scale of those making the news now defy any human intervention. All we can do is pray for rain. And hope.

“’Fire, fire,’ said Mrs McGuire. ‘Where, where,’ said Mrs Adair. ‘Down in the town’, said Mrs Brown.

‘The Lord save us,’ said Mrs Davies.”

And on this note, I’d better change tack before some lunatic starts a campaign against conifers on the grounds they are more likely to burn than, say, field maple or small-leaved lime or alder or even, dare I say it... oak?

But a prejudice against commercial conifers, even as an element in a mixed hardwood–softwood skyline, is a dead giveaway. Those idiots pulling up newly planted Sitka really show their ignorance of botany, silviculture and timber commerce both nationally and internationally.

We import 80 per cent of our timber needs, second only to China. Can this be credible? We want millions more houses. Made of what?

We tolerate the wastage represented by our bare hills. I have always thought our puny British uplands a sort of soggy desert, fit to produce only a pathetic few sheep with the landscape, the view and the productive potential all ignored in the interests of sphagnum and Calluna.

Just how much deep peat do we need? It’s pretty difficult to use peat as a building material, isn’t it?

Sheep depend 120 per cent on subsidies. There’s a whole generation of old mopers and moaners totally dependent on government subsidies. You can’t eat sphagnum, can you? And the view.

Whoever said that the Pennines would not look so much better as magnificent mixed forest, rather than the clapped-out wasted hills the public seem to worship? Plant Pen-y-gwent? Plant Whernside? Create a new reserve of that versatile raw material, wood. Create a new, vibrant social and commercial community. New job opportunities for young generations. And don’t listen to the moaning minnies.

Yes, you will be saying. While we are at it, let’s plant Salisbury Plain at the same time. After all, you can fly drones just as well over a tree canopy.

Okay. Let’s go!