IT’S conventional wisdom that whenever two Englishmen meet for the first time, they talk of two things – first the weather, and second the cricket. 

At last, the weather has assumed its proper prominence with what seems like a more-or-less global recognition that something is happening to the climate.

This seems to become most critical when it affects our summer holidays, with the traditional Med sunshine becoming just a bit too much for us peely-wally Northerners who are, it appears, replanning basking or shrivelling in the newly empowered sunshine in favour of trips to the hills, where it is cooler.


Cricket is currently undergoing a similar metamorphosis. When we play a women’s test match in, say, Perth (the Scottish one, that is), then it’s clear something new is approaching – if not already here.

Before all this threat of change, the Confor Woodland Show traditionally gives us all a chance to meet and talk with friends and acquaintances who, due to the very nature of forestry, are not seen all that often.

It’s a chance for a good old chat and even a pint or two, seeing as it was held in good old cider country (brings back memories of the Wurzels, don’t you think?). Yet quite what Confor hoped to achieve by this convergence of forestry folk is, to me, a bit obscure.

We could all talk about the weather, I suppose, and we had to. The reinstated show went from torrential rain to beautiful sunshine and back to a quagmire of mud in just a few days.

Forestry Journal: The Confor Woodland Show provided the chance to see some of the latest machinery The Confor Woodland Show provided the chance to see some of the latest machinery (Image: FJ/Jack Haugh)

The content of the actual event was a bit depressingly predictable, with log splitters taking pride of place and the muddy climax making getting about problematical. I visited with a colleague, whose first question or his second (remember the first) was on the subject of what Confor was and what it was trying to achieve through the show. Any organisation, he opined, that had the letters ‘con’ in its title was clearly pushing its luck.

So what is Confor and what does it do? Forestry is once again standing at something of a crossroads. Everyone loves it, so long as it doesn’t actually do anything. It’s okay so long as it doesn’t make a nuisance of itself by planting useful trees in the hills and scaring the horses. A list of Confor’s achievements over the years would be a short one.

Not that it has much of a chance at the moment, when the great debate is entirely focussed on the idiotic vandalism in the Cheviots.

It’s not long since the two big party conferences came to a close, and the word ‘forestry’ didn’t, I think, get a mention. Neither did ‘agriculture’ or ‘conservation’ unless you count bulldozing the green belt to plant houses made out of compressed sphagnum moss (see previous issues).

As for the sycamore, collected expertise has placed the age of the doomed toss at anything from 150 to 300 years old. 

I seem to remember a low-key debate some years ago discussing whether sycamore was truly a native species and whether its life cycle has a positive effect on the environment or not. This was in the days before Confor.

Someone suggested that sycamore was introduced by the Romans. 

If so, a planting on Hadrian’s Wall would have been most appropriate, don’t you think? Anyway, I’ve never seen a 300-year-old sycamore, have any of you?

The treatment of environmental issues, especially at the party conferences, is more than a bit worrying. The present governments’ activities don’t really seem positive outside of perhaps Scotland, and while floods, landslips, ground zero and all that do actually get some press coverage, it’s all pretty vague and a low priority. A nice, brutal war with thousands dying makes much better copy. Faced with disastrous climate change, what does mankind do? Why, start a little war, of course! Or even a big war, as the case may prove to be. No trees actually get planted. Crazy.

And while all this is going on, what does Confor do? 

I’m not holding my breath for them to offer something constructive on the subject of wars, but perhaps it could venture an opinion about the sycamore?

Regardless, I’ll be watching the cricket on my telly this weekend. Or is it the Rugby World Cup? Or women’s cricket? Oh damn! It’s raining again. And blowing a gale. But it’s unseasonably warm, don’t you think? Could be the hottest October on record, they say...

A full response from Confor CEO Stuart Goodall to this article will be published in December's Forestry Journal and online.