IN a fit of zeal last week, I wrote to my parish councillor suggesting that the local authority ought here and now to begin to address the looming problem of treelessness in our agricultural parish.

We were ahead of the game – or rather behind the Dutch elm disease catastrophe – and elm has now virtually vanished from our field boundaries. We will no doubt have to get used to the demise of ash. What will replace it? Do we really want to replace deciduous trees in our hedgerows?

My timing might not be of the best, as we are getting used to living in our very own Lake District and, touch wood, after two whole days without torrential showers of rain, life might just show some signs of returning to normal soon. Don’t hold your breath, however.


Is there a bright side to all the flooding? I lunched recently with a canny contractor in the Upper Severn Valley who was chuckling over women’s cricket. England were doing well. All right, all right, we’ve been this way before, you will say. But the sudden rise in popularity has produced a surging demand for new bats. His price for bat willow has soared over the year and looks certain to pass the 50-per-cent rise experienced last summer. That is, if our cricket pitches dry out by May. Possible, I suppose. No laughing matter, our climate, is it?

So seeking some further amusement, like Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom in that respect at least, I cantered to the door when the postman arrived last month. I stripped off the packaging and there, lo and behold, was December’s FJ.

At last, I crowed, as I skipped through the index, to read news of the publication of the long-awaited blueprint for England’s forestry sector. Now we are motoring. Now we also know where we are going. Six clear goals!

Yet, sad to say, by the time I had got to only strategy goal 2 my crest, which had risen, began to fall. ‘Woodlands in active management’. Look, I’m no spring chicken I assure you, but this objective has been around for I guess just a little more than a couple of centuries. As an objective, it has consistently failed. Indeed, why would it not?

The reason for this lack of enthusiasm is summed up, for potential ex farmers and most existing English woodland owners, in two words: cash flow. Cash flow, or perhaps the lack of it, makes the whole enterprise unattractive. There has to be some incentive to bring especially lowland forestry like wot we have in England (sorry! Too many Morecambe and Wise repeats over the Christmas period) into management.

Forestry Journal: Co-author Tom Barnes launched the strategy last year Co-author Tom Barnes launched the strategy last year (Image: Supplied)

Asking landowners to carry out thankless transformation on their farms just ain’t going to work, is it? We tried it before, and without well-financed long-term funding in one shape or form, it is doomed. This doom can, of course, be avoided, but only with the political will on the part of the government (or should I say succession of governments?). Without that, it’s going nowhere.

Which brings us back to the strategy. All its six objectives require imagination, new thinking and originality, all features sadly lacking in the strategy itself. It should but doesn’t address the future and central practice of government policy by advocating for the rejuvenation of ‘Forestry’ England so that it can achieve all its aims for itself.

After all, state forestry in the 20th century was a smashing success. With climate change and timber imports all looking dodgy, a firm hand on the forestry tiller is desirable at the very centre of things as changes come about.

Other sectors waste no time. Flood-hit farmers are already all over the TV news saying that government subsidies and market support for lamb and beef will save them from bankruptcy. Quick off the mark, some. But again, no mention of the scale and quantity of woodland damage in the gales of the year end.

Is it just me, or does any mention of woods or forests in the media always seem incomplete?