The following first appeared as John McNee's Letter from the Editor in Forestry Journal's September 2023 edition. 

IN 1955, Labour MP and television personality Christopher Mayhew participated in an episode of Panorama – ultimately untransmitted – in which he indulged in the mind-altering drug mescaline hydrochloride.

Intended to be a quasi-scientific exploration of the effects of then increasingly popular psychedelic substances, it was a relatively straight-laced affair, with Mayhew in suit and tie, politely undertaking a hallucinatory trip while under the supervision of his friend Dr Humphry Osmond.

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In order to track the ‘deterioration’ of the subject’s mind during the experiment, Dr Osmond would repeatedly prompt him to name the date, solve some simple mathematical problems and recount a sentence he had been asked to memorise: “To be rich and prosperous, a nation must have a safe, secure supply of wood.”

Why this sentence in particular? I’m not sure. When I first heard it, I wondered if it was a well-worn slogan, a popular soundbite from a notable figure of the day, perhaps a fragment of a manifesto commitment. But in searching for the source, all I can find are links back to the infamous experiment.

It is possible, I suppose, that the sentence was chosen because it was so simple, so logical, the truth of it so self-evident, that even while his drug-addled brain traversed the cosmos, Mayhew could have a reasonable expectation of remembering it.

I wish, as a slogan, it had caught on. A bit wordy perhaps for a T-shirt or tattoo, but I’d like to see it on a poster, perhaps adorning the office walls of politicians, business leaders and academics throughout the land. A far better slogan than ‘the right tree in the right place’ or (God help us) ‘trees for climate, not profit’.

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1955 was a very different time, but looking back it seems like it was, in many ways, more daring. More bold. These days, the idea of an elected politician – Labour, Conservative or otherwise – dropping acid on TV is unimaginable. Almost as unimaginable as hearing them utter anything remotely sensible about the nation’s wood supply.