PHEW, it’s hot! As I write, it looks set to be the hottest day of the year, if not the hottest day ever! So, having spent a stressful hour last night clipping and shaving our two dogs to relieve them of having to walk around in the equivalent of a winter coat, we all set off early to a delightful place in the forest where there is a series of lakes, ideal for cooling off superheated bearded collies.

And it has other attractions as well.

It’s strange where you end up sometimes, and with whom. Last week, I found myself in a very celebrated garden, in company with a very celebrated garden owner and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good. Now that’s not a set of circumstances I have encountered all that often. And, although the theme of the party was benign in nature, I came away with two distinct messages. The first was a fairly general condemnation of the ‘native species’ nonsense. We are already in the climate change soup too deep for this kind of outdated thinking. If you don’t agree with this assessment then you are in trouble. And aren’t we all.

So we need new species, just as the first pioneers of the Forestry Commission needed new species to address their own problem, how to create a strategic reserve of home-grown timber and create that reserve right soon. Which brings me back to the swimming dogs. The wood we visit has a content which mirrors the response of those foresters a hundred years ago, and shows us a valuable lesson in how to face up to our own dilemma.
Here was a traditional oakwood which must have been plundered for wartime timber, and of which some remnants of 200-year-old oak survive. There are some veteran trees, but around and about them is a rich mosaic of what must have been very exotic exotics when restocking eventually took place. There is Scots pine, looking drawn up and miserable. There is some equally undistinguished European larch. There is some quite nice 80-year-old beech, in an area not noted for beech, but then we get on to the meat of the content, the exotic conifers.

First, of course, is Douglas fir, which reaches 130 feet and is truly magnificent. Walk on, and we are in Tsuga, surrounded by regeneration. Then, surprise surprise, grand fir, with smooth bark like gun barrels. And look, what’s this? Californian redwood. Absolutely huge, very impressive. Japanese larch, big butts and on the corner ahead enormous, apparently healthy Corsican pine. And, of course, you don’t have to walk far to come across the bark plates of big, big Sitka, and a neat plantation of Norway. And among all this richness, some quite decent oak, the same age as the beech and looking good. It’s notable, in passing, that the woodland floor under the hardwoods is not at all as rich and diverse as that under the big conifers, but perhaps I’m biased. Perish the thought.

So, imagine yourself as a member of the planting gang that set all this in motion in the early years of the FC. And now imagine yourself taking on the same choices as we swelter. Have we got the imagination, the initiative and the bravery to make hard choices and take risks? We’re going to need it, and time is getting few, as my grocer Mr Dahramsi is fond of saying.

So what else did I learn last week? I put it to my group that there ought to be a way of linking all the energy and dedication of the Extinction volunteers with the oft-stated aim we have to increase the area of our national forest. Instead of stopping the innocent commuters of Bristol getting to work, can’t we have just as dedicated an effort to get all these in-many-ways-admirable young people to embrace our cause, pick up forestry and run with it? In South Korea they have a National Tree Week, when all schoolchildren have to plant a tree, with a good deal of ceremony. Surely, surely this can happen here too. 

What is needed is leadership, a programme, mass media, social networking. We have all these except the first. And surely, this can be arranged too, can’t it?