MY family originated in the Yorkshire Dales. My forebears were amongst those who sought a better lifestyle than subsistence farming in the early part of the 19th century.

This form of husbandry actually created the bare, windswept and clapped-out environment now so cherished by the public in this part of the Pennines. So they joined the queue of hopeful contributors to the textile industry in Bradford, Manchester and Nottingham, living the so-called good life in two-up, two-down terraces of the Lancashire valleys, an image of impoverishment which persists to this day. And, some decades later, they and their sons marched off to war in 1914, lions led by donkeys.

Now, more than a hundred years later, here comes yet another movie, winning BAFTAs or Oscars or whatever, about that pointless conflict. We have contrived, over the years, to make it all sound glorious. But neither the war, nor the social conditions in the Industrial North, nor the precarious and all-consuming sheep industry had really changed all that much by the time I arrived in Langstrothdale. There was not a tree in sight apart from the few hardy sycamores which thrived around farm buildings.

In 1890, a squirrel, it was reported, could travel from one end of the dale to the other without setting foot on the ground. A red squirrel, this was.

But one thing had changed. There was a government-sponsored body, the North Pennines Rural Development Board, charged with regenerating the vast, molinia-covered desert that was the English uplands. Suffice to say, the NPRDB didn’t survive long. But in its brief and imaginative career, it brought about a number of commercial forestry schemes which kept me and my colleagues busy and created some very powerful examples of just what could be achieved with the right impetus.

Needless to say, commercial forests in the Dales are frowned on nowadays. We are expected to take pride in the number of broadleaved trees planted in Wharfdale, and part of me reflects this pride and admiration for those who are bringing it about, but half of me wonders where the professional foresters are among all the climate change experts. Planting trees for carbon motives is all very well, but it must be a missed opportunity if the commercial elements of timber production, which ought automatically be harnessed together with environmental aims, are not an integral part of our thinking. Professional foresters can do this. Amateurs can’t.

Looking back not quite so far, it’s hard to see how our industry didn’t say, back in the 1980s, that planting hardwoods, as a positive policy, could never achieve much unless there was control of deer and squirrels. Look around and you’ll find plenty of examples of the outcome of ignoring this basic requirement. And as for planting oaks in groups surrounded by Norway spruce, well, enough said. I suppose deformed and ugly oaks still have 500 (or is it 5,000?) associated species, as do quality specimens, but what a waste! And, of course, the best answer to deer and grey squirrels is to plant things they don’t like to eat. Like conifers.

One of the answers to the damage caused by deer, hares and rabbits was, of course, the tree shelter. Solved all the problems associated with the first five feet of growth. What happened after that? Guess. And what other industry, apart from our own, could turn the triumph of achieving a million trees planted into a disaster of a landscape covered with discarded plastic and unrecoverable tree shelters, as illustrated by an article in last month’s Sunday Times?

It’s another PR cock-up, of course. But shooting Bambi and poisoning squirrels is unlikely to impress the Great British public, or enlist support for the millions of hectares of new planting that the Committee for Climate Change – and indeed the government – see as the way forward. Time to think again, but with the right expertise on board this time. No more lions led by donkeys?

Funny how your mind works, isn’t it? I well remember in the early days of tree shelters, being taken to a newly planted wood replete with white, plastic shelters and thinking to myself that this puts me in mind most of all of those rows of gravestones in the battlefields of Northern France. Not really a good image, was it?