WHAT'S strange is coming to terms with a life without deadlines. It no longer matters what time you get out of bed in the morning. There is no time restraint on normal daily activities. Unexpectedly, this has resulted in my taking on and completing all kinds of tasks which I have, over the last six months, been able to put off in the name of expediency. “I’d like to do that little job,” I would tell myself, “But I can’t now as Chris is coming to see me at 11.” Or, “It will soon be lunchtime.” But as they say, procrastination is the thief of all time.

In the last couple of weeks, I have finished painting the outside of the house, new seedlings have been popping out of the ground and the lawns have become immaculate (after I replaced the silencer on the mower). I have tidied up the workshop, erected a temporary greenhouse, fixed the hedge cutter (which was gummed up with sap) and I just successfully reignited Re’s car with a trickle charger after the battery went flat from standing in the garage for three weeks. This afternoon my plan was to plant early potatoes, write this and walk the dogs (some things never change). But this morning, I was accosted by a slightly eccentric neighbour who accused my dogs of being agents for Coronavirus. That’s new.

And, of course, it hasn’t rained for weeks. The ground has gone from the consistency of porridge to that of concrete during the short drought which, as I write, looks like coming to an end. As indeed have our grand imaginings of the future of forestry in an age of climate change. Just as we were looking forward to all kinds of new initiatives following the promises of the general election campaign (when was that? Seems a long time ago), suddenly, at a stroke, it’s all gone. Can you really see forestry being supported over the demands of schools, hospitals, universities, the self-employed and the unemployed when it comes to prioritising who gets what and how much of the promised billions is available?

The government appears unimpressed by the plight of the tree nursery trade which, as I write, is burning millions of transplants which were ready for this year’s planting programme (which was rapidly going nowhere). Even without the virus, such rumours as have escaped from DEFRA seem to indicate that farmers are unwilling to change hats and become foresters. They never did in the past, did they? Any significant planting scheme always involves a change in the ownership of land, from upland farming to state or private investment in commercial plantings. So how, in the lowlands, is it going to change? Who will call it good stewardship of the land (to use a somewhat pompous phrase) to manage said land in a way that not only reduces cash flow but diminishes the price of average arable land by £10,000 per acre? Especially since this involves planting wild service trees and oaks, at first vulnerable to deer and grey squirrels and in the medium term by no means clear of the threat of acute oak decline. And topically, to any number of new potential pests and diseases.

Come on, foresters! Shout it out! Think new, think better. And for goodness sake, get off this outdated, outmoded and no-longer-required nonsense about native species. It’s just not going to work, unless you view future forests as economically valueless homes to stunted and damaged scrub.

For don’t let us forget. We will need reserves of our oldest and most versatile natural resource as we stagger into the second half of this century. Wood. We will need wood.

There is at least one positive coming from the lockdown. No, dammit, there’s two. First, air quality, which speaks for itself. Second, it’s quiet. The sky is devoid of vapour trails and noise. The planes are gone. The traffic is gone. Working at home is surely here to stay. The daftness of commuting is clearly exposed. I don’t think we will ever go back to congested roads and atmospheric pollution. And the quietness seems to have emboldened our garden birds, which are so much tamer. And yesterday, an omen of some kind. I rescued a little bird from our glass porch and found myself holding a tiny, tiny goldcrest. A goldcrest. In my hand. Not many people can say that, I reckon. As it gratefully flew off into our super yew, I thought that must mean something, don’t you think?

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