THE vicar was walking through the village when he spotted a parishioner working in an immaculate allotment.

“Good morning James,” he gushed. “What wonders you and the Lord have worked in your garden!”

“Huh,” said the parishioner. “You should have seen it when God had it all to himself.”

Rewilding. The introduction of mammals and predators long-since extinguished from our countryside. Beavers? Pine martens? Wolves, would you believe! I actually heard one advocate tell a somewhat bemused Radio 4 audience that removing stock from his land would result in a vegetation of scrub and brambles “just as there used to be”. Great for the lynx he plans to introduce.

Recent events have only confirmed my belief that the world has gone crazy, but the symptoms were beginning to show years ago, not least in our national forest policy. Yes, I know. “What forest policy?” Haven’t you heard? We are going to plant 30,000 hectares a year, some of it (hold your breath) in England! This ambition, says Confor, is quite realistic. And it must be true, because there’s a committee in DEFRA called the Inter-Ministerial Group for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which deals with it. Or perhaps ought to deal with it. But this group has, according to Confor, met seven times in the last year but has never discussed woodland creation once. This merely confirms the impression that if you cut down an old pear tree to build a railway or let useless scrub invade your farmland, then you will hit the press and media big time. But talk about clear objectives, clear practical funding and incentives to address our almost total dependence on imported timber and you will be a voice crying in the wilderness.

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We are second only to China in the league table of those dependent on others for a basic raw material. We are, it seems, going to build a million new homes next year. Where does the government think all the wood we will need is going to come from?

And does the Forestry Commission still exist? If so, what on earth does it do? Search the website for the current members. I did, but I got fed up before I found any CVs of the current crop. I did, however, come across some interesting facts. There is an enormous group (including some foresters who perhaps ought to know better) addressing the subject of trees in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Good, you will say. There are next to no trees in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. And if this group has its way, there never will be, unless they are native broadleaves managed for nature conservation. Somewhere in my library is a history of a Dales estate which records that a mere 200 years ago, a squirrel could run down Langstrothdale in Upper Wharfedale without ever touching the ground. If we are to be barred from the Pennine Uplands, then that 30,000 hectares will have to be in Scotland. Or Siberia. Or Canada.

Then, this morning, my breakfast was marred by David Miliband – remember him? – saying on the radio that we should be teaching redundant shop workers new skills, green skills, like tree planting, as part of our economic revival. But what do you expect when our locked-down urban population depends on the absurd and egregious Countryfile for its understanding of our countryside?

Well, quite a lot of readers will be members of the Royal Forestry Society, the Royal Scottish Forestry Society, the Institute of Chartered Foresters, the Woodland Trust, Woodland Heritage and last, if not least, Confor. Plenty of representation there, you’d think. Do they have any constructive ideas for the future of our woods and their expansion? This diary has a long memory. When Confor took over from the Timber Growers Organisation, it pointed out that any representative body which embodied the prefix “Con” was asking for trouble. And looking back over the history of Confor, it is hard to think of any new policy, initiative or idea which it has promoted.

Come on, Confor! Stop wittering about minority silvicultural systems and get on with the main job. Make some noise! Get onto Twitter! The public loves trees and forests. They are on your side! And remember that if any expansion like that envisaged by the Inter-Ministerial Group for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is to take place, Confor needs to deliver a very sharp kick up the backside.

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