WE don’t often get troubled by owls here. Buzzards, yes. With no shooting this year, they are dining on plentiful partridges. They’d better keep off our new ducks which are runners (the drake is called Bolt and the two ducks are Paula and Jessica). The dogs go a bit barmy when buzzards circle overhead, which is good.

Less good was last night’s performance, when a tawny owl (rara avis) started to call just as we were going to bed. The dogs thought nothing of this and neither did I, out on the lawn in my jim-jams trying to restore order, then finding it difficult to get back to sleep. For some subconscious reason, the number 27 kept coming back to wake me. Three nines. Not much else Why 27?

I tried to move on to other obsessions, just one of which arose from last month’s diary. I challenged you to name just one Forestry Commissioner. Needless to say, no-one responded, so I cheated by looking them up. What a strange miscellany appeared on my screen. What on earth can this disparate group find to talk about? Do they lead on forest policy? Are they responsible for all the half-baked rumours of new, far-reaching and devastating forms of support to turn our farmers into foresters? Will the Forestry Commission, or Forestry England or Scotland or Wales or whatever it chooses to call itself, really enter into 120-year leases of suitable land and involve itself once more directly in afforestation and forest management? What will be the terms of those leases? How will the rents be set and how often will they be renewed? The owls might have calmed down, but there were soon other causes of insomnia.

READ MORE: A blast from the past

Those of you with long memories might reflect on the past history of forestry leases when the Forestry Commission was charged with repairing the ravages of the Second World War on our already meagre and exploited private sector woodlands. Here, leases were often for 999 years at a peppercorn rent, with no rent revisions. The larger private estates did at least get their woods managed, restocked and cared for. This was attractive to impoverished private estates which had no other way to go. There was, as there is perhaps now, an acute shortage of skilled labour. Most of them kept the shooting, but there was a steady trickle of legal cases which culminated in a change of policy by the Commission, invoking a small clause in most of the leases allowing the landowner to buy out the tenant, an entirely satisfactory outcome for both the state sector and the resurgent 1980s private sector.

Back to the Forestry Commission. It is alluring to think that the commissioners’ meetings are a kind of think tank, full of new and inventive ideas which then percolate down to actual policies and action. Perhaps it is, do you think? Suffice it to say that if this is indeed the case, there is precious little sign of it. We used to look to the Forestry Commission as the great and good leader. When I first started this diary – longer ago than any of us care to remember – I submitted a diary that was slightly critical of the state, probably because I had just resigned from my district officership, because I didn’t actually have to do anything. This really didn’t suit me. My diary didn’t go down well. But enough of my problems. The Forestry Commission could do no wrong, and it was a resurgent private sector which went on to challenge Commission thinking over the next 30 years. Or perhaps it was 27? 27! Yippee! Got it! That’s the number of abortive telephone calls I have made over the past year to the Bristol office without getting a sensible reply! 27!

READ MORE: Forester's diary: Blowing in the wind

I spoke to some nice people who were working at home through the pandemic, but it soon became clear to me that the health and safety of FC staff over-rode actually doing anything to help with the resolution of a far-from-intractable problem. We needed a panel to appoint a committee to look into it and this could not progress because the lockdown prevented any positive action in the interests of staff welfare.

Now you might say to yourself that other sectors of the public services – like, say, education, in schools, colleges and universities – have found ways to carry on. But zoom goes the Forestry Commission? No way.

Okay, I can go back to sleep now. So far, our case has lasted a year or two without, to quote an unnamed Commission source, any hope at all of resolution. Or indeed of showing any sign of positive action to settle it and let us get on with life.

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