IT did look, a few short months ago, like a major impetus for new forests and the management of existing ones had given us foresters something to hope for. Our basic raw materials – trees and forests – were at last recognised as an acceptable and indeed welcome mechanism for removing carbon from the atmosphere.

‘Plant more trees’ was a basic stratagem for tackling climate change. We were, perhaps, so optimistic we chose to forget the continuing destruction of the Amazon rainforests and to ignore the catastrophic effects of wildfires in Australia. Now, with most of California and a good deal of the Pacific Northwest in flames, added to the disastrous fires in Greece and Turkey (not to mention Siberia), the reality of climate change is very hard to ignore.

Trees and forests are finite resources. Damage on the scale we are now seeing is serious. And it is curious how the world’s media continues to report fires. We are shown blazing crown fires of a kind we have never experienced in the UK and we see the destruction of a few settlements, the loss of a small number of people and, in the case of Australia, just a taste of the wholesale destruction of birds, plants and animals which result from just a brief fire season. Then it’s all yesterday’s news. We move on to floods in Germany, the effects of extreme weather events and changing patterns and the charred remains of a few houses, a lot of vehicles and some shattered lives. But the damage to the forest, the loss of resources and the premature release of tens of thousands of tonnes of carbon back into the atmosphere doesn’t get a mention.

Very few of us in the UK have ever experienced a forest fire. Because of our temperate climate, rainfall makes wildfires a rarity. The tinderdry conditions that have resulted in whole trees being consumed by fire have not yet arrived. But looking back to my early days in the valleys of South Wales is an all too vivid reminder of what we are likely to encounter before too long, and the threat of fire in young plantations and their surrounding vegetation, especially in their early years, is potent. So potent, indeed, that the whole policy of increasing tree cover in a warmer, dried climate begins to look vulnerable.

In the 1960s, the Forestry Commission moved into the Rhondda and the surrounding valleys and uplands, which seemed an ideal area for expansion. Indeed, the planting of thousands of hectares took place in a very short period. Cuthbertson ploughs opened up furrows through the prevailing vegetation – a light and highly inflammable grass called molinia – and the valleys were soon covered with Sitka.

This was something of a culture shock to the local community, whose idea of a grand end to an evening’s drinking in the Miner’s Welfare was to set the mountain alight and then sit back and enjoy the spectacle of a rapidly spreading fire which was sometimes attended by the fire brigade, with blue flashing lights, but mostly left to its own devices. We, having planted young conifers now up to a couple of metres high established amongst this grassland, found ourselves the only effective firefighters on hand to protect our young crops.

You learned pretty quickly in those early days. We had fire teams on constant patrol, sometimes through the night. Water is no use in a plantation fire. It’s too slow and too unreliable to be effective. The logistics are against it. Nor did we have access to those photogenic airplanes and choppers full of water which crop up on the telly. Men with beaters on the ground was our technique. The beaters were manufactured in the wet-time shed out of larch thinnings and old conveyor belting from the mines.

But this was not without its dangers. Fires spread remarkably quickly. They re-ignite themselves. Wind adds to the dangers, not just to firefighters being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but through smoke inhalation, exhaustion and sleeplessness. Then there was the paperwork, the endless fire reports to be assessed and processed. A colleague carefully folded his 100th form and charred the edges of it by setting it on fire before forwarding it to the conservancy office in Cardiff.

Visit Cymmer or Margam, the two largest state forests planted in this era, and you will see we must have been successful. There were setbacks which are now, 40 years on, not discernible, including those arising from a head forester demonstrating to visiting students how flammable was the molinia by striking a match and burning 250 hectares of five-year-old conifer. But we were left with just a taste of the experience, the true horror of forest fire. And the problems of its aftermath.

It’s going to be hot. Hot and dry. Forests will burn. This has to be more than a mere factor in our thinking. It must be the overriding strand of future forest design and management. Time to start thinking about that, now.