Melissa Kite

The politics of trees

Landowners are stopping food production in order to devote hundreds of acres to planting trees

The politics of trees
[Photo: Gary Le Feuvre]
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Trees glorious trees. People can’t get enough of them. They don’t want to take care of trees, they just want to plant more and more of them.

We have so many trees not being cared for by our local council that I was utterly amazed to see volunteer do-gooders planting saplings around the village green and surrounding common land when I was out walking the spaniels the other day.

Surely they can’t want more trees not to pollard, coppice or treat for processionary moth, I thought. But perhaps I should not be surprised.

I wouldn’t say people round here are naive when it comes to land management, but I saw a tree surgeon’s van recently with the slogan ‘Every branch matters’.

If your job is to take a saw to a tree, then to get work in this corner of Surrey you have to market yourself as someone who treasures the arms of the fir babies and would not dream of cutting a limb of the proud, noble lime – not unless it was a matter of life or death, something like the equivalent of tree gangrene.

After they harrowed and topped a public meadow for the first time in years, the council had to issue a statement to residents reassuring them that these drastic measures had been unavoidable. Such was the panic at the sight of ragwort being cut.

But the less said about the ragwort the better, because when I do say something about it, I get hate mail from the ragwort preservationists.

I do continue to question the fallen trees across the bridleways, however, and the branches that need cutting back everywhere. The Forestry Commission had to intervene to tackle the oak processionary moth after it was left for so long it became an emergency.

The latest saplings to appear in little casings with little beanpoles to lean on are goat willow, aspen and sycamore. They’ve obviously no idea how big a sycamore grows, bless them.

They’ve planted almost everything beneath mature trees so overgrown it doesn’t take a genius to work out they won’t get enough light. Some were stuck beneath a row of ivy-covered dead trees which came down on top of them in the storm.

Don’t encourage these well-meaning nutters. That is what you would hope the government’s position would be. And yet there is a big push politically in England and Wales to get as many trees planted as possible, including all over farmland.

Lavish subsidies are being given over to this purpose, to the extent that some landowners in Surrey are evicting tenant farmers and stopping food production in order to devote hundreds of acres to this form of rewilding.

I wonder if this is something Mrs Johnson dreamed up. As we know, what Carrie wants, Carrie gets.

The left are obviously cock-a-hoop about it. But at some point they are going to realise that all the picturesque green fields they once enjoyed trespassing around are now scrubland. The neat hedgerows will give way to overgrown and impenetrable thickets that prevent even the most intrepid lefty from pushing through on to private land to give their cockapoo a good run off the lead.

A friend of mine who farms a large estate for a multimillionaire landowner has just been given his notice so this fellow can coin it in from the rewilding subsidies.

The farm grows wheat and hay. I know the Surrey hobby vegans find all this hard to understand. They like a farmers’ market but not a farmer. My friend recently found two men playing football in the middle of his wheat. ‘It’s just a field!’ they told him. ‘Do you eat bread?’ he shouted, to no avail.

I don’t think the dirty vegans will put two and two together about rewilding until they can’t buy hay for the horses they like walking around on a rope – because it’s cruel to ride a horse, in their view.

When the local feed stores are buying all their hay in from Holland, and not just some of it, as happened last year in this area when supplies began running out, the natural horsemanship crew will go ballistic.

The cogs will finally turn in their brains because of the rocketing price of keeping their equine partner At Liberty – which is to say roaming aimlessly about with no shoes on its feet.

Until then, all the woolly liberals can think about is trees and more trees. And how magnificent it will be to see wolves and pumas running between the trees one day, tucking into their horses and munching on their cockapoos, presumably.

People who support rewilding want to replace cultivation with savagery. They want it so badly, I think we just have to let them have it. They will be the least able to cope with it.