‘England shall bide till Judgment Tide,
By Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
says Kipling. Possibly we shall have to bide with just oak and thorn now (and oak, too, is threatened). People have already attacked the government for being slow to intervene against ash dieback. But it is also interesting to note the tardy feebleness of the various bodies who are supposed to love and know about trees. I cannot identify anything from the Woodland Trust before its press release of 29 September, because if I type ‘ash dieback’ or ‘chalara’ into its website it says ‘no results matching your search were found’. Although the Forestry Commission did chance upon an example of the disease in February and report it in March, in the records of Forestry Research, which is part of the Forestry Commission, I can find no mention until this autumn. A friend who owns an extremely rare ash forest in Scotland (a fraction of one which the Forestry Commission destroyed in the 1950s) tells me he has received no alert at all from the Commission before or during the present crisis. The Forestry Commission succeeded in fighting off privatisation early in this Parliament by selling itself as the custodian of the nation’s trees. Its publicity depicted mountain bikers and dog walkers. It has reinvented itself as a leisure industry. It acted with much more alacrity to save itself than it did to save our trees.
In the Tintin books, Thompson and Thomson (the latter ‘without a p, as in Venezuela’) are the two bungling, bowler-hatted detectives. In real life, they are the two most important people in New York newspapers. Mark Thompson (with a p, as in ‘paedophilia inquiry’), the former director-general of the BBC, is just about to become chief executive of the New York Times. Robert (without a p) Thomson, the former editor of the Times (of London), is now the managing editor of the Wall Street Journal.