The new ground has been planted up in Argyll and the land strip ploughed to give the young spruce some ‘competition free’ ground to speed plant establishment; hand planting of Sitka spruce at a precise 1,012 an acre is apparently standard up there.

With all new forests, plantings are accompanied by other broadleaved species for environmental and wind break reasons. While not a particularly commercial use of the land, it apparently satisfies the perceived aims of the ‘one minute to midnight’ disciples, soaking up larger quantities of carbon than the Sitka, which the likes of ‘little but noisy’ Greta see only as “being planted to make a profit.”

How evil! Yet without profit, from any business project, I’m afraid the world wouldn’t work for long. For example, governments would be without the funds for things such as our recent furlough scheme of 20/21, when many workers were paid to cut their lawns or decorate their homes. Without profit the world’s economies would very rapidly come to a complete halt.

While new forest plantings are being established on huge areas in Scotland to satisfy the growing demand for timber in England, many dreamers are becoming besotted with throwing top quality farmland into ‘rewilding schemes’. The idea is to allow attractive yet virtual weeds (elder, willow, couch and ragwort to name a few) to provide cover for beaver, badger, foxes, lynx, wolves and goodness knows what else, on land which over the past centuries has created much employment and much food in the way of beef, pork, mutton, and dairy products to feed our ever-growing populations.

I fear people will suddenly wake up one morning hungry and increasingly aware of the fact that eating green leaves and chewing curried bark won’t sustain human life for long.

With the exceptional 2021 ‘open’ autumn we caught up with both hedge trimming and limbing of overhanging branches which, for years, had been left as summer shelter for the dairy cattle. More recently the trees have been obstructing the increasingly huge contractors’ machines.

We also took the long overdue opportunity to clear out some ditches, although I was recently taken to task by an over-zealous council official who deemed it necessary to start quoting new environmental rules after we had to clear a blocked and broken drain and replace it with a bigger iron pipe. I hadn’t, apparently, done a survey to confirm there were no water rats or crested newts around, or advised the council of my intentions! But the drain now runs well again. I accepted a slapped wrist and we parted on quite amiable terms.

I find the thinking behind all the new regulations over drainage quite interesting. Yet what do they really achieve? When I was learning the job as a youngster, some time ago I must admit, our ditches and waterways were full of the likes of sticklebacks, newts, frogs and toads, moorhen, duck, coot and little grebe. Even, would you believe, overwintering water rail.

Despite the way farmers brought in big ‘draglines’, and later hydraulic excavators, to dig new, or clean old ditches (personally I dug out miles of ditches, for both ourselves and neighbours), and although the work was often quite severe, within a day or two one could see or hear these creatures back as though nothing had happened. Today, however, with onerous rules on protecting almost everything, other than farmers, one can hardly spot any of those species at all. The only things protected are the creatures that hunt them. Oh, and inspectors!

My guess at the reason is almost total neglect of our main waterways by the Environment Agency, coupled with the subsequent effect of sewage discharges by water companies. An official record of discharges for ten days last Christmas showed the Southern Water plant at Lidsey discharged raw sewage into the river system for 236.5 hours.

In the days up until the appearance of the Environment Agency (EA) in the mid 1990s, the Internal Drainage Boards (IDB) would clear main water courses annually and the water ran out to sea as intended. These days, so much EA time is spent on surveys and imposing ‘enforcement notices’ that there is little time or funds left for any actual work.

We have some land in the Arun Valley where neglect by the EA has been almost total for some 25 plus years, although they will send emails or perhaps visit with their ‘highviz’ jackets.

Last summer, after two years of efforts with a neighbour, they agreed to come and repair some serious ‘wash holes’ in our immediate river banks. The whole scheme was scheduled for September. After two promised, then cancelled, starting dates, countless calls and emails, it wasn’t until just before Christmas that the promised emergency work was done – with temporary sandbags.

Had landowners and farmers been responsible for the upkeep of the river banks over these years, it’s certain they would not be in the deplorable state they have slumped to now. Had our old IDB or the NRA (National Rivers Authority) been retained, the work would have been done with some practical sense.
Back in January, looking for excitement, I watched Parliament on TV. Liam Byrne MP questioned Rebecca Pow, a DEFRA under minister, over the EA’s failure to do some important work improving play facilities for children in his constituency, promised for some two years, but you guessed it, producing nothing but excuses. Then Ms Pow avoided answering any questions and waffled at the Despatch Box without saying anything of use, except things like the ‘EA hopes’, ‘plans to’, ‘may’… We hear that all the time from the EA.