IT’S odd, really, that the very few connections we in the UK have with the Netherlands are rather negative in tone. After all, we are two populous nations with a good deal of history in common. The topography is, for the most part, pretty low-lying, the climate temperate and we share with the Dutch a singular lack of forests. We are the two least-forested nations in what used to be the European Community.

Where did the oak ship timbers which carried the earliest explorers to Indonesia, to Surinam and to South Africa actually come from? Samuel Pepys, of another famous Diary, was Secretary to the Navy in charge of procurement and, it appears from his papers, the wooden walls of England. And our Dutch cousins were supplied with the appropriate size and specification, in terms of bends, with oak timber from Poland.

France is, of course the spiritual home of oak, but it seems more than doubtful there was much naval timber imported from those wonderfully stocked French forests either in the days of the Spanish Armada or indeed at any time since. And Poland, from time to time being part of Germany, of Russia and also of Austria, was a less politically charged supplier of armaments in the form of naval timbers. Hold it! Does this all have some sort of vague resonance with our current position vis-à-vis the Ukraine?

UK foresters no doubt instinctively add the words ‘elm disease’ to mention of anything Dutch, which again is an error. ‘Dutch elm disease’ is certainly more resonant as a description than the more factual ‘Canadian elm disease’. The international spread of this appalling scourge of our countryside, and, of course, of Holland is one of the often unsung tragedies of the 20th century. What a loss we all suffered. And we will go on suffering. What an awful warning for other tree pandemics. 

I have a more personal interest in all this. As all other species – the field maple, the Norway maple, the sycamore, the hornbeam, the walnut, the robinia, even the eucalyptus which appeared about 25 years ago in a number of farms and gardens around here (source forgotten), and, of course, the oak (English and Turkish) and finally the ash – come into full and luscious leaf, many trees in my little elm grove already show crowns bare of leaf, the sure sign of irreversible death. The only positive is the dead antlers make an ideal vantage point for blackbirds and thrushes, robins and hedge sparrows, chaffinches and goldfinches, to launch into the dawn chorus. This happens at about 5 am here at the moment. But to me, it is something of a mystery why elm suckers in the wood and in the roadside hedges somehow seem to be able to hang on to life and even regenerate into another doomed generation. 

Forestry Journal: A Norway maple tree A Norway maple tree

So what can I do? Well, I’ve read all the literature and haven’t made my mind up yet.

Visiting Amsterdam hasn’t helped. How they manage huge London planes growing in a narrow strip between those typically Dutch houses with water from the canals lapping at their doorsteps is somewhat puzzling. But even in the most unlikely environments, trees of all shapes, sizes and species manage to thrive. The streets and the canals are spotless, and the new trams glide by. I tell you, Crossrail is going to have to be pretty good to compete. Then there’s the beer. Served to tourists enjoying a canal cruise in the sunshine. And it’s not just beer available to tourists, but that’s another story.

READ MORE: Forester's Diary May 2022: Noah's Ark, Ireland and rain

Where does their timber come from? Clog making is a niche market. But there’s a whole world of construction going on around the country. Could it be Russia? Or, more likely, Scandinavia? Someone who is on our side, anyway. 

A commotion on my city-centre hotel windowsill turns out to be a couple of plump, sleek wood pigeons, cavorting among the Dutch-architecture roofs. Bit like my office here. The pigeons, I mean, not the roofs.