I asked a small group of local – yes, local – intellectuals to propose any invention, any new thought or philosophy which had emerged during the 20th century which had brought unbridled benefit or happiness.

As sometimes arises during any discussion in our local, we came up with two suggestions: first, the boneless kipper, and second, the Wellington boot.

The kipper had it narrowly over smoked haddock. Enough said. The wellie (again with the support of the Big Yin) just annihilated all opposition, starting with Samuel Small and the Duke of Wellington, whose ultimate agreement on who should pick up the soldier’s fallen musket lead to the order: “Let the battle [of Waterloo] commence,” and we all know how that turned out.


Down in the forest, our own differences of opinion are very much less well defined. Don’t you all get frustrated by the failure of the media to even begin to ask the right people the right questions?

There was a good example on a recent national news broadcast. A cheerful reporter stood in the shade of a fairly massive conifer which both she and some botanical expert (I didn’t catch his name) then discussed, going into some detail on the extraordinary potential of California redwoods to achieve massive height, girth and health in the UK.

They put forward the idea that the UK climate of mists and mellow fruitfulness was even superior to the sequoia’s natural habitat in Northern California and further, that there are now, as of this moment, more redwoods in the UK than there are on the west coast of the USA.

Can this be true? There are some impressive specimens not so far from where I sit writing, and although I haven’t been to Leighton Hall in the Welsh borders lately, there used to be some and I am pretty sure there still are some magnificent trees which I think are now under the aegis of the Royal Forestry Society.

But our friends on the telly went on to claim the existence of half a million well-established redwoods in the UK compared to a few thousand – I think they said – in California.

Well, good. The more the merrier, or the tallest or the most efficient in sequestering carbon dioxide. Here’s a tree species which can help us in the future. What’s more, it’s a conifer. 

But wait a moment! The TV interview was conducted in the shade of a mighty bole of an avenue tree which looked all too familiar. It was, for my money, not a California Redwood at all, but a Wellingtonia. I can’t recall ever seeing a Wellingtonia in plantation, can you?

Well, you might say, does it really matter? A coniferous tree of impressive vigour and appearance and, believe it or not, it’s on our side. It has commercial value and sequesters CO2. Bull’s eye perhaps? But I wouldn’t mind betting that such an exotic-looking stranger will find its opponents before we are much older. And perhaps the recognition of both redwood species as part of the necessary response to climate change here in the UK will upset someone.

I have been racking my brains for a future pathway that guides forest managers through the fast-closing doorway to species which will prosper not just in the next few decades but in 50 or 60 years’ time.

Redwoods are, to some degree, protected from the threat of fires by their thick spongy bark, but they did suffer from wildfires last season so can’t be considered completely fireproof. But the ever-lengthening list of tree species vulnerable to the many and varied threats we are facing not just from fire but from insects and fungal threats is beginning to keep me awake at night. 

Improvements to the footwear department are more easily confronted. There are some smashing if expensive wellies available and even if they are mainly made in France, the Duke would, I feel sure, approve.

He was, after all, a winner, no doubt aided by his oft-quoted advice to his staff never to miss an opportunity to relieve their bladders. Kedgeree for supper, anyone?