Saturday, 12 February 2011

The meaning of the movement in the woods


Round one, then, goes to our nationwide army of tree-huggers. But if you study the detail, you’ll see that rounds two, three and onwards are still to be fought.
True, the Government has started to back away from the indiscriminate sale and enclosure of our woodlands. But this weekend’s concession applies to just 15 per cent of forestry. The remaining 75 per cent is still - unless our pressure is sustained and successful – heading for the auctioneer’s hammer and thence to the barbed wire and chainsaws of privatisation (Mary Creagh explores background and jeopardy in her Guardian piece from February 11).
If you’ve been following the campaign websites of the Woodland Trust and 38-Degrees you’ll have observed that whenever a target was set on a particular day for a new total of petition signatories it was almost always exceeded.
Thinking, in the couple of weeks since I last blogged on the subject, about this extraordinarily vigorous response, I remembered a book I’d read back in 1998. Called Guilty Men, and written by a Welshman, Hywel Williams, it recounted from inside the disintegration John Major’s government (Williams was special adviser to John Redwood, onetime Secretary of State for Wales).
In a sentence that came back into my mind after more than a dozen years Williams reflected on “pragmatic England, a country whose identity is so profound that it does not need the consolations of obtrusive nationalism.”
It’s on the money, that description, isn’t it? Show an English man or woman the front garden of another English man or woman in which the flag of St George is flying on a pole, and our first English man or woman will confidently tell you that within the house beyond the garden and the flagpole lives a nutter.
But that submerged and diffident sense of nationhood has certain fuses which certain threats will ignite. The future of our woodlands is clearly one of them, and all that should surprise us, really, is that the Tories, of all people, were too dim to see that they were bringing flame to blue touch-paper.
My picture shows a tumulus on Hampstead Heath. Reckoned at various times to have been an old rubbish dump, the stump of a windmill or a Victorian folly, the hillock is now accepted as the burial mound of a bronze age warrior (making its creation roughly contemporary with the Trojan war). Locally, it’s known as Boudicca’s Tomb.
Nuff said?

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