As a boy I remember very well the devastation caused to Britain's landscape by Dutch Elm Disease - the sound of chainsaws, the smell of bonfires and the ever-expanding gaps in our hedgerows and woodlands with the loss of much-loved elm tress. Now, it seems it could be the turn of the ash, at risk from the fungal infection Chalara Fraxinea, the ash dieback disease. This is something which will, if unchecked, have a huge visual and economic impact in the parishes in which I serve, areas of which are heavily forested.
Questions are already being asked [here] about the delayed reactions and seeming paralysis of Government departments when faced with the clear need for an early ban on the the imports of ash saplings from continental Europe. Now, when it seems almost too late, walkers and others are being barred from large swathes of our forests and we are being asked to wash our dogs' feet in order to minimise the spread of infection.
What is it about the apparatus of the modern State which makes it so eager to intervene unnecessarily into the minutiae of our private lives (for a topical example see here), yet fails spectacularly to act when it does become necessary to do so?
The countryside has been badly served over the years by successive governments of all parties, even those claiming to have the interests of the agricultural / forestry community at heart. Could it be that our politicians and opinion formers are so insulated by their largely metropolitan existence (particularly in the atmosphere of the 'Westminster village') that they are simply unaware of the concerns of their rural voters, or even perhaps that we have become such an urban country that the life of the countryside has ceased to matter in political terms at all?
Or, could we go further and ask whether (and this applies to the contemporary Church as well as the State) that we have simply lost the art of good government and the ability to make decisions and interventions when they are urgently needed?
There's an excellent article by Christopher Howse [here] on the impact on the landscape of the loss of the ash tree.