Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sign of the times

Up in the forestry near here, where I daily stroll with the dachshund, there is a block of wasteland that was once fifty year old Sitka spruce. A year or so ago they chopped it all down with enormous chainsaw-wielding Transformer-type machines. For months the forestry track was closed to unauthorised personnel - at least that's what the big warning signs said; I ignored them. Huge trucks thundered this way and that as hundreds of tonnes of logs were carted away to be turned into fence posts, loo paper or animal bedding.

This spring and early summer, more monstrous machinery arrived. Three huge diggers crawled around the whole site, scooping up little hummocks for their own amusement. Again the signs were everywhere - DANGER - DO NOT ENTER! The dachshund and I are made of sterner stuff; once more we ignored them and continued our normal strolling activities.

For the past week or so, a couple of men with narrow spades and canvas bags slung over their shoulders have been wandering the ex-forest area and planting tiny little saplings in the earthen mounds. I spoke to one yesterday and he told me they had 20,000 of the things to plant. But they're hardy types, these foresters, so it won't take them long.

And yet the day after they started, the signs once more appeared: DANGER! FOREST OPERATIONS! NO UNAUTHORISED ACCESS! In Welsh, they're even more alarming.

Now I'll be the first to admit, a narrow spade is a dangerous weapon. Wielded by one unskilled, it can easily stab a toe, or even cause blisters. The list of canvas bag-related injuries is too long, and too horrific, to go into here. But foresters aren't unskilled, and they guard the tools of their trade jealously. When not in use, they are stored safely away from any who might wander by. When in use, they are far from the trodden path.

I can see the point of closing a road when there are huge, hydraulically enhanced chainsaw-wielding death machines at play. Likewise with diggers that are larger than the average Welsh cottage or trucks so laden with logs they sink furrows into the tarmac. But why the hell do they have to put up warning signs for a couple of blokes with spades? Today it was only one bloke, with a dog.

It is, of course, because of the nannying bureaucracy that attempts to govern every single facet of our lives. If there are no warning signs, then someone might trip over a discarded sapling bag and sprain an ankle. Or maybe, if they aren't warned that there are men at work, they might be so surprised to see someone bending over a narrow spade that they have a heart-attack and die. Who knows what cruel fate might await the unwary and unwarned?

By putting up signs, the Forestry Commission absolves itself of all responsibility for the stupidity of the masses. What's sad is that it has to.

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