‘Do you care about the woodland? Do you care about the wildlife?’ shouted the bearded Woodland Trust volunteer from his table of tree-hugging paraphernalia set up outside Waitrose.
He had pitched his camp – a trestle table covered in leaflets and bedecked with pictures of foxes and badgers – so close to the supermarket entrance on Cobham High Street that it was impossible for customers to get through the doors without running the gauntlet of his leaflets.
No doubt these leaflets explained that the Woodland Trust is the largest woodland conservation charity in the United Kingdom and is concerned with the creation, protection and restoration of our native woodland heritage. It has planted 55 million trees since 1972.
I did not stop as I was in a hurry to buy a sandwich, because one of the things I care about is putting calories inside myself so that I can keep going. That day, as usual, I needed energy in order to tend four horses and six acres of land, although I know that would be something the man with the beard would probably frown upon, for where is the woodland in that situation?
It’s around the sides of the fields, as it happens, but in the main, the place where I keep my horses is a farm producing food.
There is woodland, but there are also crop fields, where the stuff we put in our mouths to sustain our time on this planet is grown.
And I rushed inside Waitrose to buy an example of this, a sandwich including the sort of iron-rich greenery that is grown on the estate where I keep my horses, and where the rent from my being an equestrian enthusiast helps, along with other diversification, to make financially viable the back-breaking and often heart-breaking endeavour of planting and harvesting good-quality vegetables for human consumption.
All this was going through my mind as I took the sandwich from the shelves of this nice, smart Waitrose and wrestled with something called ‘quick check’, which I should have known did not mean I could scan my own sandwich quickly, but rather that I should have done something with a gadget as I went around the shop.
So I queued up for a cashier and when she was putting my sandwich through, I remarked to her – because they are all very friendly in Waitrose – that the man outside the door was a perplexing thing.
‘What man?’ the lady asked, as she beeped through my beef and spinach sandwich. ‘The man from the Woodland Trust,’ I said, and I explained the huge, slightly manic-looking trestle table crammed with leaflets, which was virtually up against Waitrose’s sliding front doors.
‘Oh, he’s not meant to be there,’ she said, as I tapped my card. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘he is there, and he’s asking everyone who comes in here if they care about the woodlands. It’s ironic, isn’t it?’
She shrugged, so I said: ‘You know, the more we rewild to woodland, the more we plant trees, like they are doing everywhere now, the more farmland we lose, the less we can grow what you’re selling in here.’
I looked around at the gleaming shelves of organic produce boasting ethical origins and careful sourcing. And the well-dressed, environmentally conscious, wealthy Surrey types with their ‘bags for life’, wandering around conscientiously choosing meat and veg that made them feel good because it had been produced in this country and not flown or shipped across the world using horrible amounts of fuel, or in conditions that could not be verified.
The cashier looked nonplussed, so I let it go. I did not spell it out: they were letting a man who was advocating, in effect, the end of her job, stand outside her place of work shouting at her customers to help him end it. Because let’s be clear, once there is no locally grown produce, because all the farmland is woodland, not many people are going to shop at Waitrose because there is not going to be much point. When all our food is imported from Europe, North and South America and the Far East, we may as well all shop at places that are so cheap the staff don’t care if you put a box of cereal up your jumper (as someone once told me).
I walked back out and the bearded man had another go at me, this time really giving it his all.
‘Do YOU CARE about the woodland? Do YOU CARE about the wildlife?’
I shouted back at him: ‘Do YOU CARE about where they grow all the food that is being sold in this shop?’
And the customers pushed their trolleys towards the doors, stopping to talk to the tree man about signing a direct debit.
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