As we crept into position, a thin mist shaped by the first fingers of light from a milky sun hung like a vale of tears across the lake. Above, the whistling wing beats of a party of teal passed nearby, but I didn’t see them. Here, time and the thoughts of man mean nothing-Nature beats its rhythm to the passing of the tides. I stared towards the sea. High in the scowling sky beyond the marshes, I watched a pair of mallard approach. Swinging my gun, the drake crashed to my first barrel and the duck an instant later; a yellow labrador swam to make the long retrieve. This was shooting at its most elemental.

But, suddenly, everything was different; my pleasure was interrupted as I gazed across the lake. Everywhere I looked, I saw ash trees, trees that I had taken for granted, trees unnoticed on previous visits. But now that they’re seemingly condemned, they appear everywhere like ghosts. The gaps in our countryside that will be left as they succumb to this dreadful fungus make me gulp. The countryside is going to be emptied of their loveliness. I can’t bear it. These mighty trees haunt my thoughts wherever I go. Can so much beauty really be lost?