Leading article: Green giants

Some trees are so imposing that it is hard to believe that they can get sick and die.

Yet that is the threat hanging over Britain's horse chestnuts, which are falling victim to a virulent fungus. There is no cure and the trees generally die within a couple of years.

The last of the 68 magnificent specimens that once lined the drive to Barrington Court in Somerset were chopped down this week. And half of Britain's horse chestnuts are thought to be affected. This is not only a disaster for our parks, churchyards and gardens; it is a threat to Britain's annual crop of conkers.

The horse chestnut is not actually native to Britain. It was only widely planted here in the 19th century. And before that, children used to play conkers with snail shells or cobnuts. Perhaps we could return to those days. But make no mistake: a Britain without its green giants and shiny new conkers would be a changed country.