The novel is set on the Runcie-Campbell estate and more specifically in the wood itself. The time of year is autumn, which has connotations of death and decay, as if an old way of life is dying to make way for a new one.
The wartime setting establishes the central theme of conflict in the novel as well as bringing the cone-gatherers to the estate and into the wood.
They must collect pine-cone seed, so that when the forest is cut down for the war effort, the trees can be replanted.
Times are hard - there is rationing, lack of employment, and characters are forced into situations they are not used to. Moreover, the traditions of hierarchy are also under threat.
Jenkins makes it very clear that this forest setting does not provide the idyllic retreat from the tensions of the world that we might expect.