Group therapy

Newsgroups have revived the art of storytelling. Perhaps I am going a little over the top because many of the long postings you see around the newsgroups - when is someone going to come up with a better title? - are a long way off being the literary masterpieces the term implies. But these vast virtual forums provide a wonderful medium for people to tell stories which in most cases would never find their way into print, and so would otherwise only be shared with a few friends in the pub.

Against this background, I was not surprised, while scanning the green forums, to come across a story on about "an unprecedented invasion of brown rats" at a campsite on the coast of Brittany.

"The numbers were considerable. Young and old, they were into the tents, around the washing and toilet areas, leaving their droppings like calling cards and eating our food; eight joined us one evening for dinner."

And this Brittany rat plague had human causes, according to the writer. The campsite is adjacent to an area of outstanding natural beauty where the writer and his wife have camped for the past 20 years without so much as a squeak from a mouse. But growing numbers of visitors have caused considerable damage to the beauty spot. This, coupled with an ill-judged decision to upgrade the campsite, has effectively destroyed the area. Vegetation has been cleared and concrete and asphalt laid down in its place. "The old campsite was rich in wild flowers, in both numbers and variety, mosses, butterflies - all now gone."

One consequence "is that the site now floods quite badly, the natural drainage having been seriously disturbed." This has created perfect conditions for rats, who have gradually pushed out the other wildlife. No longer does the writer and his wife hear the sound of birds, and even the snakes have disappeared.

Meanwhile, across the pond, in alt.politics.greens, an American environmentalist was asking: "Is Toxic Waste Aging Your Body?" Apparently, there are more than 1,300 toxic waste sites across the US and concerns are growing that they may be contaminating water supplies. "How many children will be born deformed? How many will die of leukaemia? And how how many lines will be added to your face as free radicals in your drinking water age your body?" But he rather let his case down with his evidence. All he could offer was a Washington Post report on children finding deformed frogs during a school field trip.

More convincing was a call from Bob, a West Coast campaigner, for support in protecting North America's old- growth redwood forest. He claims that one of the big US timber concerns has its chainsaws primed to take out much of the 60,000-acre Headwaters Forest Complex. "Take a stand for the Headwaters by wearing green and speaking out," he urged.