Letter: Curb the plough

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The Independent Online
Sir: The ploughing of the orchid-rich downland at Offham, Sussex ("Orchids wilt in farmer's field of flax", 12 April) should not be seen simply as a consequence of the flax subsidy which seems to have prompted it.

There are many reasons why farmers may find it more profitable to destroy downland turf than to accept such subsidies as may be available for conserving it. If we really want to protect scarce wildlife habitat, we should not rely on trying to doctor the agricultural subsidy regime. Still less should we embark on the hopeless task of trying to inflate subsidies for conservation to levels at which they would outweigh all other possible sources of gain.

The time has come to apply controls which would simply forbid agricultural activity which would destroy important habitat which is in short supply. The ploughing of downland is now one such activity for which farmers should have to seek planning permission, as we all have to seek permission for any significant change which we wish to make to the built environment.

MARION SHOARD

London SW20

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