A sad farewell for England's once green and pleasant land
Sir: I agree totally with Monty Don's excellent letter (5 April) in which he highlights the almost feudal grip that farmers have on our rural landscape. I have lived and worked in the countryside for over 40 years, but am now seriously considering a move to the town. Conditions have deteriorated rapidly over the last 10 years, and sadly it is the supposed custodians of our precious landscape that are most at fault.
Last week I passed a hedge-trimmer hacking hedges back to the bone for the second time this year; it will reappear in August. What chance do our birds and wildlife have at the mercy of these mindless actions? The air we breathe is anything but fresh; it is polluted by chemicals, pig and chicken manure and plastic bag-burning bonfires. The countryside is now a noisy, restless place to live; no longer do shepherds "walk soft in the fold", they charge around on quads, hotly pursued by barking dogs terrorising sheep during lambing time.
Massive tractors have replaced small "purring" machines. They fill our lanes with noise, and scatter wildlife, children on ponies and domestic pets in their wake. They work through the night to maximise contractors' earning power. Huge lorries packed to the roof and beyond with petrified "grain consuming units", travel sometimes thousands of miles carrying their cargo to their slaughter. Where have all the small slaughter houses gone? Farm animals suffer unimaginable pain and misery during their short lives.
I am utterly disillusioned by the countryside today and sadly pessimistic about the future. Unless we can unite to turn things around, unless government bodies commit themselves, unless financial gain and selfish greed cease to be all that we are striving for, then we can say goodbye to our green and pleasant land forever.
Saltburn, North Yorkshire
Bush and Blair pursue appeasement policy
Sir: George Bush and Tony Blair have reached the stage of Munich ("Sharon and Bush reach their own settlement on Israel", 15 April). They have caved in to a territorial aggressor who uses the argument that because settlers occupy land outside its borders it has the right to annex that land, whatever the views of its other inhabitants.
The language used by George Bush is quite extraordinary. He says, "in the light of the new realities on the ground ... it is unrealistic to expect" a return to the 1949 armistice line. Game, set and match to Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, who was the chief architect of illegal settlement construction to create "facts on the ground" to be used to make such expectations unrealistic.
Bush and Blair will, however, regret their policy of appeasement. Just as Ariel Sharon moved on to Beirut, with terrible consequences, in 1982 when a more limited invasion of Lebanon was given a tacit US go ahead, so is it credible to expect that Sharon will now stop at six major settlement clusters on the West Bank?
That Bush would cave into Sharon is not perhaps surprising. What must be a major source of shame is Blair's immediate supporting statement that the "quartet" must seize the opportunity to inject new life into the road- map process and "Israel should now coordinate with the Palestinians on the detailed arrangements".
This is like Chamberlain telling Hitler in 1938 to negotiate with the Czechs on how much of Czechoslovakia to annex: history relates that he annexed the lot.
Sir: I am a moderate Arab but after the Bush/Sharon statement, I feel that I want to explode. Who gave George Bush the mandate to speak on behalf of over four million Palestinian refugees? Is it not pathetic that he thinks he has a divine right to attest Israel's template to maintain control over a number of settlements in the West Bank? Is it not tragic that Bush has trashed the moral weight of international law by legitimising Sharon's ethnic cleansing operation, through stripping Palestinian refugees of their inalienable rights to be repatriated to their homelands?
Has Bush ever scrutinised the road- map tenets that stipulate "no actions undermining trust including deportations, confiscation and/or demolition of Palestinian homes and properties as a punitive measure, or to facilitate Israeli construction; destruction of Palestinian institutions and infrastructure; and other measures, must be instigated by the occupying power"?
Security for Israel is paramount for peace. But how can this be achieved by ignoring countless UN resolutions that instruct Israel to maintain its troops within the inviolable 4 June 1967 borders, address its conspicuous violations of basic Palestinian human rights and halt its demographic manipulations in the occupied West Bank and Gaza strip that reach far beyond legitimate security needs.
Dr MUNJED FARID Al QUTOB
Sir: At last our Prime Minister has a final opportunity, and now an absolute duty, to free himself from his neo-conservative chains. He is about to meet an American President who has cravenly bowed to his Israeli counterpart.
It appears that, on behalf of the US, George Bush has now formally accepted the illegal annexation of Palestinian territory in the West Bank, in contravention of repeated UN resolutions, and regardless of former US support for the Oslo accords and of the US-sponsored so-called road-map.
The time has surely come for this country to stand up at last for what is right. We got it wrong in 1938, in 1956 and in 2003. Can we hope that we'll get it right in 2004, and that Tony Blair will tell George Bush that enough is enough?
Sir: George Bush now supports the annexation of parts of the illegally occupied West Bank and denies the Palestinians their right of return. Bush has undone previous US policy, undermined his own road-map to peace, bargained away Palestinian land and rights and dismissed 50 years of UN resolutions.
This Bush-Sharon plan is a fatal blow to any possible Arab-American understanding and a stab in the back of his allies amongst Arab rulers and particularly the so-called Governing Council in occupied Iraq. The few remaining doubters in the Arab world can now clearly see the true intent of the US administration.
Professor A ALMAINI
Sir: By endorsing Sharon's West Bank land grab and denying Palestinians the "right of return", President Bush has shown that force wins.
Surely a message that will not be lost on terrorists and Iraqi insurgents.
Ellicott City, Maryland, USA
Sir: Judith Steiner, in her letter about the Government's new adoption proposals, suggests that British childless couples will be "forced to go abroad" and that "heartache" is the only possible outcome should there be any future contact following an adoption order.
I challenge this. Most adoptions are of children rather than babies - the 2002 Adoption and Children's Act reflects a more thoughtful view of all the needs of the parties concerned, and, in particular, the child. Just because adoption societies may give information to birth parents, this will not automatically lead to a meeting; the decision will always be dependent upon the agreement of the adopted person themselves. Whatever the proposed changes that the Government wishes to make, the interests of the child remain paramount.
The past arrangements were more of a mess than today, many people have suffered from the pain of enforced separation, then never been able to find out any information about the adopted child. Many adopted people, victims of an archaic view that the adoption should be a "final" separation, have been frustrated by the secrecy that adoption used to have and were deprived of finding out that missing piece in the puzzle of their lives.
The idea that childless parents would be forced to go abroad is a view linked more to supply of babies for adoption than to do with fears of contact from birth parents in the future. I think this view is insulting to prospective adoptive parents, who are encouraged, yes, to have unconditional love and financially support a child, but also to bring up their child in an atmosphere of openness about their child's origins.
ID card control
Sir: Many people liken ID cards (Letters, 15 April) to the host of other cards that most of us now carry. There is however a basic difference. The cards we use are issued to us at our request, or as a condition of employment, so leaving them at home or losing them can be inconvenient and possibly costly, but nothing more. The ID card however is to be issued by the Government and imposed on us not to provide benefits but for purposes of control.
Barbara Castle assured us when breathalysers were introduced that there would never be random tests. Now drivers are breathalysed at every opportunity. Governments never reduce controls. They only increase them so it will be no different with ID cards. They may start as innocent little bits of plastic but they will soon become essential to allow us to go about our daily business, and woe betide anyone who cannot produce one.
WILLIAM W SCOTT
North Berwick, East Lothian
Sir: Your article on the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche (14 April) does not do full justice to the church's role during the 1945 firestorm. A few years ago we visited the Frauenkirche and attended one of the presentations about the church's history and continuing reconstruction, which took place in the recently completed crypt.
We were told that on the night of the raid hundreds of Dresdeners took shelter in the church, and survived, leaving the building once the raid was over. The building collapsed subsequently when the structure could not tolerate the contraction caused as it cooled after the firestorm passed.
S W JONES
Sir: Your report on the completion of the external walls of Dresden's Frauenkirche was a timely reminder of a wonderful project of reconstruction and reconciliation. Through the Dresden Trust thousands of UK citizens and interested parties, including the Queen, ministers, bishops, airmen and others have contributed to the stonework, to a window and to the Orb and Cross (which was made in London using 18th century techniques).
Golf is changing
Sir: Terence Blacker's piece (14 April) about golf was ridiculous. He's about 10 years too late. Everybody knows that golf has its snobbish element. It's always been like that, but it's changing. Is he not aware of golf's popularity among the less-well-off these days? Has he not seen kids practising their swings in any bit of space they can find?
His criticism that golf has no strategy, no mind-games, no competition is absurd. If golfers are only playing against themselves, why did Ernie Els look so stressed when he was interviewed after his last round, before Mickelson won? And anyway, competing against yourself is the most difficult kind of competition of all.
Sir: On 25 March, the Government pulled the plug on an £8.5bn freight railway line linking the North West of England and Northern France. This project was privately funded and would have followed disused lines and removed about 5 million lorries a year from Britain's overcrowded motorways and roads.
Had they the political will the Government could by now be well on the way to solving some of the problems of road congestion, air quality and new investment an environmentally friendly infrastructure at no cost to the taxpayer.
Sir: Professor Solt (Letters; "Seal cull opposition is too sentimental", 15 April), perhaps being an elderly animal himself, forgets that giant tortoises have been recorded living in the wild as long as 152 years. When he writes "there are no old animals, only old people and old pets" he is attempting to justify the unjustifiable.
Sir: Roger Payne's strictures concerning the three main monotheist religions do not apply to those of Indian origin (letter, 14 April).
Buddhism, in particular, has always been distinguished by its lack of dogma and spirit of inquiry. In place of a belief system, it promotes a way of life that "sees things as they truly are" and prescribes the mental and bodily disciplines that result in freedom from the three poisonous roots of existence: greed, hate, delusion, in all their myriad forms.
Editor, Buddhist Studies Review
Sir: Roger Payne (Letters, 14 April) cannot have read the Talmud if he thinks it is a "source of revelation" that "claims final and unique truth". The Talmud does not claim to be a source of truth, and the majority of Jews today do not consider it as such.
It is a serious, respectful, open-minded and open-ended discussion of serious subjects.
NICHOLAS de LANGE
Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies
Sir: The subheading to Malcolm Macalister Hall's article (Highway robbery, 15 April) asks, "Is the parking industry out of control?"
No Malcolm, it's not. The motor car is, though.