Enemies of the rainforest, Labour spin and a Tory 'hidden agenda' and others

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Look closer to home for the real enemies of the rainforest

Look closer to home for the real enemies of the rainforest

Sir: How quick we are to pick enemies - "loggers and ranchers ... pitched in an often deadly fight against small farmers and environmentalists" with "lists of those they want to kill"; "around 80 per cent of the logging ... illegal" ("Battle for the heart of the rainforest", 29 March).

But the truth is different and somewhat more complex. Almost 75 per cent of Amazonian logs come from legal land clearance - agricultural settlement to benefit poor landless farmers. It is so easy to get timber from such clearance that few timber companies bother with costly sustainable management (limited and selective logging followed by natural regrowth). But another 5 per cent of logs come from such "loggers", who strive against the odds to offer their sustainable product in competition with cheap timber from land clearance. I doubt these carry death lists.

The remaining 20 per cent of logs will come from illegal land clearance or selective and illegal logging of the most valuable trees from indigenous areas or other conservation units - but scattered extraction of high-value trees does not result in the clear fell which your article describes. Clear fell in the Amazon is due to conversion for agriculture. There are indeed intense conflicts over land use, but many of these are down to the multiple confused systems of land tenure, not always the evil intent of ranchers.

So who is the real enemy? It boils down to people who want to pay less and get more. Those who push a version of "development" that equates progress with growth, and growth with a drive to maximise profit, reducing costs on every unit of land. Those who plant soybean or rear cattle on a vast scale to crush competitors and maximise their own personal wealth. It is those who require crippling rates of return to compensate them for the "risk" of investing in the Amazon. Think on it when you go to the supermarket and buy cheaper tinned food containing soybean or when you pick a high-interest portfolio for your pension.

Senior Research Associate in Responsible Forest Business, International Institute for Environment and Development, Edinburgh

Labour spin and a Tory 'hidden agenda'

Sir: I was the chairman of the meeting on 23 March at which Howard Flight spoke. He was one of three speakers present that evening who were invited by Conservative Way Forward, the others being the economist Professor Patrick Minford and the Daily Mail columnist Andrew Alexander. Each spoke for 10 to 15 minutes and then took questions from the audience.

I am writing to clarify my view as to what Mr Flight said and what I believe the audience understood.

In his speech Mr Flight set out the issues the James committee sought to tackle and its recommendations, making it clear that these proposals were the Conservative Party's election commitment. During questions he vigorously defended Conservative Party policy - and Michael Howard - from criticisms that the Conservatives were not being more radical.

The concept referred to extensively in the press of a "hidden agenda" derives, in my opinion, entirely from the spin that the Labour Party has put on the replies given by Mr Flight to members of the audience. All that Mr Flight was saying was that a Conservative government would need to review the situation once elected. He stated that "politics is the art of the possible" - and it might not be possible to implement the proposals in full, or there might alternatively be savings from efficiencies which a government of any political colour should be considering if it is to be acting in the nation's best interests.

I hope this sets the record straight.

London NW8

Darfur crisis

Sir: The International Development Select Committee report on Darfur rightly accuses the Secretary of State, Hilary Benn, of misleading MPs on the scale of the crisis in western Sudan ("Response to Darfur crisis scandalously ineffective, say MPs", 30 March).

Benn makes a habit of steering all discussion of Darfur away from the political causes of the ethnic cleansing and murder, preferring to focus on Britain's generous humanitarian response. By shifting responsibility away from the National Islamic Front regime in Sudan, Benn is adopting the familiar Foreign Office tactics of portraying the players in Darfur as equally guilty, leaving us with the impression the most we can do is send food aid.

Britain must stop appeasing the Khartoum junta, and should support and equip African Union troops to protect civilians in Darfur. Perhaps our enthusiasm to get our hands on southern Sudan's oil lies at the heart of our "scandalously ineffective response".

Waging Peace
London W2

Iraq war legality

Sir: The argument about the legality of the Iraq war is based on a misunderstanding.

In the absence of a world government enforcing international judicial decisions there is no definitive determination of legality. Instead it is a question of whether the Government has followed procedure sufficiently for it to be able to get away with doing what it wants while not damaging either its own interests or the wider ones of international stability. It is a question of whether its actions are "legal enough". This is not cynicism but reality.

The "jury" is out both on the question of whether we have diminished rather than increased our national security and on whether the harsh light shone on the weakness of the UN by the Iraq débâcle will ultimately serve to strengthen rather than weaken international law. Debate needs to focus on these terms rather than a will o' the wisp.

London N4

Endangered species

Sir: You report (28 March) that the Government intends to spend £14m to provide homes for some birds displaced by flooding in order to comply with its EU obligations.

Here during April 1998 in Peterborough I stood and watched flood waters come within three metres of my front door and then flow onward across the Fens where the £14m will be spent. We were subsequently told by Elliot Morley, the Environment Minister, that the Government intended to spend no money on flood protection for the city.

Given that this current scheme is at the request of the EU would it be possible for them to specify that these nests for the endangered black-tailed godwits include suitable accommodation for Peterborough residents also displaced by flooding?

You quote Mr Morley, "This is one of the most important habitats in the UK for both summer and winter birds." He might also like to consider making additional refuges for an increasingly rare breed in this parliamentary constituency, the voter who will vote Labour in the coming election.


Mysterious beasts

Sir: Terence Blacker may be right that mass hysteria accounts for some sightings of puma-like animals in Britain ("Fearful fantasies about the natural world", 29 March). But hysteria cannot account for the capture in Crickelwood in 2001 of a female lynx after a hunt by police and staff from London Zoo. There had been reports of a puma-like animal in the area for some years, although zoo staff assumed the lynx was a recently escaped pet. No one came forward to claim her. The lynx was kept at London Zoo for a while, then apparently exported to a zoo in France for a breeding programme.

Sightings of such animals increased in the 1970s and coincide with a change in legislation restricting the sale of exotic pets. It is possible that a small number of pumas and lynxes were released by irresponsible pet dealers.

So the question is not "Are big cats out there?" but "Can they survive and breed?" Other exotic species have already succeeded, perhaps assisted by milder winters said to be a consequence of global warming. Dinner-plate sized red-eared terrapins (origin: eastern USA) are resident in ponds across the country, and colourful rose ringed parakeets (origin: northern India) are colonising the South-east.

London NW5

Jamie's dinners

Sir: For twenty years I was a London GP and part-time school doctor in the 1980s and 1990s. I saw the drastic effects of competitive tendering forced on schools and the damage done by compulsory acceptance of the cheapest tender regardless of quality.

We didn't know then about the link between hyperactivity and fizzy drinks as well as food colourings, but the obesity and under-nourishment were easily forecast. Now it has taken the imagination of a celebrity chef to rocket to the top of the political agenda what many of us complained about from the start ("School dinners win £280m boost after chef's campaign", 30 March).

Government ministers who pushed through these obviously wrong policies are now, as Her Majesty's Opposition, criticising the current government for the consequences of their own actions. That is rank hypocrisy.

London NW3

Ancient broadcasts

Sir: The excellent programme Between The Ears - Pliny's Naturalis Historia ("Radio 3 to broadcast in Latin 'pro bono publico', 25 March) did not, as you suggest, "make radio history" with the broadcast of an entire radio programme in the language of ancient Rome.

A Finnish radio station (YLE) has been broadcasting news in Latin for 10 years. It has listeners in about 50 countries worldwide. Radio Vatican, and WWCR in Nashville, Tennessee also regularly transmit programmes in Latin.

The allure of Latin is not only its linguistic beauty. The study of Latin, for centuries an elitist luxury, affords a wonderful appreciation of the way in which many human languages work. It also offers a marvellous way to learn directly about the abundantly colourful culture of ancient Rome.

Any current debate, from those about war to those about whether popular culture is being "dumbed down", is impoverished if it is not informed by wisdom and wit from the same debates of ancient Rome. Sub sole nihil nova est!

Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire

Stamp duty

Sir: Further to the letter from David Lamming (24 March) it is not the stamps the Post Office issues that interest me, rather, it is those it does not.

It is astonishing that it is able, within a matter of weeks, to produce commemorative stamps for a royal wedding yet cannot issue a single set to remember the numerous battles fought sixty years ago for this country's freedom. The fiftieth and sixtieth anniversaries of the Battle of Britain and the dams raid have not been deemed of sufficient importance to warrant any stamps by the Post Office yet it is able to issue a set this year to commemorate fifty years of ITV!

As Winston Churchill might well have said "Never in the field of human conflict, have so few been forgotten by so many."


At the prison gates

Sir: I find your editorial opinion "Circus Act" (30 March) on the release of Jonathan King sheer hypocrisy in the light of the full-page news article in the same edition (" 'I have had a brilliant time' "). Who do you suppose creates these "scenes" at the prison gates if it is not you, the media? If the press had not been there with cameras, microphones and notebooks Mr King would have left prison unnoticed and unable to air his dubious views or advertise his CD, and we the public would have been none the wiser.

Coleford, Somerset

Help for the rich

Sir: Your headline "No recovery in sight for ISA sales" (29 March) is good news. As of five years ago, just over 99 per cent of the money in ISAs was held by the wealthier half of the population: people who would have saved anyway. In short, their only effect is to exacerbate wealth inequalities, and to create work for accountants, tax collectors and other pen pushers.


Classic case

Sir: I would like to assure Marius Pope (letter, 30 March) that works such as Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 are played in full, without interruption, on our nightly Classic FM Evening Concert, as they have been since our launch in 1992. Indeed, all three movements of Rachmaninov's magnum opus were broadcast on this programme on the very day that Mr Pope wrote his letter to you.

Station Manager, Classic FM
London W1

Sir: Your leader proposal (29 March) for a greater variety of drive-time music instead of the "Readers' Digest of the Air" dished up by Classic FM is already supplied by. . . BBC Radio 3. On Radio 3 you don't have to put up with the worst aspect of Classic FM's output, the really annoying and banal advertising, the most ghastly of which is the station's own drum-beating. Classic FM is actually at its best in the off-peak times, when they perhaps feel that they don't have to pander to the lowest common denominator.

Thames Ditton, Surrey

War poetry

Sir: In submitting my modest contribution to the challenge thrown down by Prof Day (letter, 25 March), may I say that a slight modification of the metre suggested by him seems to scan more easily and was often favoured by W S Gilbert. Mine goes as follows.
We went off to war on a page of A4,
Though no one could understand why.
Our chief legal eagle had said, "It's illegal
But maybe it's just worth a try".

Maghull, Merseyside