Sir: Tom O'Leary (letter, 20 January) and Samuel Bolton (23 January) are both right: using timber in buildings is an excellent way of locking up carbon in the long term; and harvesting trees for timber releases forest carbon into the atmosphere. However, these apparently contradictory facts need not be in conflict.
Sustainable timber harvesting in appropriate forests is wholly compatible with the carbon cycle. Trees do not live for ever; when they die, some of the carbon they contain is released to the atmosphere. In a sustainably managed forest, the new trees and other organisms that are established in the gaps in the forest created by harvesting reabsorb (or "sequester") the same amount of carbon as the amount released during harvesting, in a continuous, almost "carbon-neutral" cycle.
Moreover, by employing timber in long-term uses such as building components, we lock up the carbon in it for potentially longer than it would have been locked up had it been left in the trees. The alternatives to timber in buildings are products such as concrete, steel and brick, which emit considerably more greenhouse gases than timber during their manufacture.
To combat climate change, we need to conserve the world's forest resources by reducing deforestation. Alongside this we are also promoting restoration of the world's forest resources through the establishment of new forests on low-value and degraded land. Sustainably managed, these new forests will not only lock up yet more carbon in growing trees, but can also act as a new source of timber.
This is what we've been doing in Britain, which 100 years ago was seriously deforested after thousands of years of unsustainable exploitation. Thanks to successive governments' reforestation policies, we have doubled our forest area since 1900.
DIRECTOR-GENERAL, FORESTRY COMMISSION EDINBURGH
Mental-health care lacking in prisons
Sir: Johann Hari has vividly shown what happens when people with severe mental-health problems are locked up in prison without proper health care ("The real solution to our prison crisis", 29 January). It is well established that the experience of imprisonment is detrimental to mental health and therefore prisons are never likely to be "mental illness free zones".
The solution does not lie in simply building more secure psychiatric hospitals. Most prisoners with mental-health problems have depression and anxiety and do not require a secure NHS facility. What they need is a decent standard of primary care that addresses their problems while in prison: what everyone else would expect to get from their GP.
There also needs to be greater recognition of the complexity of need the prisoner with a mental-health problem presents. A single diagnosis is a rarity and many prisoners' problems are coupled with others, such as addiction. Prisoners require integrated services to address these complex needs.
For those with the most severe problems, diversion to hospital may be right, while others need better specialist care while they are in prison. All prisoners with mental-health problems then need much more help with resettlement once they are released.
The state of mental-health care in prison needs urgent government attention. What we must not do is simply shunt people from one custodial environment to another.
RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT MANAGER, THE SAINSBURY CENTRE FOR MENTAL HEALTH, LONDON SE1
Sir: There should be much more to a custodial sentence than mere custody. All the initiatives for reform and rehabilitation that should characterise non-custodial sentences should also be part of prison. Instead, cheered on from the shallow end of the press gene pool, this government has followed the most blinkered policies of vindictive punishment.
The result is that prisons see no difference between hardened criminals and vulnerable, troubled people incarcerated for the likes of fine defaulting or not having a TV licence. They see custody as no more than warehousing. Prisons have neither the resources nor the incentives to exercise the duty of care that they have towards their inmates and towards the society that wants those inmates to be returned reformed and equipped to go straight.
The Government's unwillingness to fund the sort of services required isn't restricted to the number of cells built. It also involves skimping on the staffing, training and support for the prison and probation services.
The result is not just overcrowding. It is that prisoners are abandoned. Already this year two women prisoners have killed themselves in English prisons. This is not a system of rational deterrence, nor one of coherent rehabilitation. It is a fraud perpetrated on the victims of crime.
Sir: Mark Howson (letter, 29 January) wrote: "Seven months in prison for defrauding the taxpayer of £40,000 seems to me to be a fair exchange." However, it is reported that the cost of keeping a prisoner in jail for a year is £37,500. The judge in this case might well have said, "For the crime of stealing £40,000 from the public purse, I sentence you to receiving a further £21,875 from it." Who are we really punishing here? A community-service sentence would surely have been more appropriate in this case and others like it.
Sir: While researching the life of Elizabeth Fry, I came across a speech to the House of Commons by Thomas Fowell Buxton, MP for Weymouth, in 1818. The 107,000 people in British prisons, he said, were "a number greater than that of all the other kingdoms of Europe put together". Could it be we are improving just a little?
Spared the excesses of over-packaging
Sir: It appears that readers have had no difficulty finding one example after another of blatant over-packaging by our high street retailers. With regard to vegetables, at least, I have been spared such excesses for the past few months: my local food co-operative provides between seven and nine days' supply of locally grown vegetables and fruit, packed in the loose earth they were grown in.
Occasionally there are insects and slugs on them as well, but that at least proves they have not been doused with chemical horrors to give them a longer shelf-life. At £5, the value-for-money of a week's supply far outstrips any supermarket. There is, admittedly, some plastic involved: a single, re-used shopping bag to carry them all home in.
Sir: I have a PC printer that I purchased several years ago for £300 and is still in perfect working order.
Today I went to my local retailers to purchase new ink cartridges. The cost of new cartridges came to £57; for £65 I can purchase a better (newer) model complete with cartridges.
Can someone please explain the economies of this? Which is the more environmentally friendly: to gain a new printer with lower power consumption, a facility for printing digital photos without turning on the PC and an advertised more economical use of the print cartridges; or to persevere with my older model?
And in the meantime, can we not have a sensible taxation policy that discourages manufacturers from contributing unnecessarily to our landfill sites.
Sir: I have just returned from my weekly food shopping trip to Tesco, where a man with six bottles of wine in his trolley asked an assistant if he might have a box to put them in. The assistant indicated that he had just torn up two boxes and said that the larger delivery boxes for 12 bottles were always crushed.
What madness is it when supermarkets are crushing perfectly good cardboard boxes, which could be used for carrying home shopping, thus saving the use of plastic bags, and manufacturing flat packed wine carriers from new cardboard?
GERRARDS CROSS, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE
Sir: How about hotel breakfasts? A very light breakfast yesterday morning at a Holiday Inn resulted in a waxed wrapper which had contained two Ryvitas, two plastic butter tubs, a wax wrapper and a sellophane wrapper from a minute portion of Babybel cheese and a further plastic wrapper from a sliver of port salut.
Blair upholds right to peace and quiet
Sir: Why on earth should the Prime Minister be condemned over the plan for "respect zones"? Surely, to live in peace and quiet, free from harm and danger, is a basic human right?
Here, in the small semi-rural suburb of Humberstone Village, in Leicester, most of the time it is quiet. However, when noisy motorbikes roar up and down our main street, when graffiti is sprayed over local shop fronts, when lead flashing is stolen from our church hall, we worry. CCTV, installed in other neighbourhoods close by, is denied us because our crime rate is not "high enough".
One possible solution - not just for Humberstone Village - is the restoration to our street scene of the clearly visible beat bobby. These days, we do have one, but - no fault of his - most of his time is spent on paperwork.
CHAIRMAN, HUMBERSTONE VILLAGE COMMUNITY FORUM, HUMBERSTONE, LEICESTER
Catholic adoption agencies are wrong
Sir: If no politician will say this, perhaps a churchman should: if the Catholic adoption agencies are saying that, always and everywhere, it is better for a child to be in institutional care than be part of a family if that family is headed by two people of the same sex, then they don't deserve to be adoption agencies, and should close.
If, instead, they are saying that families with two people of the same sex should be formed, but they themselves don't want to have to deal with them, then that should not be dressed up as some matter of "conscience"; it is a weird sub-Christian purity code, and, again, needs no protection in law.
THE REV PATRICK MORROW
Sir: The Catholic Church is taking a strong moral line on adoption by homosexual couples. This sits oddly with its well-documented covert protection of paedophile predators within the ranks of its own religious orders and clergy.
Sir: Your cartoon of two Catholic clergymen (24 January) is profoundly offensive to me as a Catholic. Your usual high moral tone has been undermined by the implication that all Catholic clergy are paedophiles. This is a gratuitous slur on the Catholic clergy, the overwhelming majority of whom are decent men trying to do good.
I have followed the debate about adoption and the Catholic church carefully and I have yet to hear a voice from the Catholic side imply that potential gay adopters would corrupt the child. So you further malign the Catholic position by imputing views that have not been expressed.
Let's put ethical food on the menu
Sir: There is no need for Véronique Knighton (letter, 27 January) to worry yet that York restaurants will be unable to serve her foie gras. The council did not debate the proposal.
As for her contention that the producers "have great respect for their animals", many would consider forcing tubes down the gullets of geese and ducks, feeding them massive amounts of food they do not need, in order to produce a huge abnormal liver, a very strange way of showing respect.
However, Véronique makes a good point in her last paragraph. Many of us would be all in favour of extending such a ban to unfairly produced and traded goods, factory-farmed flesh and those fishes which still cling on in the dying oceans. Perhaps the York councillors - and other councils - might like to discuss this.
ARROWE PARK, WIRRAL
Tax on the common man
Sir: The memsahib and I found ourselves in full agreement with the sentiments expressed by that fine filly Joan Bakewell concerning Inheritance Tax in your columns on 26 January. Meeting death duties used to confirm oneself firmly among the nicer class of person, but nowadays you find all sorts of oiks paying Inheritance Tax. What's the country comin' to?
MILTON UNDER WYCHWOOD, OXFORDSHIRE
Merchant Navy heroes
Sir: Congratulations to the former "Bevin Boys" who seem set to receive medals in appreciation of their wartime efforts (report, 25 January). What a pity those other civilian wartime heroes, the men of the Merchant Navy who lost 33 per cent of their number in the same conflict, many of them teenagers, had to fight tooth and nail to earn similar recognition.
TERENCE ROY SMITH
Gorilla dinner shock
Sir: You report that "News that two endangered gorillas had been killed and eaten by Congolese rebel soldiers shocked the world," (26 January). Actually I was not shocked and neither were the dozen or so work colleagues I asked. Disappointed, maybe, but shocked hardly. Had the headline been "Endangered gorillas kill, skin, cook, and eat two Congolese rebels" then I'd have been shocked.
Sir: John Lichfield's article on the discovery of third-century graves in Normandy (27 January) refers to "Gaullish times". The adjective from Gaul (French "la Gaule") is "Gaulish"; the "Gallo-Roman" period, like "Gallic", derive from the Latin "Gallia". Nothing to do with General de Gaulle (whose name, as he was born in Lille, might be of Flemish origin, from Van de Walle, appropriately "of the rampart").
Sir: I think I may have spotted Mr Blair's latest piece of joined-up government. In order to avoid going to jail for the "honours for cash" business he is ensuring that all the cells are full and he is refusing to build new ones! Neat or what?
OADBY, LEICESTERSHIREReuse content