Sir: Your coverage of the desperate plight of UK invertebrate and plant populations is timely and important (24 June). It must be hoped that a real revolution in planning and conservation policy was begun in the pages of The Independent.
From a local planning authority perspective the attitude of the Government towards biodiversity is at best dismissive. Their "growth agenda" rapaciously consumes bio-diverse brownfield sites - second only to ancient woodland as a habitat for threatened invertebrates - and sucks dry our aquifers and wetlands; county floras show plants of damp habitats in population freefall.
Local attempts to conserve our wildlife are frustrated; a Local Plan inspector threw out our council's rigorously researched "green corridors" policy, branding it a constraint to growth. More recently, another inspector overturned a refusal of planning permission for a car showroom on a site supporting a host of rare invertebrates, including endangered Red Data Book 1 species, and a big orchid population. The inspector's words are stark: "While the site undoubtedly has some nature conservation interest, I am not convinced that this value is so great as to outweigh the benefits of the development". So the Government position is clear: BMW showroom or extinction - no contest!
CLLR TONY HARWOOD
MAIDSTONE BOROUGH COUNCIL PLANNING COMMITTEE, MAIDSTONE, KENT
Sir: I'm delighted that you feel we need to "think about conservation from the bottom up" (leading article, 24 June) as many valuable wildlife sites vanish unreported and ignored while the national press focuses on bigger, sexier issues.
In Oxfordshire, Radley Lakes provide a wonderful example. RWE npower are turning the environment into a waste dump by filling local lakes with power station ash. Only two lakes out of 12 are left and another is now threatened. This beautiful, rich, wildlife site has seen no insecticides for over 50 years and is consequently teeming with insects; just the sort of place we need to protect.
While issues like Radley Lakes are viewed as local planning decisions, instead of part of a dangerous pattern of piecemeal environmental destruction, our wildlife is being systematically destroyed.
Vilification of 4x4s will solve nothing
Sir: While most of us enjoy a little fun at the expense of the ridiculous "Chelsea tractor" driver ("Enemy of the people", 23 June), should we not recognise it for what it is? Even if every single 4x4 worldwide were confiscated tomorrow, total CO2 emissions would drop by no more than a couple of percentage points at the most; hardly significant in the context of global warming. That being so, vilification of 4x4s and their drivers amounts, at best, to little more than class-warfare in a new guise. At worst, it is a dangerous distraction from the painful reality that we are all implicated in climate change; not just the 4x4 drivers (or the Americans, the loggers, the burger franchises or whoever the latest scapegoat happens to be). To pretend otherwise is self-delusional and encourages us to believe that, so long as others change their behaviour, we do not need to do anything about our own.
Sir: With the Government still reluctant to introduce a road tax on 4x4s it is up to public opinion to change its mind. Making the polluter pay and pricing these gas-guzzlers beyond the reach of most drivers is an area where London can take the lead. If the congestion charge were to be raised to £20 per day for the most polluting vehicles we would see far fewer 4x4s on roads across the south east. Like the congestion charge itself, if the policy works and most people accept the need for it, then the Government could surely then feel confident that it had enough support to introduce something similar for a national scheme of road-user charging.
GREEN PARTY GROUP, LONDON ASSEMBLY
Sir: The problem of an overall tax on 4x4s would be the penalisation of drivers in genuine need of such vehicles. The solution? Introduce the concept of "rurality", based on post codes. "Rurality" was thought up many years ago to defend country GPs who were in dispute with pharmacies about the right to dispense medicines for their patients. Depending on the motorist's genuinely rural address, the road tax on a 4x4 would automatically revert to the standard rate. Such a scheme would be bound to generate a new bureaucracy with disputes and appeal processes, but it should be self-financing.
DR P M J BENNETT
PYRFORD WOODS, WOKING
Sir: Parking at my local hospital, which I attend for regular blood tests, has always been difficult. Recently it has become an even greater problem as all the bays have been widened by a foot, presumably to accommodate extra-wide modern cars like 4x4s, resulting in a loss of about 15 per cent capacity. I now have to spend even more time huntingfor a space. This is another small but annoying example of their anti-social features.
ALAN J EVENS
Sir: The current whipping boy of environmental campaigners is the vilified 4x4 car. Having spent some of my orthopaedic training in Chelsea, I often rode my scooter in close proximity to "Chelsea tractors". Now, as I live in rural west Scotland, my family own two 4x4s. I believe I am acting responsibly by ensuring I can reach my patients in severe weather conditions. The current discrimination against 4x4 cars is a reaction to the metropolitan use of these vehicles with no regard to provincial need for these appropriate cars.
DR MARTIN BUCHAN
QUARRIERS VILLAGE, RENFREWSHIRE
Sir: Your campaign against the 4x4 will not stand up to any test. Pollution is caused by engine size and use, not by having four-wheel drive. People who "offend" in 4x4s will not change their habits if driving by two wheels. Any campaign is better aimed at reducing the total number of vehicles of all types, and at reducing the number of unnecessary journeys, rather than targeting any particular group.
ANTHONY N BATES.
Trident exacerbates threat to our security
Sir: Gordon Brown now publicly supports the replacement of Trident (report, 22 June), even though the Prime Minister has recognised that nuclear weapons are no use against the current security threats that we face. Our nuclear arsenal did not "deter" the attacks of 7/7, and it is widely recognised that we face no current nuclear superpower threats.
John Reid and others have argued that we need to replace Trident as an insurance policy against future threats. But this argument is deeply flawed. To embark on a new nuclear-arms race - which is how replacing Trident would be seen abroad - would send the worst possible signal to countries that are already impatient with the nuclea- weapons states for failing to comply with their obligation, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to begin the process of disarmament. Inevitably this will lead some countries to believe they, too, need nuclear weapons as "deterrent" protection. Policies of nuclear first use and the practice of pre-emptive war, sadly espoused not only by the US but also by Britain, can only contribute to that very real danger.
Replacing Trident is a major step down the road to nuclear disaster. It must be stopped now. The debate must take place. The arguments for a shift to policies which will begin genuinely to resolve the world's complex problems must be heard.
CHAIR, CAMPAIGN FOR NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT LONDON N7
Sir: Your article on Gordon Brown's support for nuclear missile renewal showed a very useful chart of which countries had nuclear warheads, but with one glaring omission - Israel.
Israel is estimated to have over 200 nuclear warheads, but of course refuses any form of international inspection and will not sign up to any nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It is a shame that the international community, and indeed the media, continues to turn a blind eye in most cases to Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.
Iran and other countries in the Middle East who are urged to sign up by the West to a non-proliferation treaty and to halt any development of nuclear weapons find this failure to deal with Israel as a nuclear power both perplexing and hypocritical. Israel should be subject to the same scrutiny as every other country in this matter and be required to give a proper account of its nuclear programme.
Children's mental health: diet is critical
Sir: The British Medical Association's report on the increase in children's mental problems is a pre-emptive warning of an impending crisis (report, 21 June). Admirable, too, that they recognised the critical role of diet in these issues.
However, it is not just sugary foods that cause problems but, even more fundamentally, increasing deficiencies in brain-specific omega-3 fatty acids, from a child's time in the womb onwards.
What we need is not more research, but action. The current growth in mental ill health was predicted back in 1972, based on the science available then. An EU audit last year found the brain disorders have surpassed every other disease category in the costs of ill health.
It was The Independent on Sunday which broke the story of the Government's proposals to provide omega-3 supplements to children. Ministers recognise that the scientific evidence is already sufficient to justify prompt remedial action. But this is just an interim solution.
Over the long term, we need to put a health component into EU food and fisheries policies, so we have a sustainable supply of appropriate fish, and stop subsidising products rich in fat, sugar and salt. We also need to restore nutrition education to the school curriculum, so children know what constitutes a healthy diet, where to shop for it, how to cook it, and actually enjoy eating it.
What is now at stake is the health and abilities of children yet to be born.
PROFESSOR MICHAEL A CRAWFORD
INSTITUTE OF BRAIN CHEMISTRY AND HUMAN NUTRITION, LONDON METROPOLITAN UNIVERSITY JACK WINKLER DIRECTOR, FOOD & HEALTH RESEARCH, LONDON N1
An objective look at the British Empire
Sir: In his letter of 24 June Niall Ferguson does not dispute any of the facts cited by Johann Hari. Instead he accuses him of "embarrassing ignorance and disturbing relativism".
In fact Hari's position is anything but relativist. He has argued that the same moral standards be applied to our own history as we apply to our enemies'. If anyone is a relativist in this debate it is Ferguson who considers that to suggest such a thing is to commit an "error of categorization".
In my view, what is "disturbing" is Ferguson's tireless defence of the British Empire on the basis that it wasn't as bad as Germany under Hitler or Soviet Russia under Stalin; and what is "embarrassing" is that a man who has been described as the "most brilliant British historian of his generation" preaches a goodies-and-baddies version of history.
NEW MALDEN, SURREY
The UK justice system
Sir: With a proposal for a UK version of "Megan's law", the UK authorities are, once again, going to the US to learn how to do something (report, 24 June). The US is characterised by vicious inequality, not least on a racial basis, and has six times the murders, three times the rapes and eight times the gun crimes of England and Wales. I do not understand why it is thought to be a society we should be seeking to emulate. Would the Government not be better off trying to find out how it is done in Sweden?
Sir: The practice of letting relatives of the victim address the court before sentence in cases of unlawful killing contradicts the principle of impartial justice. The purpose of a judicial system is to act on behalf of society as a whole; a murder is not a private matter, but a crime against all of us. The killing of a tramp is as serious as that of an heiress, and the sentence should be no greater when victims' relatives are articulate than when they keep their grief private.
Sir: The sentence from the sermon of Bishop Katharine Jefferts which Richard Ingrams (24 June) dismisses as a barmy Americanism: "Our Mother Jesus gives birth to a new creation - and you and I are His children" (note she does not use the feminine pronoun) is remarkably similar to the claim made by the 14th-century Julian of Norwich: "So Jesus Christ, who opposes good to evil, is our true Mother. We have our being from him, where the foundation of motherhood begins, with all the sweet protection of love which endlessly follows".
COLNE ENGAINE, ESSEX
Sir: Howard Jacobson (24 June) writes of the "flattened 'a' " and "gormless dull-thud" 'u's of Manchester English. But these are the values those letters had in earlier English. It was the Great Vowel Shift of about 1500-1800 that put English, chiefly of the southeast, out of step, in its use of the Roman alphabet, with the rest of Europe. It will be a sad day when regional dialects are smoothed away, and especially regrettable that they will be subsumed by the one that has the most elaborately messy non-correspondence between writing and sound.
Water suppliers fined
Sir: The more Thames Water is fined (report, 22 June), the more its share price will be affected, and the more its financial ability to improve water supplies will be impaired. In this "market", we cannot take our custom elsewhere. Have we not learned a lesson from the railways?
Warning for chocoholics
Sir: I note that amongst those products being withdrawn by Cadbury's for safety reasons are 1kg bars of chocolate (report, 24 June). Surely such enormous blocks should carry a government health warning anyway?
NANTGLYN, DENBIGHSHIREReuse content