Letters: Lessons of the ash tree disaster


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News that Crowders Nursery may sue the Government over the loss of its stock of ash trees will, no doubt, provoke a robust defence from Defra ("Deadly ash disease infects more trees than first feared", 6 November). But who is to blame for this unfolding environmental disaster?

Fraxinus excelsior, the Common Ash, is a distinctive, fast-growing and versatile tree. It produces a hard timber that has served the nation at times of peace and war, and for pleasure, for centuries. Yet the deadly fungal infection Chalara fraxinea may soon eradicate it from the British landscape. But the threat to Britain's ash trees is not just the result of Ministers' failure to heed the Horticultural Trade Association's and ecologists' warnings, it is also due to arrogance that puts the economy over ecology every time.

Free trade in trees and plants, without effective-enough scientific assessment of the risks to the environment, is an unacceptable aspect of globalisation, and we are now beginning to see its terrible consequences. But, worse still, we are short of the botanists and plant pathologists needed to provide the scientific tools to do the job of fighting this and future threats to our trees.

Sir David Attenborough recently remarked that it would probably take a disaster to force people to take their responsibilities to the environment seriously. But, by the time we come to realise that we are the custodians of the natural world and not its masters, it may well be too late and other species of native trees will come under threat.

Nick Reeves

Executive Director

Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management

London WC1

Ever since the news broke about the Chalara fungus that is affecting ash trees, I have wondered why it has been necessary to import ash saplings from the Continent.

My garden borders woodland and at the bottom is a huge ash tree, which seeds itself so prolifically that every year I pull up hundreds of seedlings. In his article on 3 November Michael McCarthy states that 5.2 million ash saplings were brought in for forestry between 2003 and 2011, which makes me think I've missed a very good business opportunity.

Ann Best

Hassocks, West Sussex

Crime mystery: what are we voting for?

Next week, I am expected to go and vote for my local police and crime commissioner. I still don't know who the candidates are, although I rang the helpline at least three weeks ago asking for details. I was invited to do this by an "information" leaflet posted to me. It did say I will have a first and second choice. No mention, though, of how the voting system works.

And what exactly is it all for anyway? The county police authorities, made up of elected local authority members, are being disbanded. Their job was to monitor the local police force, set the budget and, if necessary, sack the chief constable.

In the future, elected local authority members will sit on a "police and crime panel" to monitor the new commissioner. If the panel doesn't like what the commissioner does, it will have a veto, including on the choice of a chief constable. So what's the point of having a commissioner, who will take a high salary, no doubt with expenses?

Penny Young

South Lopham, Norfolk

The latest letters (6 November) on the elections of police and crime commissioners (PCCs) miss a key reason why the elections are so unsatisfactory: the lack of clarity around the new role.

The Government has failed to explain how, exactly, the PCC will hold the chief constable and police force to account on the public's behalf. It is not enough to be told that PCCs will give the public a "voice at the highest level". Similarly, we need to know far more about police and crime panels, the new bureaucracy to examine the actions and decisions of each PCC.

Dr Alex May


Press freedom to behave badly

You report that some Conservative MPs are getting their retaliation in against the Leveson report first ("Critics fear MPs' plan to call Leveson could turn into televised 'grilling'", 3 November). They follow Michael Gove in opposing any attack on the liberty of the press to behave with cavalier amorality as a de facto attack on the freedom of the press, and, by extension, free speech.

It is difficult to suppress a nagging suspicion that these principled politicians might, perhaps, be more concerned to protect the right of overseas and other newspaper proprietors to dictate British political discourse to their own agendas and these politicians' narrow advantage.

Michael Rosenthal

Banbury, Oxfordshire

In the wake of recent press scandals and speculation about what the Leveson inquiry report will contain, the phrase "a free press" is being much bandied about. As with mother love and apple pie, almost everyone is in favour of this. But what does it really mean?

It seems to me that what it amounts to in Britain today – and of course a lot of other countries – is ownership of practically all our newspapers, and quite a bit of other media too, by a few rich men (and yes, sadly, we are talking about persons of the male gender.) So a free press is to be understood alongside the freedom of everyone to use the Ritz Hotel: available to all in theory but in practice only to a few.

No one wants to see some kind of Stalinist censorship by the Government. But we do want variety, which in itself should guarantee reasonable standards. We need a feisty, independent local and national press which is not in the pockets of a tiny group of billionaires but is owned, controlled and managed by co-operative trusts of ordinary people with something interesting to say.

Andrew McLuskey

Staines, Middlesex

Customers for education

R L Davey (letter, 2 November) likens the choice of private education to choosing a Porsche rather than a Ford. That analogy says all we need to know about those who support this divisive practice. Such people see themselves and their children as customers, not citizens.

Perhaps Mrs Thatcher was right: society does no longer exist. But those who can afford it buy themselves into an exclusive "society" of their own, a society which ensures privilege for the few, while the rest can remain in the land of the plebs.

The sooner private education is abolished the better; maybe then we shall be able to think about the concept of society, and what the word implies, more constructively.

Anthony Blane


R L Davey defends the right of rich parents to send their children to private schools on the premise that they should be able to spend their money as they choose. Under the current charitable status of private schools the rest of us also contribute to his children's privileged education.

Private schools have long ceased to carry out their original charitable role, and in my view their charitable status should be removed. If R L Davey wants to spend his money buying A-levels for his children, let him do it without the help of state benefits.

Dr A Rowlands

Abingdon, Oxfordshire

A hip chick recalls 'Top of the Pops'

An interesting piece from Harriet Walker regarding Top of The Pops (3 November). We may well be throwing the baby out with the bathwater in ditching the repeats. Why not just dub or cut Jimmy Savile's voice?

Harriet Walker writes: "If you're under 50 it formed you, and if you're over 50 it probably filed you with dread." I am a perky 64 and well remember the weekly battles with a somewhat authoritarian Father when I begged to watch the far too short but oh so exciting prog that helped me tap into the new teenage culture that was forming me.

Mostly I lost those early battles, but being a hip chick I found an excuse (maths homework) to visit a classmate who lived on our street and whose sympathetic Dad allowed her to watch TOTP. Happy Days!

Judy Slawinski

Mirfield, West Yorkshire

Struggle for power

I have watched with incredulity and despair the awful shenanigans that pass for democratic elections in the USA, while very conscious that we in Britain have only a slightly more genteel version of the same mockery of "government of the people by the people for the people" .

Our political systems might have been designed by groups of dysfunctional teenage gangs (or Bullingdon boys). They are basically motivated by little other than hanging on to power. It's vital that we grow up quickly.

Eileen Noakes

Totnes, Devon

Worldwide visa tangles

I was reassured to read on Monday of your correspondent, Isadora Watts's tribulations with obtaining a UK visa.

Having recently waded through red, green, blue (and any other hue you can name) tape to apply for an Indian tourist visa, including a list of countries visited in the last 10 years, payment of six different fees, two special-size photographs and completion of two checklists, I was delighted to learn that the age-old principle of reciprocity in such matters is being upheld.

Bill Barnes

East Bridgford, Nottinghamshire

High price

In answer to Professor Uta Frith ("Forget the guilt, just spend your cash on childcare, top scientist tells female high-flyers", 5 November), is it just possible that finding a replacement for a "high-flyer" is easier than for a loving parent? If both partners are dedicated high-flyers, there is a simple answer: don't have children. They are a commitment, not a commodity, and the world is already over-populated.

Margaret Daone

Maidstone, Kent

Truck for a name

So Adele is finding it difficult to choose a name for her baby son. Not such a problem when choosing a name for a baby girl. A couple of hours spent on a motorway bridge with a pen and notepad watching for Eddie Stobart lorries will produce a wealth of girl's names. Alas, there is no equivalent for boy's names.

John Wess

Malvern, Worcestershire