Letters: Poison perils for wild birds


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The Independent Online

Richard Benyon (letter, 30 October) is correct to assert that carbofuran is already banned under the law throughout the UK. However, the minister's decision not to issue an order proscribing the possession and storage of this and other pesticides used in the illegal poisoning of birds of prey is very disappointing.

Such an order could be quickly issued under existing legislation and, by providing the courts with the possibility of issuing custodial sentences rather than just fines, would provide a powerful deterrent to those intent on poisoning raptors.

Furthermore, not all pesticides used to kill birds illegally are banned substances and an order could also address this by proscribing the possession and storage of these products without legitimate purpose.

As a result of illegal persecution there is a crisis facing populations of some birds of prey in England; the hen harrier, for example, has been driven virtually to extinction. An order would provide wildlife protection officers with a valuable new tool to assist in the fight against this persecution, which existing legislation has proved powerless to stop.

We must take the minister's word that his policy decisions are never based on his own personal circumstances, but a failure to take meaningful action to curb the killing of raptors on shooting estates will inevitably lead many to question just how seriously he takes his responsibility to protect species that have traditionally been disliked by the shooting community.

Jonathan Wallace

Newcastle upon Tyne

Many of our current farming habits are simply a disgrace. I recently had reason to travel the east coast line from Edinburgh to King's Cross. Being a farmer myself, I like to look out of the window to see how others are getting on.

Imagine my distress, when I saw that pretty well all the post-harvest grain fields had been sprayed with Monsanto's Roundup which kills outright any green growth in the fields. To the informed eye, this turns them to a lifeless grey.

Lifeless? Certainly, because the insects and small animals that feed on that greenery are starved for weeks or even months. When one considers that this is happening right across the grain-growing acres of the British Isles, is it any wonder that in the last 20 years, our wild bird population has set off on a precipitous decline?

Another tragic farming practice is our habit of sowing winter wheat after an oil-seed rape crop. The rape nearly always produces a huge population of slugs, which in their turn eat the young wheat crop shortly before or after it appears. Our current answer is to cover these fields in slug pellets which then poison the slugs, birds and small mammals. The sadness is that very few people know about these blanket killing operations. Is it any wonder that those that do happen to know about them, are gradually moving towards organic methods of food production?

Philip Trevelyan

Spaunton Bank, North Yorkshire

Obsessed with a hurricane in a faraway country

I find it interesting that the media in this country are providing wall-to-wall coverage of a storm in a faraway country. I bet that in 1987 the hurricane which assaulted south-east England received nothing like this level of attention in the US. As I write on Tuesday night, the television news is still wittering on about the misfortune of a minority of the richest nation on earth. .

It is time that the media in the UK broke the thrall in which they seem to be held by the US. Does our general election get the same degree of coverage in the US that their presidential election is receiving? I doubt it, in a country where fewer than half the population have a passport.

The US is no longer the single most powerful influence on the affairs of the planet and it is high time that the rest of us who share it with them made them realise this.

John Crocker


Your front page headline "Shock and Awe" (31 October) is beneath you, betraying sarcasm and Schadenfreude misplaced in these circumstances.

Carole Jones

Bourne, Lincolnshire

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the usual suspects among The Independent's correspondents have been attributing it to man-made global warming. Sadly, weather extremes do not directly reflect identifiable changes in the Earth's energy balance – such as rises in atmospheric temperature – and the physics remains uncertain.

These events have complex causes, involving anomalies in atmospheric circulation, and a solid understanding of these is needed before reliable models can be constructed. Given insufficient observational data and coarse mathematical models, such speculative claims and unverifiable attribution bring climate science into disrepute.

Dr John Cameron

St Andrews

Fuel from air will not save planet

Making petrol from carbon dioxide and water vapour is not going to prevent climate change ("The scientists who turned fresh air into petrol", 19 October). Any extracted CO2 will be put back into the atmosphere when the petrol is burnt.

Greener energy sources like this are important because they will keep the lights on as fossil fuel supplies become more expensive and difficult to extract, but they would combat climate change only if they meant that huge quantities of easily and cheaply accessible oil, coal and gas stayed in the ground. That is not going to happen, and so the reality is that so-called alternative energy is actually additional energy.

To prevent the disaster of climate change, we need to invest in geoengineering: technology that artificially cools the planet. This can be funded by a financial transactions tax, agreed between the world's major economies. David Cameron needs to start working on it with other world leaders now.

Richard Mountford

Hildenborough, Kent

The founder of Air Fuel Synthesis, Tony Marmont, has put £1m of his own money into this company to prove the technology which has been waiting to be developed. It is an engineering rather than a scientific triumph which is far from trivial, the key being the technique for sucking carbon dioxide out of the air which makes the fuel at least carbon-neutral and at best carbon-negative when renewable electricity powers the process.

Those of us who have been working on making synthetic fuel from air and water are fortunate that Tony has shown that this technique is both practical and economic. That is why Virgin Fuels and the airlines are taking such a close interest, because it means that there is no biological input and no limit on the amount of fuel that can be made.

Leon Di Marco

FSK Technology Research, London W9

New names for old cities

I was interested by Francis Herbert's letter (30 October) referring to Guy Keleny's input of 20 October about "creeping geographical correctness" in respect of foreign place names. I have to agree with Guy Keleny, because the sensitivity seems always to be one-way.

I wonder if the French will ever refer to the UK as other than "Royaume Uni", or to the River Thames rather than the "Tamise", or London not "Londres". What about calling Germany Deutschland rather than Allemagne? Perhaps we should refer to Spain as España and Italy as Italia, but I worry about what to call Greece or Serbia.

There are numerous similar examples. I remember being puzzled at the Olympics opening ceremony when the supposedly English translation of "Côte d'Ivoire" was repeated in exactly the same French instead of "Ivory Coast".

Just like political correctness, of which it is probably an offshoot, it is quite crackers.

David Moulson

Roxby, North Lincolnshire

Francis Herbert is correct when he highlights the march of geographical correctness in recent place-name changes. I notice that although we now call Bombay Mumbai, India has not yet renamed Bollywood as Mollywood.

Nigel Scott

London N22

Go on, spoil somebody's day

Barrie Spooner asks how he should spoil his ballot paper (letter, 31 October). I have a suggestion – which need not involve body fluids.

When a ballot paper is spoiled, the returning officer has an obligation to show it to each of the candidates. So writing on the ballot paper what you really think of them is the only guaranteed way of ensuring that each candidate will actually read it.

A parliamentary candidate once told me that a pithy comment on a spoiled ballot paper was one of the most wounding things he had ever read.

Andrew C blundy

London E18

Academic deficit

The article by the Minister for Universities (26 October) is misleading. He claims that the increase in tuition fees will "tackle the deficit" because graduates will be providing 40 per cent of the costs. No graduates will repay any of their loan until 2015 at the earliest, and that figure of 40 per cent will not be reached for many years. It is wrong to imply that the new student loan system has any relevance to reducing the government deficit in the short or medium term.

Professor Michael W Eysenck

Roehampton University, London SW15

Name of evil

Richard Waters is correct only in part when he writes about Vlad Dracul and the Dracula saga (31 October). The word Dracul meant simply "dragon" in 15th-century Romanian. The "son of the house of the devil" translation of this word and all the diabolical connotations with Dracul and Vlad Tepes are part of the modern Romanian language, centuries after the death of Vlad Tapes in an ambush on the road between Bucarest and Giurghiu at the end of December 1476.

Stefano Portoghesi

London SW16

Artistic taste

It's not surprising that the figures in Schiele's study for his Last Supper (review, 29 October) set about the meal "with an air of determination", seeing that it was made "in oil and tempura". Can't be doing with this new-fangled Japonism, myself. I much prefer Chardin's pastilles, or Masaccio's fresco prosecco.

Malcolm Watson