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Saturday 10 November 2007
Letters: Raptor shooting
Doubts over alleged shooting of raptors at Sandringham
Sir: The Crown Prosecution Service has decided not to prosecute anyone in connection with the alleged hen harrier incident on the Sandringham Estate in my constituency. They decided that the allegations were unfounded because of a lack of evidence, in particular the absence of a carcass. Both Natural England (NE), who rent Dersingham Bog from Sandringham, and the RSPB expressed "disappointment".
As a countryman, I share NE's passion about the hen harrier. I am certain that NE have acted in good faith throughout this saga. However, some facts vindicate the CPS's decision. The hen harrier is only a rare migratory visitor to west Norfolk. On the day of the alleged incident, reports of a great grey shrike on Dersingham Bog brought more birdwatchers than normal into the area, but none mentioned seeing any hen harriers. The claimed sighting of two hen harriers being shot took place not only as it was getting dark shortly before 6pm, but at a range of 500 yards.
Nevertheless, NE immediately contacted the police and filed a complaint. What happened next I find totally reprehensible: someone leaked the story to the press. What followed was a frenzy of press speculation and attacks on the countryside. Nearly all the reports spoke of "shot hen harriers", implying that bodies had been recovered. It was also open season for attacks on gamekeepers, with one RSPB spokesman talking on the radio about estates having a "Victorian attitude to killing raptors". No one pointed out the simple fact that migrating hen harriers have never posed a threat to lowland game, so why would any gamekeeper want to persecute this beautiful raptor?
However, we now need to move on, and lessons must be learnt. Legislation has rightly given NE substantial conservation management powers. But with these powers come onerous responsibilities. When it comes to allegations against neighbours and landlords, with whom NE have an existing positive working relationship, every effort should be made to resolve things through a proper discussion. Of course, there will be occasions when the police then have to be called in, but only after every side of the story has been examined.
At a time when our precious countryside is threatened as never before, be it from the unprecedented development encroaching on rural Britain, or from climate change uncertainties, we desperately need a powerful conservation body like NE. This is why it is also vitally important that they have the best possible relationship with all their conservation partners, and over the next few months I will be doing all I can to ensure that this happens in Norfolk.
Henry Bellingham MP
(N-W Norfolk, C) House of commons
Autistic people are human beings
Sir: Sally Eva and others make a plea for the National Autistic Society to stop pretending that autism is normal, and get behind methods to treat it (letter, 8 November). How telling it is that this plea comes not from "people with autism", but from their parents.
I am not a person with autism. I am an autistic person. Autism is not some inconvenient extra that can be removed with the right magic pill, but a part of who I am. I would not have it any other way. The real disability comes, not from autism, but from people who, however well-meaning they are, deny that my viewpoint is valid. This, sadly, seems to be where Ms Eva and her colleagues seem to be coming from, and my fellow autists and I are poorly served by those who wish to remould us to fit their preconceived model of what it is to be "normal". Hope for the autistic lies not in yet more pills but in recognising that we too are human beings.
Southend on Sea, Essex
Sir: I write in response to the letter from Sally Eva and others. The National Autistic Society is keenly aware of the demands and sometimes desperate decisions some families living with autism face and how immensely important it is that appropriate services are available.
We produce a range of materials that are designed to educate and inform. As autism is a spectrum condition it affects each person in a different way. We do our utmost to reflect the range of needs across our communications. The leaflet mentioned by the writers of the letter is just one part of our awareness campaign, which aims to reflect the full range of experiences.
We strongly support calls for more research into autism so that we may better understand what causes autism and which interventions can make a real difference. However, it is also imperative that people with autism have strong support now. Without such support, autism can have a profound – sometimes devastating – effect on individuals and families. Current provision for those with the disability is deeply inadequate, given the scale of the need.
There are many hundreds of children and adults with autism who cannot speak for themselves and whose families cannot speak on their behalf because they are overwhelmed by the difficulties they face. Our "Think Differently about Autism" awareness campaign aims to improve public understanding of autism in the hope that changing perception of this complex and lifelong disability will help enhance the lives of people living with autism.
We are pleased that thousands of people agree with us and have already signed our petition calling on the UK Government to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and take specific action to increase awareness of autism, tackle discrimination and improve training.
Director of Communication and Public Affairs, The National Autistic Society, London EC1
Sir: I am very encouraged to see The Independent publishing letters from the autism community and commend you for being balanced in reporting this issue. I would like to comment on the letter from parents criticising the NAS in its representation of autism today. I agree that it is totally misplaced of the NAS to focus the public perception of autism on "lifelong disability" and "incurable" and demand "public understanding" on that basis.
This is so totally inaccurate a picture today – indeed my own son has recovered his intellectual functioning, not to mention health recovery, through biomedical interventions which address the environmental insults he was subjected to as an infant that precipitated his descent into autism – the model that is the subject of current research and thinking.
I hope the NAS start to listen to the rest of the world, to medical science, and to parents in the UK who want hope for their children and for their future.
Sir: I would like to clarify that Research Autism is not, in fact, the research arm of The National Autistic Society but an independent organisation which funds research into interventions and treatments for people living with autism. Our remit is not research into the causes of the condition, which accounts for why this type of research is not included on our website.
We do, however, share the National Autistic Society's aim to enhance public understanding of the condition.
Chairman, Research Autism, Bristol
Remembering a 'forgotten' war
Sir: Andy McSmith's article "The lost wars" (8 November) might equally have cited the Dhofar War in Oman, lasting from 1968 to 1976. It too was a Communist insurgency, defeated with the help of British military personnel (from all three services) seconded to the Omani forces, as well as formed British military units. At the time the British Government was reluctant to publicise this victorious campaign and it still remains little reported (with only a few books) and there are certainly no films about it.
However, it was an insurgency which had to be defeated in order to protect the West's oil supplies, and the Omani victory was a resounding success for the British personnel and units that played such a crucial part.
Business needs a lead on climate
Sir: The Government's decision to make the UK the first country in the world to introduce legally binding targets for emission cuts is very noble indeed; but it will need to do more than planning five-year carbon budgets, and creating an advisory committee ("Bill signals legally-binding emissions targets", 6 November).
There are important obstacles in the way of attaining the 2050 targets. Our recent research among over 600 UK firms shows that 26 per cent now measure their overall carbon footprint. But that same research also revealed some important barriers to further environmental investment.
Companies are crying out for further guidance when calculating the impact of investing in low-carbon equipment. They also require a clear business case to support any investment decision. Limited product ranges and a perceived higher cost of "green" equipment are curbing the environmental enthusiasm of UK plc, as is the lack of tax incentives for the wider range of low-carbon products.
Equipment manufacturers need to offer a more diverse range of "green" products, and the Government needs to provide fiscal inducements for companies to tackle climate change head-on and more effectively. Only when these issues are addressed will we stand a chance of achieving the Government's 2050 targets.
Director, Siemens Financial Services, Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire
When being fat is the norm
Sir: So fat Americans live longer than normal, thin, or obese ones ("Now doctors say it's good to be fat", 8 November). This may not be as surprising as it seems. In a country where so many people are obese and most are overweight, it seems possible that a significant number of those who are of "normal" weight may actually have something wrong with them – let alone the thin ones! In the land of the obese, the fat man is . . . normal?
Sir: From a recruitment point of view Caesar clearly had it right: "Let me have men about me that are fat."
The real farm subsidy scandal
Sir: While your exposure of subsidies to rich farmers (9 November) is very welcome, the real scandal is Britain's connivance with the EU CAP which subsidises farmers and keeps out imports from the developing world.
This cannot be defended on health or environmental grounds, since savings from abolishing subsidies (and the large reduction in our average food prices) would more than pay for any reasonable level of regulations that Europe and the USA governments wished to impose.
I understand that agricultural subsidies from the G8 now amount to $1bn per day. It is to be hoped that the UK government will support the WTO mandate to remove these subsidies and speak up in Europe, instead of playing its traditional two-faced game.
Dr George Bowen
Lecturer in Management Studies, The Queen's College, Oxford
Britain's Trident dilemma
Sir: Chris Huhne (Opinion, 5 November) emphasises the opportunity costs (military, political, economic) of replacing Trident, but does not mention the dangers of proliferation. Claiming that nuclear weapons are essential to national security (despite our secure location off Western Europe), Britain is a standing incitement to proliferation. We should therefore ask which poses the greater threat to our future wellbeing: further nuclear proliferation, regional arms racing and a world of 40-plus nuclear states, or unspecified dangers in the future, dreamt up by worst-case analyses of hypothetical scenarios.
Either Britain concentrates on halting and reversing nuclear proliferation, or we retain our nuclear capability to be prepared for an unforeseeable future. We cannot do both.
Rest in peace
Sir: I'd like to second Philip Hensher's views on the recent exposition of the body of Tutankhamun's mummified corpse ("Where is the dignity in the display of this corpse?" 6 November). I also find it disturbing and undignified. I found myself wondering, who next? Henry VIII? Louis XIV? Thomas Jefferson even? It has endless – perhaps even eternal – possibilities.
Sir: Ms Small (letters, 6 November), from the Conservative Party, complained that the Tories were disadvantaged by the electoral system. Perhaps she should have listed the figures for the 2001 General Election (votes per MP elected): Labour 26,000; Conservative 50,000; Lib Dem 93,000. Her attitude is emblematic of the belief held by both Labour and Tory that politics should be the province of only those two parties, and anyone else is an intruder.
Sir: Steve Richards (8 November) is being unduly generous in praising the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London for defending Sir Ian Blair over the de Menezes affair. In fact, senior Labour politicians have no other option, since it was New Labour's foreign policy, in particular the invasion of Iraq, which led to the need for extensive anti-terrorist operations in the UK, of which the de Menezes shooting was a part. If Sir Ian is forced to resign, he would be performing a public service if he were to draw attention to this fact.
M A Timms
No dignity in 'injury'
Sir: Juliet Stephenson writes movingly of the British Legion's care of "injured servicemen" (8 November). But surely the traditional usage "wounded" is a more seemly and dignified word to use of one who has been hurt serving his country; rather than "injured", which makes him sound like the victim of some accident (like the man who slipped on the leaf outside the florist's, later referred to by Stephenson). When, and why, did this important semantic distinction disappear?
MICHAEL GROSVENOR MYER
On the fourth plinth
Sir: Maybe we could have a statue of Admiral Lord Nelson on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square (report, 8 November) so we can get a better look at him.
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