Letters: Southern England's water

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The Independent Online

Why reservoirs cannot supply southern England's water

Sir: I am constantly amazed at the ignorance of the British media about this nation's water supply. This ignorance was wonderfully displayed in Friday's leading article (2 June). In it you castigated southern water companies for failing to build reservoirs, which you say are more efficient at catching rain than aquifers. You overlook a fundamental fact - the geology of this country, which is the main control on our water supply.

In simple terms, the North-west of this country is made of hard rocks which form high ground with deep valleys. The high ground receives high rainfall, the water runs off the impermeable rocks and the deep valleys can be dammed for reservoirs. Those reservoirs hold small amounts of water (the total is about 2,000 million cubic metres) but relatively few people live in the North-west so they provide an adequate supply. If the reservoirs had to supply the entire population in the absence of adequate rainfall, that supply would last for less than four months.

The South of the country is made of younger, softer rocks, which are often permeable. They form low ground, receive much less rainfall, experience much more evaporation and are home to a large proportion of the population. These aquifers hold far more water than reservoirs and feed water into rivers throughout the year, so that water can be obtained from them indirectly as well as directly from wells and boreholes. It is from these rivers that the few reservoirs in the South are generally filled by pumping when there is a surplus. The large population in the South is sustained by groundwater, as are most of the populations of Western Europe.

You cannot site reservoirs on permeable rock. Even where conditions are suitable for building reservoirs, the failure to do so is not usually lack of investment on the part of the companies but refusal by the Environment Agency to give approval.



Look again at how we fight terrorism

Sir: As we approach the first anniversary of the July bombing in London, we have contentious police actions there again, together with almost daily reminders of increased violence in Iraq. Is it unreasonable to hope that, when considering 11 September and subsequent events, we will soon realise we should have adopted an appropriate response strategy a long time ago?

I certainly do not think we should surrender to those behind these atrocities, but I do think that we should recognise that the objective of terror is often to provoke an over-reaction which will build up support for the terrorists. We should also recognise that, if those terrorists movements are eventually to die out, it will be because they have been rejected by the populations in which they live, and not because of our own direct attempts to defeat them.

Therefore, while we should of course take practical security steps to counter the threat, our main strategy should be to reduce it. This would involve acting in ways which present ourselves to others in the world, and especially to its Muslim populations, as understanding, fair and helpful, and not as selfish, imperialistic and threatening. Security measures will be counter-productive if they provoke resentment. Labelling the threat as a war will exacerbate the problem if it leads us to try to treat it as a conventional war and to fight it with conventional troops.

Without such a strategy to guide our efforts we will continue to apply short-term, and sometimes counter-productive, efforts to reduce symptoms, instead of seeking long-term means to effect cures.



Sir: Muslims are not the only ones who should feel outrage and shame at the disgusting dawn raid in Forest Gate.

What are we to do when we cannot believe a word the Government or the police force are saying? What evidence did the police have that necessitated a small army? Why was a man shot in his own house when he had no weapon and was given no warning? Where is accountability? Where is due process and the rule of law?

All of us in this country insult the memory of those who fought and died for our liberty by tolerating the increasingly fascistic actions of this criminal government and their armed wing in Scotland Yard.



Sir: In an otherwise impeccably reasoned piece (5 June ), Andreas Whittam Smith asks, "Wasn't the Iraq disaster caused by faulty intelligence that came from informers who were playing games?" The answer, of course, is no.

It was caused by the determination of President Bush and his neo-conservative advisers to conquer Iraq, and the British involvement by the determination of Tony Blair to cling to their coat-tails. That the intelligence which they misrepresented to secure political consent was inaccurate is neither here nor there; if it had been accurate they would have done just the same.

Sound intelligence is crucial, of course, but good or bad the use to which it is put is the responsibility of those who use it, and of nobody else.



Sir: Is there any chance that a WMD from the elusive Saddam Hussein Collection might be unearthed in Forest Gate?



Arguments against animal testing

Sir: Contrary to what Johann Hari writes about those who oppose animal experiments ("It's time for the enemies of science to feel the pain", 5 June), we are neither proponents of "black pseudo-scientific theories" nor violent fanatics. In fact, there is a growing number of respectable scientists who reject animal testing on the grounds that it is simply "bad science".

As a veterinary surgeon, I am acutely aware of the biological differences between rats, dogs and monkeys. Penicillin is lethal to guinea pigs and hamsters, and yet has saved countless human lives. Aspirin causes birth defects in monkeys, but not in people. The fact that animals and humans react so differently to the same chemical could explain why adverse drug reactions now rank as the fourth leading cause of death in this country.

The fact that drug companies use animals to obtain regulatory approval to market their products is a sad reflection on a system that continues to accept unreliable data. What is urgently needed is an informed debate on the subject, culminating in an independent inquiry on the questionable validity of animal experiments.



Sir: Johann Hari writes that animal rights activists should "decline all medicines that have ever been tested on animals".

Clearly it is impossible to "untest" a drug; the knowledge of its viability is now with us whether or not an individual agrees with the means through which it was obtained. A person may regret that insulin was discovered after experimentation on dogs, but they are powerless to change that fact. Animal-testing does not have a monopoly on the very existence of insulin or of any other substance used to treat illness.

It would be wrong to assert that animal testing is without scientific merit. However, the utilitarian justification must be called into question when we consider slavery, imperialism and other abuses, and how they are most certainly useful (and acceptable) to their perpetrators.



We would accept carbon rationing

Sir: Anthony Day (letter, 1 June) whilst accepting that we are to blame for climate change, "will certainly never support a call to our already authoritarian government to impose restrictions on our consumption and our emission of greenhouse gases in a vain attempt to change things". Rather, he argues, we should concentrate on adapting to global warming with flood defences etc.

It appears to me that this view does scant justice to future generations. Moreover I doubt that it is a view which is generally shared. I for one would cheerfully accept such restrictions and I suspect that goes for many who begin to see carbon rationing as the only answer to an unprecedented problem.

The question to my mind is whether our allegedly authoritarian government is sufficiently authoritarian to give the necessary lead.



Catholics still face bigotry

Sir: I was saddened to see the recent comments concerning the possibility that Tony Blair might be considering becoming a Catholic -and how unacceptable it would be to the country and the Church of England ever to have a Catholic prime minister. This is an added blow since none of us was able to marry Prince Charles when he was free! So the pathetic bigotry goes on and on.

Isn't it surprising therefore that when times are tough there seems to be no concern whatsoever that Catholics are likely to be any less patriotic and willing to fight for their country than Protestants or any other citizen.



Responsible cyclists don't whinge

Sir: I was not impressed with Richard Benny's comments about cyclists (letter, 5 June). I regularly cycle to work and I can assure him that I do not ride on the pavement; I always ride on the correct side of the road; I never jump red lights; and I always use lights when riding at night.

However, perhaps he would find fault with me because I always ride well out from parked cars, even if this slows the traffic; this is due to previous painful encounters with car doors that have been opened without looking. Or perhaps he would find fault with me because, when I am indicating to turn right, I am foolish enough to expect that vehicles behind me will allow me to turn without them overtaking.

There is no doubt that a few thoughtless cyclists do behave irresponsibly and they are giving the rest of us a bad name. However, most cyclists ride in a responsible manner. By cycling rather than driving, we are reducing the amount of congestion on the roads; using less fossil fuels; emitting less greenhouse gases; and improving our fitness. Cyclists deserve better facilities, such as better cycle lanes that are not also used as car parks. We also deserve not to be accused of whingeing!



Sir: On a visit to Japan I was astonished to see cyclists ride everywhere and in every direction; on pavements and on streets, even against the flow. The difference from England was that everybody, pedestrians, cyclists and drivers, were extremely considerate to each other, careful not to frighten or give offence and willing to give way or wait. It works.

It does not make a difference what traffic rules and regulations you have if everybody believes their traffic tribe is superior and has a right to inflict damage on the other team.



The writer of 'Withnail & I'

Sir: In your report "Film director fights to keep Withnail & I off stage" (1 June) you quote a representative of Handmade Films as saying, "Bruce Robinson, who was one of the writers, does not own the rights or the copyright."

This is a delusion that must cease. If I was "one of the writers" of Withnail & I, might I ask who the others were? Presumably, it is these other writers from whom Handmade are seeking "creative approval"? In respect of copyright, it might be tiresome, but nevertheless worthwhile, for this spokeswoman to buy or borrow the published screenplay of Withnail & I (Bloomsbury Press) where she will find in a convenient place: "Screenplay Copyright 1989 by Bruce Robinson."



Eton welcome

Sir: Why does The Independent print articles like Nicholas Lezard's (5 June)? Last year our son was awarded a sixth form academic scholarship to Eton, one of four offered each year to boys from state schools. He was warmly welcomed and is enjoying his time there. Amazingly, my wife and I have discovered that some Etonians are not "untrustworthy, mendacious, conniving creeps".



No truck with tyrants

Sir: It is always refreshing to have Tony Benn's independent take on things (You Ask the Questions, 5 June). However, his frequent proclamation that because Britain once ruled a country we cannot now criticise its government is a cop-out, because at one time or another Britain ruled almost everywhere. We have as much right as anyone to criticise tyrants like Mugabe - after all, it was Britain that oversaw the constitutional arrangements that enabled Mugabe to win Zimbabwe's first open elections.



White bluebells

Sir: The white variety of the bluebell is much less common than the usual blue form but country-wide it hardly ranks as rare (Letters, 5 June). It is very persistent where it does occur. I have seen it every year, during the last 35, on a hedge-bank near my home, even though there is only one white flower per thousand or so of "real" bluebells. The bulbs are not only long-lived but reproduce vegetatively, so maintaining its presence. Nowadays, garden-escaped Spanish bluebells confuse the issue as their white cultivars are quite frequent.



Northern vowels

Sir: So Miles Kington cannot understand why we Northerners pronounce the vowels in "Bath Spa", the way we do? It is because the "a" in Spa is at the end of the word, as in "bra", "ta" and "tata". If it is in the middle it is a short vowel, at the end it is a long one. If he needs any more information about the intricacies of Northern pronunciation, he can e-mail me. I also speak English.



World Cup fever

Sir: I like the World Cup. Where can I go to avoid all these newspaper articles telling me how to avoid it?



Sir: We are getting married on 9 July. Is this a wise move or an own goal?