Sir: David Keys' item " 'Neanderthal treasure trove' at bottom of sea" (10 March), draws attention to just how much of our heritage is being lost due to huge-scale commercial offshore dredging of sand and gravel for use as construction aggregate.
Considering the serious level of damage to fish-spawning beds and erosion along the Norfolk and Suffolk coastline resulting from this exploitative practice, it is astounding that dredging shingle and sand off our shoreline is still permitted.
Tens of thousands of tonnes have been removed, with the effect now all too obvious, added to by sea rise and land sink. We are rapidly losing our beaches, dunes and salt-marshes, all abetted by the government's "managed retreat" policy denying funding for sea defences.
The Dutch use aggregate dredged off our coast, but ban it off their own, because of damage to sea life and coastal erosion.
There has been concern about the removal of coastal gravel and sand for over 100 years. The removal of many millions of tons of naturally deposited sea-floor material cannot be sustained without changing the natural tidal current deposition pattern and the onshore wave pattern and without the draw-down of the protective sand and gravel from our beaches and offshore sandbanks.
While it appears that the increasing demand of the construction industry has absolute priority over the protection of our coastline and its people, it seems remarkably myopic to allow the Dutch to help us in the removal of an existing natural safety barrier which prevents even worse erosion than that already happening.
As the government refuses reimbursement for the coastal villages, farms and seaside industries being lost due to their policies, do we now get the Neanderthal hand-axes back to help compensate?
MARINET (the Marine Environmental Information Network), Norwich
UN, not Sudan, is to blame for Darfur
Sir: Your report that "Children raped. Homes looted. Villages torched. And thousands forced to flee aerial bombings – three months after UN took over peacekeeping" is saddening but not surprising ("Darfur's return to hell", 12 March).
On 2 August 2007, in a letter to this page, I wrote: "If the records of UN Resolutions on peace-keeping in Africa are anything to go by, then the latest resolution, sponsored jointly by Britain and France, giving a green light to send 26,000 troops to Darfur, must be a monumental false green light".
I also said that: "If Mr Brown is serious about ending conflict and poverty in Africa, he must avoid making headlines without the means to implement his promises".
It is not the Sudanese government that is to blame, but Mr Brown and Mr Sarkozy and the rest of the UN Security Council members who gave false promises to the long-suffering people of Darfur.
Democratic Institutions for Poverty Reduction in Africa, (DIPRA), London W3
Sir: Thanks very much for your report reminding us what's still happening in Darfur. If only the deployment of the Unamid force had been rapid and substantial enough to do the job the force is mandated to do.
Governments, including our own, have worked hard to secure the presence of the force in the face of determined opposition from the Sudanese government and its allies. But not hard enough. Only a third of the troops are in place, and the force lacks the helicopters needed to provide it with mobility.
Your report offers a sad picture of a return to bombings, burnings and the mass displacement of civilians. The Sudanese government must not be allowed to continue the obstructive tactics that have enabled it to go back to business as usual. It's time that the Sudanese government's allies, with plans for a summer binge in Beijing, were forcefully reminded that the world has an order of priorities. Does China really want this year's Olympic Games to be known as the Games that turned their back on genocide?
China, as a close friend of the Al-Bashir government, has a key role to play in negotiating a ceasefire. In the meantime, the international community as a whole must throw its support behind Unamid and ensure that the millions of civilians living a nightmare in Sudan are provided with adequate protection and humanitarian relief.
Sir: The British Government's renewed good intentions towards the people of Darfur will make no difference on the ground unless they are accompanied by effective action. Once again, Brown has dodged the tough decisions that would bring about real and rapid improvements to Darfur. Far from being "impractical", securing a no-fly zone is fundamental to preventing the complete destruction of towns and villages by Sudanese government aircraft.
Furthermore, in order to achieve peace, the international community must abandon ideas of "a constructive engagement" with the Sudanese government and instead demonstrate to Khartoum that there will be serious repercussions should they continue to be obstructive.
Four years into the conflict, we are well past the moment for words. Only firm and measurable action has any chance of preventing the further murder, rape and mass displacement of a people who have already suffered too much.
Director, Waging PeaceLondon W2
'Fuel cards' to fight climate change
Sir: Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 14 March) is quite right that the only logical place to moderate car use is by increasing the tax on fuel. Unfortunately, previous fuel-tax protests and political realities mean that the scope to increase petrol duties on the forecourt is limited.
I would suggest a fuel card be issued when a private car is taxed which allows the driver to buy 200 gallons of fuel at current prices. A driver in a fuel-efficient car could drive 10,000 miles on this allowance, while a Humvee driver would only manage 2,000. Without the card, petrol would be taxed at something like £10 per gallon.
People driving inefficient cars, people without road tax, or driving stolen vehicles would be penalised. Everybody would be looking to reduce travelling to keep within the 200-gallon limit.
Sir: When it comes to financial incentives and disincentives to promote measures to prevent climate change, there is a risk that they will in fact make matters worse.
In their book Freakonomics Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner identify two similar cases: in one case providing a financial inducement to donate blood caused the supply to decrease, since it transformed the donation from a worthy, charitable action to one done for an insufficient reward (increasing the reward created its own problems). In another case, a nursery imposed a penalty for late collection of children, only to see the incidence of late collection increase, since the imposition of the penalty eased the guilt of the parents while at the same time being insufficient to deter.
Similarly, minor advantages may be perceived as insufficient to make savings while, to take the example of "gas-guzzling" cars, the imposition of the very minor charges might have the effect of persuading owners that they have paid their way, and thus can proceed unhindered.
Watercress from the United States
Sir: Patrick Waites (letter, 28 February) asks why the rivers are "choked" with watercress and yet his local supermarket stocks watercress flown from the US. As a representative of the Watercress Alliance (the body of major UK watercress producers), I feel I should respond.
As with your lawn, during the winter season, growth of watercress is slow and not of the quality produced in the summer months. It can take as long as three to five months for the watercress seed to grow into a fully matured leaf, as opposed to a four-to-six-week growth cycle in the summer. If the watercress Mr Waites is referring to was to be harvested, the regrowth would probably take until the summer. With high consumer demand for this delicious and nutritious super-food continuing throughout the colder months, UK watercress producers must therefore source quality leaves from warmer climes, usually continental Europe, or the US.
This is not a new practice; watercress has been sourced from the US for more than 20 years, many of the farms being British owned. The watercress is air-freighted on passenger-scheduled airlines, so as to reduce carbon emissions.
I would also suggest that Mr Waites does not take Edward Collier's advice (letter, 29 February) and pick his own. Commercially grown watercress is carefully monitored to ensure the purity of the water in which it is grown; wild watercress, on the other hand, is at a high risk of contamination.
on behalf of The Watercress Alliance, Twickenham, Middlesex
There's no safety net for sick workers
Sir: Your leading article (14 March) made no mention of the paltry sums involved concerning Incapacity Benefit or what these sums are compared with our western European neighbours.
The reality is that the safety net for those of us who become unemployed or sick has gone. Our Prime Minister looks across the Atlantic for all his ideas and now, just as in the US, if you fall through the net you are on your own.
I am 63 and have worked and paid my taxes and National Insurance since I was 16. I must have contributed more than a quarter of a million pounds to the system. Now that I am diagnosed with cancer and my sick pay from work has run out, all that I am entitled to from the state is £72.55 per week; and I was compelled to attend a "medical" in order to receive this sum.
Sir: You are correct that the current tests for incapacity to work need to be overhauled. The current tests fail to address certain modern illnesses.
I have been unable to work for four years due to M.E./Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which causes low energy, impairs cognitive function and is worsened by prolonged activity of any kind – physical or mental. The Department for Work and Pensions' existing tests for incapacity focus on the claimant's ability to perform certain tasks, including using stairs, walking, etc, as well as a range of mental capacities, yet do nothing to address the issue of energy and endurance. My initial claim for incapacity benefit was refused, obliging me to go through a lengthy process of appealing in writing and then attending a tribunal, all because the test of incapacity fails to address the core of this condition.
Joys of a small London hotel
Sir: The other night, in London for supper with some friends, a failure of communication meant I found myself short of a bed at 1am ("Why are British hotels so expensive?", 13 March).
With the help of a black-cab driver, I checked into a small hotel near Paddington station. Part of an elegant terrace facing a quiet private garden, my room was tiny but perfectly clean. The loo was down the landing. In the morning my charming Cypriot hosts explained that, because the house was listed, they had problems converting the bedrooms. For £45, I had a magnificent breakfast and an extremely friendly welcome.
This is just the sort of family-run hotel the capital needs, but my hosts, who have been running it since the l980s, have hardly had a day away all that time.
Sir: Dr Jacob Amir (letter, 14 March) clearly does not know a collective punishment from an act of aggression, but I am grateful for his clarification of Article 242 which suggests to me that Israel's willingness to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority springs from a hope of legitimising the acquisition of even more Palestinian land.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
The fall of sterling
Sir: Where has Austin Mitchell been hiding these past months that he has failed to notice that the pound has lost 12 per cent against the Euro since last autumn? ("Enough Micawberism, we need a Keynesian cure", 10 March). Far from it being time for another devaluation, we already have one well under way! Perhaps I ought to declare an interest as, like many another UK pensioner, I live in the Eurozone and receive my income in sterling so I can't help noticing the reduction in my spending power.
Portlaoise, Co. Laois,Ireland
Sir: Vera Lustig is wrong to say that it is a crime to keep your children out of school (letters, 15 March). Some of us believe that formal schooling – with its homework, pointless tests and arbitrary national curriculum – robs children of an enjoyable childhood. It does, though, groom them to become members of today's working world, teaching them from a young age that one has to bear so many hours of torture in order to have any leisure time. Thankfully our government still allows parents the freedom to educate their children at home.
Welton le Marsh, Lincolnshire
JFK election myth
Sir: David Mamet repeats the hoary right-wing myth that JFK "stole" the 1960 election by stealing Chicago, thus stealing Illinois, thus stealing the US Presidency (13 March). This is a myth. Look up the electoral vote count from 1960, subtract Illinois from JFK's total and add it to Nixon's. Do that and guess what? JFK still wins. So even if Illinois was "stolen", it would have made no difference to the outcome.
Sir: Over the past few months I have collected your excellent series of booklets on my world, useful information, philosophers, composers, Spain, changing my life, success at work, and the US elections. Following your latest guide on the Great Poets, may I suggest you offer a series of bookshelves on which to keep them?
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