Letters: There’s no way to ‘offset’ ancient woodlands

These letters were published in the 9th January edition of the Independent

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There cannot, ever, have been such a clear illustration of the lack of understanding by a government of the environment in its care, as there is in the proposal to allow building on ancient woodland for those prepared to plant 100 trees for each ancient one cut down.

The idea demonstrates, with a clarity that a thousand protests could not, how they have no conception of what a woodland is – other than a collection of trees inconveniently positioned on prime building land. They have no understanding that it is home to billions of invertebrates, birds and animals, that it is a migratory stopover or destination, a pleasant place to walk, and frequently a source of managed timber.

The vacuous idea that a piece of ancient woodland could be replaced by a stand of conifers on some remote moorland – one supposes as part of a tax break – is despicable and motivated by moving money into the pockets of developers.

Vaughan Thomas, Usk, Gwent

I would like to express how deeply unnecessary I find it that ancient woodlands, or other top conservation sites, should be seen as a constraint to our country’s need for new housing developments. There are ample development sites on land that is less environmentally sensitive.

You cannot “offset” an ancient woodland, the value of which lies primarily in its historical development, its store of genetic material and its ecologically complex systems which, most crucially, include the soil and soil organisms, as well as more visible species. Ancient woodlands cannot be bean-counted by the number of trees, which are not a measure of value.

Compulsory biodiversity offsetting, as trailed in the Government’s Green Paper last September, may be a good idea, but it explicitly should not be applied to our most valuable and irreplaceable habitats, including ancient woodlands,  because that is to pretend that losses to development can be made good, which they cannot.

This country is very much able to deliver the required housing provision on land with lower environmental value, and which does not require the loss of a single tree or clod of soil in our vitally important ancient woodlands.

Professor Robert Tregay, Chairman, LDA Design, Peterborough

Is this the greenest government ever? Aside from fracking, which will destroy much of our countryside. Owen Patterson, the Environment Secretary, has announced that he is now minded to destroy our ancient woodlands for housing purposes. Patterson also fought to stop the recent EU ban on pesticides that were killing off our bees.

Ancient trees will be destroyed and wildlife habitats damaged, and the diversity of our forests will be lost for ever. Not to miss out on the action, David Cameron is getting rid of 1,100 flood defence jobs.

It’s all about efficiency savings with these Tories – not cuts. Cameron will simply label the destruction of our ancient forests as a “reform”, akin to the Orwellian Hunt/Lansley NHS reforms. He isn’t serving the crony corporate agenda, or the Tory greed and narrow self interests, he is simply “reforming” our ancient woodlands.

Julie Partridge, London SE15

Where desperate refugees are welcome

In October 2013, we watched 78 men, women and children, fleeing for their lives from Syria, land on a beach in Rhodes.   They were granted asylum, and the traffickers, who were paid $3,000 by each of these desperate people for the short journey from Syria, were arrested and jailed pending prosecution, and had their boat confiscated.

If a cash-strapped country like Greece can open its doors to these poor benighted people, we must all be thoroughly ashamed of our government if it fails to do likewise.

Tonyand Lorna Verso, Kingswood, South Gloucestershire

Given that our government has now shut its doors firmly on taking in any of Syria’s refugees, it is worth revisiting the build-up that almost led us into a war with Syria.

Do we remember the antics of the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister baying for air-strikes against Syria?

William Hague announced: “One year ago, 230,000 Syrian refugees. Today two million, half of them children. If we don’t end the conflict, think  what the figure could be next year.”

Our newspapers were filled with horror stories of what was happening to the refugees, of the torture, of dead and dying babies; and we were about to launch a war that would have cost us hundreds of millions of pounds.

But we know now from our government’s actions that they are not in the least interested in Syria’s refugees. The whole endeavour was an utterly shameless smoke-and-mirrors exercise designed to bamboozle the British public into supporting another war. The Government wanted regime change in Syria and would stoop to anything to achieve it.

Mark Holt, Liverpool

What is the sense in war?

I congratulate Ronan Breslin on his superb denunciation (letter, 8 January) of Michael Gove’s nationalistic political posturing.

It was always a safe bet that the Tories would use the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War in such a way, but it is still breathtaking that the first salvo was fired only two days into 2014. Gove seems to forget that he is part of a  generation blessed by never having had to fight a war.

I prefer the words of Harry Patch: “I went back to Ypres to shake the hand of Charles Kuentz, Germany’s only surviving veteran from the war. It was emotional. He is 107. We’ve had 87 years to think what war is. To me, it’s a licence to go out and murder. Why should the British government call me up and take me out to a battlefield to shoot a man I never knew, whose language I couldn’t speak? All those lives lost for a war finished over a table. Now what is the sense in that?”

Alan Pearson, Great Ayton, North Yorkshire

If war is the pursuit of politics by other means, a war generally means some politician has blundered. Our mistake in 1914 was to let the French assume we would come in if Belgium was invaded and to let the Germans think we wouldn’t.

Robert Davies, London SE3

Stick to the drug we know

John Rentoul is right to question the decriminalisation of cannabis in Britain following Colorado’s decision to do so (8 January). Our failure to control its consumption does not mean it should be legalised.

Our national drug, alcohol, although harmful to some, is well understood and plays an important role in society: from the toasting of great events with champagne to the celebration of the Eucharist where red wine represents the blood of Christ. It is unlikely that Western civilisation could have evolved without it.

Cannabis on the other hand is an alien drug which is not fully understood and has no historical equivalents to the gods Dionysus and Bacchus. Better the drug you know.

Stan Labovitch, Windsor

Too few women, too much space

You are so, so right Penny Joseph (letter, 6 January). I too had been noting the lack of women correspondents during the period you mention. However, I have been doing my bit and writing in regularly, but I am usually moaning about the huge amount of blank spaces in the paper as a whole and, in particular, the blank column to the left in the letters page which could contain three or more letters every day!

I have come to accept that the editor doesn’t like letters of constructive criticism in any form so I guess you won’t see this letter either.

Jan Huntingdon, Cricklade, Wiltshire

Anomaly still not rectified

I am amazed that you should print as news on your front page (3 January) the fact that many vice-chancellors of universities take a larger percentage pay rise than their staff. I worked for 36 years in the university sector and recall marching on Parliament under the splendid banner “Rectify the Anomaly!” Some people even call this sort of pay differential “leadership”.

Robin Phillips, Beeston, Nottinghamshire

Mystery of Ferguson’s hat

Fashionistas among readers of your sports pages much appreciated your reporters’ detailed account (8 January) of Sir Alex Ferguson’s headgear at the Sunderland-Manchester United game on Tuesday night.

But when did he change from the black cap (Sam Wallace) to the maroon beret (Ian Herbert)? Or was it the other way round? I think we should be told,

John Hudson, Stroud,  Gloucestershire

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