Loss of Britain's forests, Yassin assassination and others

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Why we will rue the loss of Britain's ancient forests

Why we will rue the loss of Britain's ancient forests

Sir: Your article "Why Britain's disappearing butterflies may be early victims of the sixth mass extinction" (19 March) highlighted the loss of wildlife over the past 40 years.

For thousands of years the major element in the landscape of Britain was broadleaved woodland, mainly oak, which permits the growth of a layer of a number of natives and below that a ground layer of herbaceous shade-tolerant plants. Plants and animals evolve to occupy every available niche and the greatest biological diversity is to be found in an environment which has developed over long period of time.

Most of this native forest has been destroyed over the centuries, making Britain the least forested country in Europe apart from Holland and Ireland, but many plants and animal species continued to survive as flora and fauna of hedgerows in the countryside. However, this was drastically reduced when thousands of miles of hedgerow were ripped out when fields became larger to accommodate modern agricultural practice.

I am old enough to remember some 40 or so years ago when 40 per cent of the remnant of ancient woodland was ripped out to be replaced by pasture or coniferous plantations. Destruction of this forest habitat had a dire effect on the native plants and animals dependent upon it. As we now enter a new millennium and countryside priorities have changed, Defra is supplying the Forestry Commission with generous funding for landowners wishing to take part in the woodland grant scheme.

However, some old-style foresters, still living in the past and focused on timber production, are encouraging landowners to plant conifers, uneconomic though softwood production has become in Britain. As time goes on, a conifer plantation (especially of dense-shading Douglas fir, now a favoured species) becomes a monoculture; no shrubs, no ground layer, no native fauna. There is no public benefit from such land use and public money should not be used to encourage it.

Bratton Fleming, Devon

Yassin and the morality of killing

Sir: Matthew Hoffman's column (23 March) on the state-sponsored murder of the leader of Hamas is the most absurd piece of twisted reasoning I have heard since Tony Blair last attempted to defend the illegal invasion of Iraq on the grounds it made us safer from terrorism.

Mr Hoffman says that "in a nutshell" the argument against "the wisdom of the assassination" is that making people angry may incite revenge. Utter nonsense: in a nutshell the argument against the murder is that it is an illegal act under international law. If so, cries Hoffman, then "international law is ... wrong". He then ridiculously tries to argue that Israel's situation with regards to Hamas is the same as that of Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe.

Israel chose to release Sheikh Yassin from prison, clearly a grave error, but one it was forced into in order to extricate itself from another, this time botched, attempt at illegal assassination in Amman. Bringing the clearly dangerous Sheikh before the International Criminal Court might take more time, and might not protect Sharon from political attacks from Israel's right, but it would do more to secure Israel in the long run.

Mr Hoffman is right that negotiation alone has not brought the IRA to the table. Being resolute in the face of their terrorism and persisting through intelligence work to arrest the perpetrators of the violence, while working to undermine the basis of support for the terrorists, has helped make the IRA leadership realise their war cannot be won. The "shoot to kill" policy, on the other hand, merely strengthened the IRA's hand, helping them garner more support in the US and elsewhere, and bringing a resolution no nearer.

Stalbridge , Dorset

Sir: Matthew Hoffman asks whether it would have been immoral for a Jew to kill Hitler. I can easily answer no. However, he does seem to have forgotten that when Jews in the shape of the Israeli Mossad got close to Eichmann in Argentina they did not kill him but arrested and put him on trial in Jerusalem.

There seems to be a loss of proportion when dealing with the "war on terror": Yassin is assassinated and Eichmann, one of the main architects of the Holocaust, is put on trial. The Israel of the 1960s seems to have understood that the rule of law is the right answer when dealing with terrorist and war criminals - not adopting their methods.

Principal Lecturer in Law
University of East London

Sir: Matthew Hoffman asks whether it would have been immoral for a Jew to have assassinated Hitler, had the opportunity presented itself. He concludes that it would not, and moreover, that it would have given a lot of people a lot of pleasure.

No doubt. But we do not have to speculate. In 1942 Czech agents parachuted in by the RAF assassinated the SS leader Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, which doubtless occasioned a lot of pleasure. However, it also provoked German reprisals on a horrifying scale, including the notorious liquidation of the entire population of the village of Lidice and its erasure from the map.

Those who think that targeted assassination can break cycles of violence, whether in Europe in the 1940s or the Middle East today, fool no one but themselves. One shudders to think how many people, alive now, will soon be dead or horribly maimed because of the entirely predictable results of this latest piece of misguided thinking.


Sir: In the wake of the killing of Sheikh Yassin many outrageous statements have been made in the media, such as that peace prospects in the Middle East will now be set back.

How absurd. If anyone can find any statement of Yassin in favour of peace with Israel I'd like to see it; he was the most vitriolic anti-peace leader amongst the Palestinians, and was responsible for organising suicide bombings. The recent Hamas use of women bombers was personally justified by Yassin in Islamic religious terms. The removal of Yassin makes the prospects for peace better in the longer run rather than worse.

Hamas is responsible for the murder of about 500 Israelis and 3,000 injured in the past three years. Should we in Israel just keep taking this terrible toll while doing nothing in response?

I have heard commentators say that Israel's act will result in increased terrorism. On the contrary, Hamas has been fully deployed to try to carry out a successful operation in Israel, and removing its leadership will only hamper its capability to respond.

Those who hypocritically criticise Israel for doing what they would be happy to do to their own terrorist enemies will in time benefit from this act. If a US marine had Osama bin Laden in his sights would he not pull the trigger? If a Spanish guardia civil similarly had the leader of the gang that blew up 200 Spaniards in Madrid last week would he not likewise be justified in shooting him? Let the EU and UK dry their crocodile tears and be glad at the removal of Yassin.

Netanya, Israel

Sir: Why do people think that Israel's killing of Sheikh Yassin is a terrible mistake? There is no mistake here.

Ariel Sharon needs to ensure once and for all that there is no prospect of a peace settlement with the Palestinians, so that Israel can hold on to its illegal settlements and the additional territory stolen by the apartheid wall, goals to which he has devoted his entire career.

Sharon knows that renewed attacks by Hamas on Israeli citizens will only reinforce public support for him, for Likud and for the openly-discussed policy of "transfer" - that is, the ultimate ethnic cleansing of Palestine.

So where is Sharon's "mistake" in all this? It would only be a mistake if there were the faintest prospect of the rest of the world taking any significant action to thwart his ambitions. To judge by the last 50 years or so, Israel has little to fear on that score.

Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Sir: Every war which Israel has fought has been a war of survival. This present war was initiated by Palestinian leaders immediately after being offered 97 per cent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem. These Palestinian leaders will not settle for just part of the land: they demand it all.

Sheikh Yassin was a prime instigator in this war, especially in the murdering of civilians. As Israel again fights for survival, can there be any more justified target than a man who ordered so many suicide bombings?

As the UK and US hunt for Bin Laden, what excuse is there for vilifying Israel for killing Yassin? Israeli lives are no less valuable than American or British. If someone has to die in a war, let it be a Yassin, not a civilian on a bus.

Nenthead, Cumbria

Cancer care

Sir: Your article "Complementary therapies put cancer patients at risk" (19 March) confusingly lumps together complementary therapies and self-help techniques that work hand-in-hand with conventional medical treatment, with alternative treatments that often claim miracle cures.

Responsible use by qualified practitioners of complementary therapies such as massage, and of self-help techniques like guided imagery, are shown in an increasing body of evidence to improve quality of life, and - in the case of guided imagery - to potentially improve responsiveness to medical treatment. Alternative treatments that claim miracle cures have no place in the responsible care of people affected by cancer.

There is a clear need to improve standards in the field of complementary therapies and cancer. That is why at the Bristol Cancer Help Centre, with the support of Dr Ian Gibson MP, Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, we have developed a training programme specifically for experienced and qualified complementary therapists practising in a recognised healthcare setting, wishing to develop their skills in relation to cancer care.

At the Bristol Cancer Help Centre we have 24 years' experience of helping people with cancer with a unique combination of self-help techniques and complementary therapies. People affected by cancer really benefit from what we do in terms of well-being and quality of life. Much of the content of your article supported this - what a shame, then, that a thoughtless and alarmist headline undermines so much of the good work being done in the field of complementary cancer care.

Director of Therapy
Bristol Cancer Help Centre

The price of land

Sir: No, no, no, Professor Smith (letter, 22 March), house prices are not a function of land prices. When did you last meet a developer who said, "Oh, I bought this land cheap, so I'll sell you the house for £50,000 less"? Equally a developer who paid too much for land cannot simply increase the price of his product to compensate.

In fact, it is the other way round. Land prices are a function of house prices. The market determines the price of a house, and the developer works back from there, knowing what his costs are, to determine what he should pay for the land. Land is cheap in the North-east and expensive in the South-east for the reason that houses are cheap and expensive respectively in those areas.

If the Government understood this they might address the problem differently. The present policy of simply trying to bully developers into providing cheaper properties in expensive areas is a non-starter. It is simply another kind of development land tax, which only results in landowners holding on to their land in the hope that a future government will change the regime.

Which it will, of course. But not until house prices have reacted further to the resulting shortage of supply.


Political health

Sir: If Charles Kennedy is forced to give up the leadership of the Liberal Democrats as a result of his "violent stomach bug", will this be the first time a politician has resigned following real, as opposed to verbal diarrhoea?

Frodsham, Cheshire

Warning to birds

Sir: Like Frank Card (letter, 23 March), we have had birds being stunned and even killed whilst flying into windows of multiple-aspect rooms which they appear to believe they can fly through. Several years ago we stuck a life-size silhouette of a flying hawk on each of the offending windows, and we haven't had a bird strike since. It may be possible to buy the silhouettes ready-made, but we made our own using illustrations from a bird book and a sheet of black sticky-backed plastic.

Sevenoaks, Kent

Tory U-turn

Sir: Thanks are due to Michael Brown ("The Tories should sound the retreat over Iraq", 17 March). He has demonstrated how totally devoid of principal and honesty his party are prepared to be as they continue to try and drag themselves away from their position at the foot of British politics. A U-turn on their position on the Iraq war could only be interpreted as a cynical move lacking in any kind of leadership. I look forward to Mr Brown describing which other policies are to be abandoned.

Brentford, Middlesex

Take no notice

Sir: Tony Watson bemoans the lack of dogs available for carrying on London Underground's escalators (letter, 23 March). I'm sure that if I was to comply with South West Trains' instruction to "make sure you have all your belongings with you when leaving the train", I would need somebody to help look after my dog while I made sure that the entire contents of my house were not left unattended on the platform.