Votes of no confidence
Sir: Charles Moore (The Spectator’s Notes, 27 October) rightly drew attention to the importance of the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and the arrogance of Lord Blair in suggesting they should be boycotted. However, he did not comment upon the fact that none of the literature admits which voting system is being used. After some research I find that it is in fact the Supplementary Vote system. This is a shortened version of the Alternative Vote (AV) system recently rejected by the electorate by referendum.
Jan Pointer (Mrs)
Sir: Matthew Parris (3 November) suggests that people of his age are not necessarily more switched on to the issues facing voters than are teenagers. I well remember a by-election in 1981, the year the SDP was formed, when a BBC interviewer asked a housewife which party she intended to vote for. She told him that she couldn’t say, as her husband was not yet home from work to tell her which party to vote for. Our interviewer, undaunted, asked her which she thought her husband might tell her to vote for. ‘I think it might be this new lot, the SQT is it?’
Thus is our government elected by, among others, people who don’t even know the name of the party for which they vote. How could teenagers distort things in a more damaging way than that?
Single European dieback
Sir: This time Matt Ridley has got it wrong (‘Losing the ashes’, 3 November). The villain in the story of ash dieback is not the obsession with carbon fixing by the Forestry Commission but two far more familiar serial offenders. Defra civil servants and ministers, and the European Union. Defra have interpreted the rules of the single market to mean that the UK cannot ban the import of trees and horticultural plants from other EU countries. As a result, Dutch nurserymen have happily flooded the UK with both trees and plants. The result is disastrous.
Defra and its ministers have been repeatedly warned of the dangers to our bio security of their laissez-faire policy on plant imports, not just by people like me, but by their own scientific experts in the plant health section of the Forestry Commission. This environmental disaster was thus completely predictable and totally avoidable. Defra’s refusal to listen to advice was even more scandalous given that it knew the international trade in plant material had changed considerably since the advent of the single market. Dutch nurseries now routinely import plants from nurseries in China and then re-export them to the UK. That was how Phytophthora ramorum came into this country, on the roots of viburnum or camellias grown in China.
If we are to be serious about the bio-security of these islands then we need a blanket ban on the import of all trees and horticultural plants. If that is against the letter of the single market then that letter needs to be re-written; or are ministers saying that our unique environment and biodiversity is to be sacrificed to the sacred cow of Europe?
Great Fulford, Devon
Southwest England chairman of the Confederation of Forest Industries
The woods and the grouse
Sir: I thank Elizabeth Roberts (Letters, 27 October) for her interest in my book on black grouse. She is quite correct to remember the nation’s desire to produce timber during the first world war, and the subsequent activities of the Forestry Commission in the intervening years have sought to create an independent supply of softwood (without ever being able to do so). However, our dependence on softwood has changed so much over the past century that I now dread to imagine the details of a modern national emergency which would demand for its resolution a secure supply of wood pulp and lavatory paper.
The first generation of commercial woodland hit southern Scotland like a battering ram. The arrival of sitka spruce and lodgepole pine trees destroyed over a quarter of the region’s heather moorland within a single human generation. The ploughing which preceded planting has permanently altered water tables and has stripped the underlying peat’s ability to soak up and store carbon, contributing hugely to its greenhouse gas emissions and smashing the biodiversity associated with peatland. There are signs of an enlightened improvement in more recent planting techniques, but it is undeniable that when foreign spruce trees arrived here, they came at a staggering cost to our wildlife.
The Forestry Commission itself now admits that the afforestation of the uplands was a driving force in black grouse decline. I am delighted that Mrs Roberts still sees black grouse near her home in Lanarkshire, but I can assure her that they are there in spite of the woodland, not because of it.
Shawhead, Dumfries and Galloway
Sir: My answer to Question 3 at the end of Timothy Gowers’s article (‘Should Alice marry Bob?’, 3 November): the divorcing couple should use the same method as two small boys sharing, say, a Mars bar. You cut, I’ll choose. This makes for very precise cutting. The same method could be used to resolve most territorial disputes.
Reason to live
Sir: Robert Triggs regrets that his doctors would not administer him with a lethal dose of morphine (Letters, 3 November). Surely his survival to write a moving and thought-provoking letter to The Spectator is proof of their wisdom in choosing not to be complicit in his death. Their compassion and his continuation have made the world a better place.
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 10 November 2012