Friday, 25 March 2011

Mr Paice must halt the loss of fine Fen farmland

I sent the following letter to the Cambridge News on the 16th of March. It has been published today, unfortunately in edited form*:

Dear Editor,

Like Dr. Peter Jackson (Letters, 15th March), I have communicated my views to Mr James Paice, M.P., the minister for agriculture, on the increasing amount and number of so-called 'wetlands' being created to the dis-benefit of arable farming and our own home food production.

Mr Paice has a lifetime's experience of farming and farming-related business, more than twenty years of representing Cambridgeshire constituencies and, I hope, sufficient sense to realise that taking our very best and most productive Fen farmland out of arable production is both daft and selfish.

It is daft because we have a population of nearly sixty-two millions (and those are the ones willing to be counted: how many will conveniently 'lose' the new census form?) and we haven't a hope in hell of feeding them without massive food imports which may not always be available. We should not give up food production when we ought to be increasing it.

And we are selfish because we expect all sorts of food - as well as those lovely filling station flowers - to be available all-year-round. Much comes from Africa, and by air. Many African countries cannot feed their own peoples. While Africans starve, we demand our mange tout. Do we have no shame?

The time will come - and soon - when we are in a worse position as regards feeding ourselves and our growing population, when we will not be able to afford such huge air-freighted food imports and when we realise that what may be 'sustainable' in this country is unsustainable overseas.

The ball is in Mr Paice's court. He must halt the loss of fine Fen farmland. We've had enough of 'wetlands' waste.

Yours sincerely,

Geoffrey Woollard.

Here is my picture of the National Trust's 'Wicken Vision' wetland waste.

*The equally splendid Ely Standard published another version of my letter in full. Thanks, Debbie!

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Where do some of these people do their shopping?

Whilst one is grateful for the small mercies in today's Budget, I wonder where some of these people in Parliament who were cheering on the Chancellor do their shopping. George Osborne has made minor changes to fuel duties for motorists. Some people are saying that they represent a 6p cut in fuel prices. I wish it were so. It's a 1p cut and a postponement of a 5p increase. My local filling station (at Soham) now has diesel fuel at 140.9p per litre, the highest I have ever known. If I drive to the nearest Tesco (at Newmarket), it might be a penny or two less, but it would cost me more to drive there.

Country dwellers like me can add up: we're screwed wherever we go.

(So we stay at home).

Post Script (added 25th March): So much for the ConDem government's fuel price 'cut.' Mr George Osborne should see what I have seen at my local filling station this morning - diesel fuel is now 142.9p per litre, again the highest I have even known. We have been conned - again.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

He wasn't everybody's favourite Defence Secretary ...

Some of my friends will be surprised that I choose today to portray on my blog the Rt. Hon. Bob Ainsworth, M.P. He wasn't everybody's favourite Defence Secretary, but in yesterday's six-hour House of Commons debate on Libya, he was one of those who managed to distinguish themselves by speaking loudly and clearly about their doubts and their worries for the future.

Mr Ainsworth said: “It is relatively easy to support things on day one, but it is relatively difficult to support them on month three. There was a huge majority in favour of the Iraq war. We can all see that there were some grave difficulties with becoming involved [in Iraq]. But many of those who can see them now could not see them on the day.”

We British are effectively at war again - following Iraq (where I supported the removal of Saddam Hussein, though the campaign went pear-shaped shortly afterwwards) and Afghanistan (where little has been achieved after ten years of conflict and 360 British lives lost). I believe that our present leaders have taken leave of their senses in Libya. David Cameron claims world-wide support for 'action.' But Germany isn't with us. Neither is Russia, nor China, nor India, nor Brazil. Even the U.S. was reluctant. Wouldn’t it be better to extricate our armed forces, affected like us all by ‘the ConDem cuts,’ from one serious conflict (Afghanistan) before embarking on yet another (Libya), at a time when an area of the world where we British have strong interests and residual moral responsibilities is crying out for attention? I refer, of course, to Zimbabwe (or as some of us still call that beloved but benighted country, Rhodesia).

Mr Ainsworth and others are right to be worried. What worries me with regard to Libya is what is to replace Gaddafi. Who are these Libyan 'rebels'? Do we know anything of the people on whose side we are at war? And what if what Gaddafi says is true, namely, that al-Qaeda is waiting in the wings? We may rue the day we became involved in what is, essentially, the business of the Libyans.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

"Top bomb sniffer dog dies after handler is shot dead in Helmand" (News item from The Times, 3rd March)

A dog that held the record for finding the most home-made bombs and weapons in Afghanistan has died after his handler was killed.

Theo, a 22-month-old springer spaniel cross, and Lance Corporal Liam Tasker, 26, of the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, came under small arms fire in the Nahr-e Saraj district in Helmand Province on Tuesday.

Lance Corporal Tasker, who was from Kirkcaldy, Fife, was shot dead and it is understood that Theo died from a seizure at Camp Bastion. As an Arms Explosive Search dog, Theo was the “front man” of the patrol.

Theo, who was donated to the Army by a member of the public, had been on his first six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan with the Theatre Military Working Dog Support Unit, based at Camp Bastion, but its tour was extended a month after it sniffed out 14 weapons and improvised explosive devices in his first five months.

Lance Corporal Tasker had initially joined the Army in 2001 as a vehicle mechanic but his passion for dogs led to a transfer to the Royal Army Veterinary Corps six years later.

Speaking last month, Lance Corporal Tasker had said he did not know that the dog support unit existed until a friend showed him videos of the dogs at work. “I love my job and working together with Theo. He has great character and never tires. He can’t wait to get out and do his job,” he said.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Thorpe, Commanding Officer, 1st Military Working Dog Regiment, said: “It’s a challenge to put into words what Lance Corporal Tasker meant to those he worked with. To his friends he was a mate who could put a smile on your face. He was that man who you wanted around and who you wanted to spend time with.He genuinely loved the dogs he worked with.”

Lance Corporal Tasker’s death brings to 358 the number of British military personnel to have died in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001.

In a statement released through the Ministry of Defence, his family said: “There are three words that best describe Liam: larger than life. He lit up every room he walked into with his cheeky smile. He was the best son, grandson, brother and friend you could ever wish to meet.

“He died a hero doing a job he was immensely passionate about. We are so proud of him and everything he’s achieved. Words can’t describe how sorely he will be missed.”

His girlfriend, Leah Walters, said: “LT never met anyone without touching their lives in some way. The amount of support both I and his family have received in the last day alone pays testament to this.

“I am the proudest girlfriend there could ever be and there will be an LT-sized hole in my life forever.”

A spokesman for the MoD said: “We believe the dog may have died from a seizure. A post-mortem will be conducted to determine what the cause of death was.”

Theo may, however, be in line for an animal bravery award from the veterinary charity the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals. The PDSA, which awards medals to cats, horses, pigeons and dogs for acts of bravery or exceptional duty, has awarded 27 dogs the Dickin Medal since 1944.

The last dog to be awarded a medal was Treo, a labrador, who was killed in Helmand Province in August.

A PDSA spokesman said: “The normal process is for a nomination to made to the PDSA, citing out the circumstances of the animal’s particular deeds. Theo’s nomination can come from a member of the public, but usually we receive nominations from the Armed Forces themselves. We would welcome any nomination in an instance like this.”

My on-line comment is as follows:

"Bring them all home, the brave men and the brave dogs."

And here is the link to the Daily Mail reportage of the return to England of the late Lance Corporal Liam Tasker and the late Theo, his dog -