Monday, 23 November 2020

Your letters...

Hellish motorbikes

I was very sad to read about the accident in which Anna Tomson was badly injured (Standard, May 22).

To me, it epitomised the irresponsible and cavalier attitude of so many bikers.

I live in Fair Mile, Henley, and, like so many residents, our lives are ruined by the unbearable noise of bikers opening full throttle, ignoring all speed signs and roaring along this beautiful road to join the gangs of bikers meeting at Benson.

This is not a new problem but, despite endless pleas in the past, our police seem unable or unwilling to tackle this blatant breaking of the law. What is the point of a new speed limit when it is never enforced?

I personally have attended a course for breaking the law by doing 35mph in a 30mph zone. How can these arrogant, selfish bikers be allowed to spoil every sunny day for so many people, making sitting in one’s own garden almost impossible?

This is a desperate plea. Please, if the local powers that be read this letter, do something about these hellish bikers with their total lack of concern for anyone or anything and restore our road to acceptable noise levels. — Yours faithfully,

Christine Wright

Fair Mile, Henley

Spring peace destroyed

Sir, — For the past 30 years we have been fortunate to live in a village only a little more than a mile from Henley.

Recently, with the calm of no commercial aircraft and little road traffic, being able to hear the birds serenading their lovers with special spring songs has added an extra dimension to our enjoyment of Lower Assendon.

Sadly, that has now come to an end.

Noise pollution, especially on Sundays, has begun all over again. Motorbikes can’t wait to hit the open road and are heard as they emerge on to Fair Mile, ignoring the 40mph limit recently imposed as far as Lambridge Road and proceeding up the dual carriageway to Bix, rapidly changing gears and creating more and more noise as they do so.

At times, it is impossible to hold a conversation in the garden, reminding us of the days when Concorde passed overhead on its regular timetable.

The bikers continue to Nettlebed and can be heard for most of the way there.

There seems to be no limit and no one has responsibility for quelling noise pollution, or so it seems. Has anyone any sensible suggestions? — Yours faithfully,

Ginny Batchelor-Smith

Lower Assendon

Happy that saga is over

Sir, — I read with relief and joy that the misguided project to light up Henley Bridge has now, finally, been laid to rest (Standard, May 29).

I applaud Wokingham Borough Council and South Oxfordshire District Council for their opposition and also Peppard Parish Council, the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group and Historic England for speaking out against it as well.

However, it is shameful that Henley Town Council and certain town councillors supported this project.

Despite the many explanations given why it should not happen (the damage to a listed structure, the environmental damage of light pollution at night harming the riverside wildlife, the issue of a private individual taking over and making alterations to a public and listed building as a costly vanity project and the lack of taste etc), Mr Hemsley continued to bulldoze his way through two planning applications.

Although he has complained about the “personal comments” of his detractors, personal comments seemed to stem from Mr Hemsley and his supporters too.

Indeed, there has been a number of “negative and personal comments” about the detractors, including labelling opponents “Luddites”, which many may have found offensive and narrow-minded.

As regards the public meeting organised by Mr Hemsley about the fairy lights, I and probably many others did not know about it beforehand and thus could not attend.

I also suspect that detractor attendance would not have been welcomed as it is far easier to speak to your supporters.

In installing his fairy lights over two years ago, Mr Hemsley commited an offence under the Listed Building Act. There should be an investigation and possibly a prosecution.

More immediately, an expert should remove the lights and their fixings and a professional inspection of the bridge à propos the damage caused by the lights and fixings should be undertaken, with the costs for both these operations being borne by Mr Hemsley.

I do also have a suggestion for illuminating Henley Bridge in a gentle, non-invasive and acceptable to wildlife way.

Perhaps installing on each pavement on the bridge a few old-fashioned, traditional lantern-type lights to bathe the bridge in a soft creamy glow, not dissimilar to those on Reading Bridge.

Before Market Place became what it is now, it used to be a beautiful space bordered by a low, elegant brick wall with flower planters and two beautiful, old-fashioned lights in the middle (oddly, these lights vanished during the semi-pedestrianisation).

A smaller-scale version of those now missing lights would look rather lovely on the bridge. — Yours faithfully,

Nicola Robinson

Sonning Common

Solution is floodlighting

Sir, — The best solution for illuminating Henley Bridge is very simple — floodlighting!

Floodlighting the bridge would complement the beautiful lighting of St Mary’s Church tower and would look quite outstanding whether viewed from upriver or from the Berkshire side near Leander Club. A fine example of this is to be seen in the new lighting of Putney Bridge in London linking the two floodlit church towers of Fulham and Putney.

Has this idea been thought of previously? — Yours faithfully,

Raymond Mitchell-Heggs

Fair Mile, Henley

Final word on bridge

Sir, — It’s only natural that Clive Hemsley, having given up on illuminating Henley Bridge however well-intentioned, goes down with all guns blazing, spluttering like a dying firework.

The time is nigh to draw a line under this local drama but before I do I wish to correct some “fake news” stated in Mr Hemsley’s letter (Standard, May 29).

1. I did attend February’s public meeting in the town hall.

2. I spoke from the floor and was subsequently quoted in the Henley Standard.

3. I attended the Wokingham Borough Council planning committee meeting at which his application was discussed.

4. I recommended refusal of the application and was subsequently quoted in the Henley Standard.

5. Neither Mr Hemsley nor any representative attended that meeting.

6. Wokingham Borough Council and South Oxfordshire District Council are jointly responsible for planning applications relating to the bridge.

As a regular kayaker, I have many opportunities to see close up the underside and exterior of the bridge.

The Berkshire side of the bridge is in good order. The arch closest to the Angel on the Bridge has been extensively repaired but there is damage evident to the central arch.

I am pleased Councillor Will Hamilton has this matter now in hand and wish him success in the overall rectification. — Yours faithfully,

John Whiting

Chairman, Henley Archaeological and Historical Group

Cummings has to go

Sir, — This is an open letter to John Howell MP about Dominic Cummings.

This is the first time I have written to my MP in more than 50 years since I became eligible to vote. While many “scandals” have caused me to question the quality of our governments of all persuasions, so strongly do I feel about the current debacle that this letter seeks to convey that and I hope that you agree that no action is not an option.

This man’s behaviour beggars belief while continually during lockdown all who have appeared on the media, whether government ministers, experts, scientists, clinicians, doctors, nurses, care workers or families of the ill and bereaved have time and again reinforced the message to “stay at home”.

Indeed, many hundreds and probably thousands of families in similar and even more extreme circumstances have “done their duty” (as Health Secretary Matt Hancock put it) and stayed at home.

Their “instincts” would most likely have been screaming at them to do otherwise but they didn’t, they followed the rules, guidelines and exhortations.

To so blatantly have disregarded the rules is a matter grave enough for dismissal. To then go on, without apology, to attempt to justify the unjustifiable takes the issue to a whole new level of breathtaking arrogance.

Cummings obviously takes us all for fools and believes that he alone can operate in his own self-interested and self-satisfied way and, I suspect, is delighting in putting two fingers up at everyone.

This must be especially galling to all those who have either lost family members to covid-19 or are suffering post-infection difficulties.

But it doesn’t end there. We have the spectacle of the Prime Minister indulging his adviser with yet more feeble rhetoric which surely fools no one except a complete fool.

There can be no excuse; there is no interpretation of the rules that permits this behaviour.

At this crucial time of pandemic, when people look to their government and experts for advice, help and support, one of the most important rules must be for them to set an example.

Two people have already resigned for failing to set that example.

Now, according to the recent report in the Financial Times (surely not a “campaigning” newspaper), this country has so far suffered the highest rate of deaths from the coronavirus among countries that produce comparable data, according to excess mortality figures.

Call this achievement what you will, but hoping that “moving on” without the dismissal of Cummings really does show up the PM as a weak man.

Not only is he pusillanimous, he is making himself and his government a laughing stock around the world.

I urge you and your fellow MPs to exert the strongest pressure on the PM to dismiss Cummings.

Failure to do so will result in yet more deaths as some people use the “Cummings rule” to excuse their inappropriate behaviour, trash any residual respect they have for the PM, his cabinet and the wider government and further undermine what little esteem people have left for our political class. — Yours faithfully,

Bill Peachey

Lower Shiplake

What about the rest?

Sir, — I wonder if John Howell will be backing individual inquiries into all the tens of thousands of people who flocked to beaches and parks over the bank holiday weekend with total disregard for social distancing?

Why just pick on one man? — Yours faithfully,

David Gealy


Influence over power

Sir, — John Howell says it would be for the cabinet secretary to decide whether Dominic Cummings acted correctly (Standard, May 29) but the cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, himself pointed out that he has no authority in this matter because Cummings is not a civil servant.

Paragraph 9 of the code of conduct for special advisers states that “the responsibility for the management and conduct of special advisers, including discipline, rests with the minister who made the appointment”.

So Dominic Cummings had no right to fire Chancellor Sajid Javid’s special adviser, Sonia Khan, but he did, and the Prime Minister did not restrain him.

Influence is more important than power. — Yours faithfully,

Patricia Mulcahy

Milton Close, Henley

Blinkered response

Sir, — As someone with no medical qualifications whatsoever, I’m often asked: “What is the best way to test my eyesight during a pandemic?”

For Henley residents I always recommend putting the family (unit) in the car and driving to somewhere like Oxford — 20 to 30 miles is the optimum distance — to check how you cope.

I’m also asked: “Are there any possible side effects?”

For the vast majority of people, yes there are. If you are caught by the police it can mean a fine.

In a tiny number of cases, termed “exceptional circumstances”, it can lead to life support being provided by clinicians like Michael Gove who will claim that it was wise to ensure you were “comfortable behind the wheel” before going on to busier roads.

In only one reported case so far — worldwide — the Prime Minister himself will pull a pair of specs from his top pocket to show that he too is struggling with this burden.

Our local MP will be reserving judgement until all the side effects of the eyesight driving test make themselves known.

He will hope this will take until judgement day, which for some of us cannot come soon enough. — Yours faithfully,

Damien D’Souza

Queen Street, Henley

False hope helps no one

Sir, — How good to hear from John Howell, our local MP, that “we have almost beaten this disease” (Standard, May 22). Would that it were so.

I sincerely hope that those taking decisions on our behalf have a better grasp of the facts.

The coronavirus is one that we will have to learn to live with for a long time to come. False hope helps no one. — Yours faithfully,

Ann Law

Binfield Heath

How dare you, Boris?

With regard to the letter from Chrissie Godfrey on the Thursday clapping (Standard, May 29), I very much agree with her.

I, too, have been feeling increasingly uncomfortable with it, although it undoubtedly gives an opening for neighbour to talk to neighbour.

My problem is every report of it is accompanied by a picture of Boris Johnson smiling proudly at his heroes.

All down to him? How dare you look so pleased with yourself, Boris? It is you and your government which has reduced our marvellous NHS to its present state.

Pay and conditions have been drastically cut and great chunks of the NHS sold to the private sector. What’s more, Boris continues to do this while sweet-talking to his adoring public.

Over the past five years private firms were handed almost £15 billion in NHS contracts for which the NHS was unable to bid.

Two of the biggest winners in the private sector have been firms such as Virgin Care and Care UK.

How dare you tell us the NHS is safe in your hands, Boris?

My husband and I worked for the NHS for more than 40 years and saw many changes, some good, ,some not.

But none was made with such deceit and untruths as under this Government.

America is waiting in the wings. Please do not completely destroy us. — Yours faithfully,

Lyn Wright

Grove Road, Sonning Common

Misleading, minister?

This is an open letter to Reading West MP and Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

Like many other people, I followed the bank holiday weekend’s events with increasing anger.

During the covid-19 crisis, people across Reading West, including my constituents in Whitley, have made enormous sacrifices, often not seeing their loved ones, parents, grandparents and grandchildren, often in distressing circumstances and undergoing exceptional hardship.

As they were asked to do by ministers, they have been following the government guidance to protect the elderly and vulnerable, NHS staff and keyworkers.

This includes the guidance that when you show symptoms of covid-19 do not leave your house for any reason.

As a member of the Cabinet who has led some of the daily briefings, I am sure that you understand the vital importance of consistent messaging to save lives.

With the revelation that the Prime Minister’s senior adviser Dominic Cummings left his home, while experiencing symptoms of covid-19, to drive 260 miles from London to Durham and that he also took a trip to a town 25 miles from Durham, public confidence in the Government’s messages on covid-19 has been severely damaged.

On May 23, you tweeted in defence of Mr Cummings, saying “the guidance was followed”. You have since repeated this following the press conference called by Mr Cummings.

Boris Johnson defended Mr Cummings’ behaviour in his press conference on May 24, saying that he followed his instincts.

Could you, therefore, please answer the following questions:

What briefings did you receive that led you to tweet “The guidance was followed” despite the admission that Mr Cummings left his house while experiencing symptoms?

What was said at the press conference on May 25 which led you to believe that Mr Cummings “complied with the guidance”?

Should residents of Reading West now ignore the Government’s guidance on covid-19 and simply follow their instincts?

Many of us in Reading West are in difficult situations. To take just one example, a constituent of mine in Whitley is currently self-isolating and has young children, including one with a disability, and is reliant on food parcels being delivered to her door.

She has family elsewhere in the country who could help if she travelled to them and became ill.

Can you confirm what the Government’s guidance for my constituent is?

Is your advice that they should travel hundreds of miles to stay near a family member? If not, why not?

Will you reiterate and clarify the current government guidance publicly? — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Rachel Eden

Whitley ward, Reading Borough Council

UK must get back to work

Sir, — At last the worm is turning. It appears that we are retrieving our ability to think more carefully about the covid-19 crisis.

According to a number of public intellectuals, the lockdown we have been through has not been the best way to tackle this crisis.

Peter Hitchens says: “There is no evidence that crashing your economy saves a single life and there is a great deal of evidence that it costs lives.”

Niall Ferguson also says the lockdown has been a mistake.

David Starkey suggests that there are party political issues behind the lockdown.

Lord Sumption, a former member of the Supreme Court, is far more critical of the Government’s policy, referring to it as a form of “collective hysteria” and stating that there is no “clear purpose in continuing the lockdown other than sparing themselves ( i.e. the Government) public criticism”.

His argument is that we should have concentrated on helping the vulnerable and let the majority of the population carry on living their lives as normal.

There are also increasing calls for the Government to admit its mistakes.

Unfortunately, this is all looking backwards whereas we now desperately need help in solving the problems ahead of us.

The biggest problem seems to be the doubt, suspicion and fear which has been created.

Increasingly, it is being said that most people practising social distancing and hygiene rules should not be terrified of the virus.

Of course, we all must stay vigilant and develop a highly fine-tuned common sense about staying safe.

But having hurt nearly every aspect of the economy and the country’s social life we need to get back to work urgently.

There are indeed many ambiguities, contradictions and ironies in life.

Our most admirable slogan “Save the NHS” cannot be achieved with a crippled economy.

The UK economy has to be operating at a relatively high and efficient level to be able to afford the health service which everyone in the country expects and is entitled to.

It is not possible to imagine the lockdown will not produce one of the greatest economic setbacks in history. The longer the economy is locked down, the greater the danger to the NHS.

The return of children to school and allowing groups of six people to meet are important steps in preparing the way for a major return to work but this needs to be followed as quickly as possible by a more general opening up of the economy.

Of course, we have to stay safe but most people can do that without the government lockdown.

No one knows how to ascribe a cost to the damage which has been done to the economy but I won’t be surprised if one day an economist tells us that it will have exceeded hundreds of billions of pounds and maybe even a trillion or more. — Yours faithfully,

Prof Dan Remenyi

Kidmore End

Lourdes of the North

Covid-19 is indeed a horrible virus which has had a devastating and unprecedented effect on everyone that comes into contact with it.

With continuous stories of lives being torn apart, it is very difficult to glean any positives from this pandemic.

However, don’t despair, there is always something good that comes from a major crisis and this one is no exception.

A town on the banks of the River Tees in the North-East has proved that it’s not all doom and gloom.

Barnard Castle has become known as “The Lourdes of the North” because of recent unexplained events.

Where else can you travel 600 miles with your family, setting out with symptoms of the covid-19 virus and return to your home, just a few days later, completely cured and fighting fit?

A marathon journey to Durham plus a short drive and a stroll along the leafy banks of the Tees is all that was needed.

A modern-day miracle indeed. If only advanced medical science was as effective.

Not only that, but if you were worried about your dodgy eyesight for driving home safely, just return to your magic car and, after a short journey, your eyes will be crystal clear.

Low and behold your 20:20 vision will return as if by magic. “Take up thy keys and drive” will be ringing around your head.

Yet another mysterious happening impossible to explain, even to the local police.

As if to underpin these miraculous events, there is apparently no need to put fuel into your car or stop for refreshments on the long journey, even with a four-year-old child on board. Those of you who have children or remember travelling with a four-year-old will reflect on what a miracle this must have been.

Most religious sites in the world were founded and based on some form of ghostly apparition or a miracle or even some miss-mash of confused events.

This one appears to be based on the misunderstanding of the words, “If you have symptoms of the virus stay indoors and self-isolate” which appear to have been mistaken for, “Drive as far as you can on a full tank of fuel”.

An easy mistake to make when the press are outside of your house each morning while you are eating three Shredded Wheat.

So now that quintessentially English market town of Barnard Castle is rightly part of folk law and can justly add “miraculous” to its name.

Even the Prime Minister is now aware of its existence and its magical powers. When hearing this amazing story, he was known to shake his head slightly before slowly looking up to the skies and murmuring reverently, “Nil desperandum auspice Dominic”. — Yours faithfully,

Allen Appleby


Heroes of my street

Sir, — I wrote this poem in the early days of the lockdown and thought you might like to publish it. — Yours faithfully,

Jane Handley

Emmer Green


Our street has become full of heroes,
Though we’re a pretty ordinary bunch.
But the world has gone mad for a while now
And I bet yours is the same, at a hunch.

Phyllis next door is a hero,
You wouldn’t think so at a glance,
But she picks up the shopping for neighbours,
But never makes a song or a dance.

Then living at No 6 there is Harry,
He never stops using his phone,
Just checking on all of the old folks,
He can’t bear to think of them living alone.

Now further down there is Malcolm,
Goes off early each day and back late,
He is working long hours at the hospital,
Each day, not knowing his fate.

He is married to Joyce who goes with him,
As a nurse, her work is intense,
Without a thought for herself, I am told,
We put a banner of “Thanks” on their fence.

Dr Metcalf lives just round the corner,
I think his first name is Jim,
Also at the hospital working endlessly,
Where would they be without him?

Down the end is Mick the firefighter,
More used to saving lives in a fire,
But now he’s called on to do extra,
Some situations he is in are just dire.

Janet, No 12, at the chemist,
So busy, come rain or come shine,
She doesn’t think of herself as a hero,
But she’s working right there on frontline.

I must mention the man living opposite,
Always ready to do a good deed,
And works very long hours for Tesco,
Delivering the things that we need.

Now I’m sure when this crisis is over,
When this nightmare comes to an end,
I will look round at my neighbourhood heroes
And be proud to call each one “my friend”.

Ode for a lost friend

Sir, — Two weeks ago, you kindly published two poems about coronavirus.

I thought it may be of interest to know the combined age of the two “poets” was 176. Unfortunately, many people will have lost loved ones and friends.

Perhaps, therefore, you may also like to include in your excellent local paper the following poem, which I wrote years ago when my best friend was killed in an accident at work. — Yours faithfully,

Colin Robinson

St Andrew’s Road, Henley

My Friend

We humble people can’t pretend
To know the ways of God,
But must find comfort in the knowledge
That we tread the path He trod,
The good, the bad, the rich, the poor,
Must all reach their journeys’ end,
As so tragically it seems to us,
You came to yours, my friend.

Trad just can’t happen

Sir, — From the outset of these very difficult and fast-evolving times, the committee of the Thames Traditional Boat Festival took the decision to evaluate carefully and sensitively all possible options that might allow the festival to be held in some form this year and not to cancel until we really believed there was no alternative action available to us.

While the cancellation of the Henley Royal Regatta provided new and expensive challenges, with stored bulky regatta infrastructure and heavy equipment blocking crucial sections of the Upper Meadows site, it is the extended timetable that we are now seeing applied to the easing of restrictions that ultimately stands in the way of us being able to hold the festival this year.

While we now truly have no option in this matter, we nonetheless write with very heavy hearts.

The Thames Traditional Boat Festival is a hugely popular feature in the summer calendar, drawing visitors from around the globe while supporting so many local businesses.

The small committee works hard from the close of each “Trad” to make the following year’s event as perfect as possible and we were very excited about the event we were offering this year.

We considered arranging a casual one-day get-together on the site later in the year but even this now looks beset by ongoing restrictions.

We are, of course, committed to refunding promptly any monies paid to the festival for this year, if that is what you would like.

Some people have already generously pledged their advance payments as donations towards the staging of the 2021 “Trad” in anticipation of cancellation this year,

The festival remains a not-for-profit event with the ultimate aim of assisting young people to take up boat-building apprenticeships.

It is run by volunteers, including the committee, which is committed to welcoming everyone back to Fawley Meadows next year.

Please put the dates in your diary, Friday to Sunday, July 16 to 18, 2021. — Yours faithfully,

The Hon. Lady McAlpine, Adam Toop and the Thames Traditional Boat Festival committee

Lesson for litterbugs

Sir, — Thank you for publishing my letter regarding the overflowing bins in Riverside, Henley (Standard, May 22) and the kind response of Andrew Hawkins.

I would just like to say I was aware of the third option (removing the bins) but thought it too scary to consider. I would fully support a scientific test to see if it works.

Meanwhile, I can only go on empirical data.

I live in Shiplake and in addition to walking into Henley I also walk on the riverside in Shiplake, between “the old chapel” and Shiplake lock.

Over the past week it has been thronged with youngsters, with which I have no problem.

However, there are no bins, so the majority (that is my estimate, no science) leave their **** on the fields and path.

Can I request that at the next “home-schooling” lesson parents tell their darling offspring to bring their **** home.

I will leave a bin bag on the gate during my next walk. — Yours faithfully,

Malcolm Gregory


Bring back attendants

Sir, — When I was young I lived in Ealing and my mum and I used to often go past Deans Gardens.

Before the entrance to the gardens there was a public toilet and I remember we always made use of the facilities.

I recall we had to wait until the attendant took our penny and put it in the brass slot to open the door and take a cloth and polish the mahogany toilet seat before we used the lavatory.

Wash basins and soap were provided for us to wash our hands before we left.

There was a comfortable chair and sitting area for the attendant when times were quiet.

Everything that could be polished was polished: the brass handles and coin containers on the doors, the brass taps, the furnishings on the windows and windows sills and mahogany lavatory seats were “Mansion polished”.

There was even a vase of flowers on the window sill and everything smelt clean and fresh.

Now, when you think of the number of old people who have to use the toilets when they are out, the idea of doing away with public toilets is mad.

Methinks that it costs only one person’s wages to employ an attendant.

The charges to use the toilet could be 5p for children and 10p for adults (or even 20p — think of the relief).

There would be a turnstile to monitor and count people going in.

It would be nice to give some lady the job (and save employing cleaners). Think of it, someone in charge and no mess.

Come on, Henley, set a good example. Instead of automation, think animation and employ someone.

Also think how easy it would be to maintain virus control in a pandemic situation with wipes and social distancing.

Oh, and have an alarm button for safety measures. — Yours faithfully,

Jane Gascoigne

Sonning Eye

Why fences are needed

Sir, — I read your article about fencing and footpaths in Birchen Copse with mixed feelings (Standard, May 22).

As children, we played in local woods and when a bit older rode our ponies through the wonderful open woodlands all the way from Woodcote to Henley.

It never occurred to me that I might try to claim a right of way through those private woods.

Now much older, I still love to see open, unblemished woods, created and managed by their owners, but increasingly they have had to be fenced and ditched off.

First there was the annual invasion of “travellers” each autumn and, in recent years, people increasingly wandering wherever they wish, on foot, horse, bike and motorbike, unaware that most woodlands are private property, just like their own houses and gardens.

As owners now, we are happy to see people enjoying our small woodland, well served by two public footpaths and a bridleway.

However, they do tend to take short cuts and try to create circular paths.

Horse and bike riders seem not to realise that they should only use the bridle path.

Not wishing to be overly awkward, we remind walkers and riders when they are not on the public rights of way and simply block off the “non-rights of way” with branches, small banks etc, together with polite notices to make the point.

Sadly, these are often removed within days, if not hours. But we have to do it at least one day a year to avoid people trying to claim new rights over our land.

So what should a woodland owner do to try to keep users only on the public paths?

I don’t like unnecessary fences in woods but I understand why they are put up. — Yours faithfully,

Jon Hatt

Goring Heath

P.S. We had a family walk through the middle of a wheat field over the bank holiday weekend and became “lost”, having left the footpath!

In defence of badgers...

Sir, — Regarding James Munn’s comments on badgers taking the opportunity to feast on Jonathan Steward’s fallen sheep/lambs (Standard, May 22), I have to agree this is far more likely than predation by our largest native carnivores.

Mr Steward farms rare breed sheep, which have a very small gene pool due to their rarity.

This means that they are more prone to genetic abnormalities that can easily lead to premature death.

Furthermore, Mr Steward has a particularly high sheep population for the size of his grazing. The Department for the Environment, Farming, and Rural Affairs recommends a density of six to 10 sheep per acre but Mr Steward has told this paper he has more than 200 sheep on just 12 acres, which is almost double the recommended density.

This can also lead to problems, not just with potential diseases, but also with damage to the environment itself.

The poor chap must spend most of his life picking up sheep poo to prevent an explosion in the local fly population or poisoning the nearby watercourse.

I wonder if people would be so keen to destroy an entire species if they weren’t badgers, but pandas? (I went with the black and white markings, but I could have said elephants or tigers.)

There does seem to be large loathing of badgers. Personally, I quite like them. It’s a shame that cattle farmers keep infecting the poor badgers with TB. (Hey, I had to have at least one controversial bit in so cut me some slack.) And can someone please develop a test for TB that doesn’t go ping for anything inoculated against TB? That would make life easier for everyone. — Yours faithfully,

Simon Brickhill

Goring Heath

...and of farmers too

Sir, — Following on from Vincent Ruane’s letter of support for farmers (Standard, May 29), I would like to add my comments in their support too.

Tony Chandler wrote that he only heard a robin on Dawn Chorus Day.

Migratory birds such as the cuckoo and turtle dove are shot from the skies as they make their way to the UK each spring.

Mr Chandler lives in a village where there must be plenty of cats who kill small birds. Squirrels steal eggs and baby birds from their nests.

Birds of prey such as red kites DO kill live birds (as witnessed).

For more than 20 years farmers have been encouraged to show concern for the environment.

Where there was once intensive farming, farmers are encouraged to plant trees and hedges.

Set-aside is encouraged. Arable fields have buffer strips and margins around their edges where birds and insects are free to live. Strict measures are in place preventing farm vehicles from driving on these areas.

Areas are planted with different types of specialist seed — the plants grow, birds flock to these areas and enjoy the seed provided.

Farmers are working night and day trying to provide food for everyone so I’m not sure why they always seem to get such bad publicity.

Like Mr Ruane, we hear birds singing from early morning until late at night It’s a wonderful sound. — Yours faithfully,

C Robinson

Rotherfield Greys

University challenge

Sir, — Might I presume to suggest a possibly appropriate addition to Professor Dan Remenyi’s article (Standard, May 29), namely that because artificial intelligence is going to so dramatically change the way in which results in so many subjects are arrived at (e.g. in medical diagnosis), today’s universities also need to be very aware of:

• The basics of AI and machine-learning.

• Its promise, but also its risks and limitations

• Which degree courses are most likely to be positively impacted by AI and which less so.

Obviously it may be very undesirable to invest time learning how to do “x” when a proven AI already exists that can knock it off in a few microseconds while explaining its actions/decisions to its users/undergraduates.

Among the very many related challenges will be “whose AI can I trust and how can I verify it?”

So can the universities also satisfactorily blend this huge impending knowledge-handling sea change into their current curriculae or not? — Yours faithfully,

Jim Munro

Blandy Road, Henley

Make room for others

Sir, — Reading Professor Dan Remenyi’s article gave me an idea.

Why not take him, Philip Collings and Chrissie Godfrey on to your paid staff?

They could take it in turns to write articles and thus free up the letters pages for the large number of ordinary folk whose differing opinions would be of added interest to your readers. — Yours faithfully,

Christine Bland


TV service gone again

Sir, — Yet again we have suffered from loss of signal from our local TV transmitter, giving us a blank TV screen.

This seems to happen most frequently when there is fine weather. It is not a transmission fault as Freesat is unimpaired and this rules out an equipment fault.

I know that some of my neighbours in Northfield End have experienced a similar fault. When can we expect a better service? Can anything be done? — Yours faithfully,

Ian Tiffin

Northfield End, Henley

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