In defence of forestry

Your correspondents (Letters, 19 March and 26 March) replying to my article "Get on your bike, Farmer Giles" (12 March) suggest that forestry, as well as farming, can waste public money and harm the public interest. They have a point. Tax relief encouraged the carpet bombing of upland hillsides with alien conifers, just as subsidy has driven the ploughing up of hedgerows, downs and ancient woods.

But forestry no longer attracts many of the undeserved tax reliefs for which it was once notorious. Grants are available for planting, but tree cover in Britain is under 12 per cent, compared to between 20 and 30 per cent in much of mainland Europe. Owners of private woodland manage to conduct their business without creating much nuisance to others, or requiring a huge apparatus of state support.

Although, in recent decades, the state has slowly divested itself of much of the woodland that it owns, with the remainder, it has made recreation and conservation central objectives in a way that has not happened in privately owned farmscape. For example, virtually all Forestry Commission woodland is well provided with visitor facilities and permanently open to the public.

We thus have every reason to welcome the conversion of some farmland to woodland. Those correspondents who fear it would be converted to housing instead should appreciate that it is the planning system, not the activities of farmers, which keeps the countryside green. Whenever they get the chance, farmers are usually ready enough to sell their fields for development.

David Cox
London SW11

The relationship between British farming and capitalism is less straightforward than Colin Tudge ("Stalin was wrong; can we do better?", 19 March) suggests. Much of the drive towards an efficiency measured by financial standards and output per worker originated in the writings of leftish agriculturalists such as Sir Daniel Hall and C S Orwin, who wanted to see increased mechanisation, greater use of chemical inputs, large farm units and specialist enterprises run on industrial lines. This approach was forcefully expressed at the end of the Second World War in F W Bateson's book Towards a Socialist Agriculture.

These progressive writers were particularly concerned to refute the traditionalist alternative being expressed by the early organic school, who recognised the importance of much that Tudge recommends: an increased rural population, small farms, regionalism and appropriate technology. H J Massingham criticised Hall's blueprint for reconstruction because he believed that it combined the worst of capitalist exploitation of the soil with the worst of state bureaucracy. The organicists were anti-capitalist but tended to the right.

Philip Conford
Chichester, West Sussex