By Ben Sutherland
BBC World Service, Kuching
People living in towns and cities are dominating the environmental debate and overlook the opinion of rural dwellers, a leading botanist has said.
Sir Peter Crane, director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London, said the urban view of the natural world was often at odds with the issues facing people living in rural areas.
Sir Peter made his comments in a speech to delegates at the International Media and Environment Summit (Imes) in Kuching, Malaysia.
"Forests in and around cities are disproportionately important," he said. "They colour the view that city dwellers have on the natural world as more people live in cities, they set the agenda."
This was particularly evident in the US, he said, where states in the mid-West are currently suffering from what he termed a "plague of deer".
Culling the deer was unpalatable to urban voters so the animals had been allowed to expand beyond their natural populations, Sir Peter argued.
"Many of the ecological processes that sustained forests in the past... no longer function at all."
He gave one example as being forest fires in North America that are routinely extinguished, despite being natural events that are needed to create new growth.
Vijay Vaitheeswaran, environment correspondent for the Economist magazine, suggested it may be possible that people moving to cities could help the situation by taking pressure off important rural ecosystems.
However, Philip Milne, a New Zealand lawyer specialising in the environment, vigorously attacked urban-based people having a say in the management of the environment and rural life.
He said an important opportunity to study a model of how sustainable logging could work had been lost due to "one of the rare examples where the green point of view was more sexy than the scientists' view."
A timber firm had proposed selective logging of beech trees on the west coast of New Zealand. But the plan was stopped by Prime Minister Helen Clark in 1998 after her centre-left coalition - which included the Green Party - came to power.
Mr Milne said this was partially because people who had no knowledge of the west coast forests had become "emotionally attached to old trees."
"Ten years of research into sustainable logging went down the river," he said.
The plan had included proposals to "pour millions" into fighting the invasive pest of Australian possums, which he described as "one of the huge threats" to the country's forests.
Because the plan had failed, the beech forests were now controlled by the New Zealand Forestry Commission, which Mr Milne argued could only afford to control possums in the popular eco-tourism areas.
This view was backed by Alan Bernstein, the co-founder of the Sustainable Forestry Management company, who said that sometimes environmentalists "who have never seen the forests push things too far."
However, the claim that scientists were in opposition to the green point of view was contradicted by Helen Clark herself, who has gone on record as saying scientific opinion was very divided at the time.