“Escaped pet raccoons are beginning to establish themselves in northern England with potentially devastating consequences for native wildlife.” Viscount Matt Ridley
Viscount Matthew White Ridley is many things. He is a very rare beast: a hereditary peer in the House of Lords; he is the Rational Optimist, he is Former Secretary of State against the Environment Owen “badgers moved the goalposts” Paterson’s brother in law; he is the former chairman of former bank Northern Rock, which crashed spectacularly through mismanagement; he is the new King Coal, producing 1% of the UK’s entire annual greenhouse gas contributions all on his own; he is P0licy Exchange’s visiting Scholar; and he is of course the most well-known apologist for climate change denial, attempting as he does to exploit his scientific education to give his pronouncements more credibility. His doctorate was in pheasant mating behaviour.
Ridley has now become an expert on nature conservation, apparently. In his latest Times article (reproduced for us plebs to read for free on his website) is about Bats. Ridley rails against Bat Conservation and their volunteers: I was surprised at how rude he was – given his own claims about how reluctant he is to use ad hominem attacks.
I have a rule that I do not go ad hominem, unless attacked myself.
Ridley describes the behaviour of conservation volunteers working for the Bat Conservation Trust as
“officious bullying by amateur and self-trained busybodies from the Bat Conservation Trust”
“amateur bat policemen”
Now it may be that a bat warden was very rude to Viscount Ridley once and therefore he feels justified in attacking the entire bat volunteer movement – but then he hasn’t mentioned any specific experience of such. Therefore the only word that seems appropriate to use to describe Ridley is Hypocrite. But then he does have form in this regard having launched a prize for “people exposing pseudoscience behind ecoprojects”. Talk about pots and luke-warm kettles.
Ridley makes so many ridiculous claims in this article it would take me all day to dissect it and I have better things to do. But what is clear is that he has been listening to some very disgruntled characters in the Anglican Church – who would like nothing better than to poison all bats in all churches. Not exactly in keeping with the Christian Ethos but there you go. I have come up with my own suggested solution to this particular conflict, but I don’t think its been taken up yet.
Having launched a tirade against bats and bat wardens in churches (with a few pops at Europe along the way), Ridley expounds on his favourite subject, how everything is getting better and the solutions are all really terribly simple.
According to Ridley the greatest threat to nature is from invasive species. He doesn’t explain which invasives are threatening our bat populations, but he does cherry pick a few examples to support his argument (he’s good at doing that). From the well known though more complex that he would know examples of Water Voles/Mink and Red Squirrels/Grey Squirrels, he leaps to the extraordinary conclusion that
“the urgent conservation priority in Britain is the eradication of invasive aliens, not the officious preservation of habitats for species doing just fine.”
and ZOOOOMMMMM….. SUPER RIDLEY flies through the metaphorical air, effortlessly leaping from two examples to the entire British Ecosystem.
Da dada daaah dadada daaaah.
See how he cherry-picks!
Watch his pulsating Ad Homs!
Marvel at his Syllogisms!
Watch him verbally beat Batmen to a pulp!
What this does show is that Ridley despite his zoology PhD knows absolutely nothing about the environment, about which he is so keen to pontificate.
Yes there are some very damaging invasive species – Ponto-Caspian species such as the killer and demon shrimps and Quagga mussel are or will soon be causing major problems in the aquatic environments they are colonising in Britain.
Yes eradicating rats from islands can help literally a handful of high profile globally threatened bird species (though it does not always work). And I suppose given his zoology education and birdy PhD it is no surprise that Ridley sees “the environment” as birds. Many others do too. Of the estimated two million – 50 million species on the planet, there are 10,500 bird species – so birds are 0.005% of all biodiversity, at the very most.
But the main reason why nature is in crisis in Britain and elsewhere is the loss of entire ecosystems and the damage wrought by human activity to the remainder. There are a number of factors at play – these include land-use change and marine overexploitation, pollution (excess nitrogen and phosphate), climate change, and invasive non-native species (INNS).
I have recently written about the threat to Rampisham Down SSSI in Dorset. This is a nationally, possibly internationally important nature site – threatened by having a solar factory built on it. The only invasive species which might impact on the site’s value for nature is the native plant Bracken. But this is easily controlled through appropriate management; indeed the habitat for which the site is so important is entirely dependent on continuing intervention, having been created by the actions of people probably about 6000 years ago. This is about as far as it is possible to get, from the “the passive preservation of a supposedly pristine natural system” which Ridley rails against. Who even talks these days in this language? It’s as though he’s been reading a Victorian natural history book and assumes that these antediluvian beliefs continue today.
My favourite bit in the whole article though is where Ridley raises the spectre of Raccoons.
“Escaped pet raccoons are beginning to establish themselves in northern England with potentially devastating consequences for native wildlife.”
Raccoons? This is based on talking to a friend of his who found an escaped Raccoon in their hen house. Now Raccoons rummaging through your bins might be a right pain (though would they be able to get into wheely bins?), but to suggest that they are a significant threat to British wildlife is so ludicrous it really does bring into sharp question why Viscount Ridley would make such a ridiculous statement.
I have an idea. It’s so much easier to blame environmental problems on other species, it saves us having to look at our own behaviour, attitudes and responsibility. And the bigger the impact an individual has, the more reason they have to look for scapegoats. Or in this case, Scaperaccoons.