Super-Ridley blats the Bat-people: But will the evil Raccoon win out?






“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.



photo by Steve from washington, dc, usa – Busted!!. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in alien invasive species, bats, coal, invasive species, Matt Ridley, Policy Exchange, Rampisham Down and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Super-Ridley blats the Bat-people: But will the evil Raccoon win out?

  1. Pingback: Tory Party – fresh from attacking Britain’s wild birds – are now turning on bats | Pride's Purge

  2. penniewoodfall says:

    It Is Always About The Blame game….easier you see….humans are a funny lot!

  3. Ian Forrester says:

    If Ridley was really concerned about biodiversity and the welfare of birds he should be campaigning against herbicide tolerant GMOs rather than being one of their chief promoters (along with his brother in law). I wonder if he has even read any of the reports from the Farm-scale Evaluation of GMOs carried out in the UK starting over 10 years ago. The critical finding was a loss of both seeds and insects, both of which are critical sources of nourishment for birds. Perhaps Ridley should rename is blog “The Irrational Hypocrite”.

  4. I’m no fan of Matt Ridley (he owes me £2k from the Northern Rock disaster for a start!) but he does have a point about bat consultants and bat conservationists generally. Here in Herefordshire bat consultants have consistently tried to stop a parkland restoration scheme (the FC leased Croft Estate) that I and the National Trust have been working towards for years. When we were eventually successful, NT were forced by FC to retain mature conifers around remaining veteran oaks as a result of a bat report in case the ‘bats got lost’ (!) despite no evidence of the presence of any bats. This was against the advice of NT own experienced ecologists. As predicted, the remaining conifers blew over and last month destroyed one of finest surviving veteran trees that we were trying to liberate by falling onto it and knocking clean over – it was about 400 years old (photo supplied if you want). These bat consultants (bat fundamentalists I would call them) seem quite ignorant of ecology and have actually worsened the prospects for bats in the new Croft park while in this county have generally they have given bat conservation a bad name by pissing everyone off.

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks David.

      You will note that I actually made no comment about the very real issues of bats, churches, ancient trees and so on – other than to refer to some previous ideas I have had.

    • Interesting cautionary tale David. Unfortunately this happens all too frequently in many different circumstances where monomaniacs and single-issue campaigners are involved. They only see matters through a narrow framework that excludes everything except their own obsession and seem oblivious to the fact that the world is rather a complex series of interactions and can only be understood holistically, taking many aspects into account.

      Very sad to hear about what happened in Herefordshire, I hope it’s not Moccas. Do these people not understand that you can’t magically recreate a precious 400-year old entity in anything less than 400 years – if ever, since in terms of their individual development in historical context they are irreplaceable – or are they simply so pusillanimous and obtuse that they don’t even care?! Can others be saved from such a sad fate?

  5. David Dunlop says:

    Thanks for relaying Mr Ridley’s tip-off, Miles. I’ll keep a lookout for those pesky racoons. I’ve not seen one yet but I suspect that’ll be because they’re sneaking into Lancashire by hiding amongst the North American mink, grey squirrels, Chinese mitten-crabs, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, New Zealand pigmy-weed, pink purslane, rabbits, pheasants, brown hares, Italian rye-grass, Australian barnacles, Shining pennywort &c It’ll all be Yorkshire’s fault, of course…

    • Miles King says:

      thanks Dave.

      On Rabbits, its worth remembering they were native in a previous interglacial, as was Rhododendron. As such I think we should regard them as extinct natives that have been accidentally re-introduced, just like those cute and fluffy beavers.

  6. Miles King says:

    Yes Dave. I think the native/exotic binary is a simple solution to a difficult problem – and as we now know, simple solutions are usually wrong.

    Rhododendron was native (at least to Ireland) in the Hoxnian about 400k years ago. The fact that it does not “fit in” to modern landscapes probably says more about how we manage them and what we regard as preferable than anything else. In terms of Rhododendron being damaging to the “native” wildlife of Britain and Ireland, there is a little evidence of dense Rhododendron causing local extinctions of plant species.,%20Perrings%20and%20Williamson%20,%20JEM%20%282003%29.pdf

    But is this any different from the effects of bracken or gorse, both of which are regarded as native and therefore having some value which justifies their presence in our modern landscapess; but equally regarded as problem species that need to be controlled or even eradicated.

    I wonder whether Rhododendron is more of a “problem” because it did not arrive with its guild of invertebrate herbivores and fungal parasites, which might have kept it from spreading so enthusiastically across the west of the British Isles. It seems to be unpalatable to all extant and extinct mammalian herbivores.

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