The not-so-talented Viscount Ridley


Matt Ridley and I were friends a long time ago, but we haven’t seen each other for quite a while, and although I would gladly share a bottle of claret with Matt, we might start talking politics, climate change or grouse moors and that might spoil the mood.  I remember we had a very good time in Washington DC nearly 30 years ago.  But I did send my regards to Matt via his brother-in-law, Owen Paterson, at the Game Fair last year.

Matt wrote an awful piece of rubbish for this week’s Spectator on grouse moors. It would take too long to go through it all and point out the errors so let’s just look at a few things – let’s look at what Matt writes about Hen Harriers.

Actually, I can’t resist pointing out that Matt refers to the same piece of unattributed ‘research’ which shows that some unnamed grouse moor is knee-deep in breeding waders as does Sir Ian Botham, but doesn’t make the Botham false shot of ascribing it to the BTO – far too savvy for that!  Matt is right to say that the ‘results’ of this survey have gobsmacked conservationists – the BTO has never heard of them!

And Matt seems to have forgotten that his uncle, Nicholas Ridley, long, long, long ago, made sure that new conifer plantations would not be planted in the English uplands and so all that nonsense of the threat of conifers is simply that, nonsense.

But Matt is at his way-off-the-mark worst when he writes about the Hen Harrier. Or was he playing for laughs all along?

Apparently  ‘Hen harriers, which are ground-nesting birds vulnerable to foxes, are thriving in Scotland, especially on fox-free islands such as the Orkneys or in places where gamekeepers control fox numbers.’. Really Matt? Really? This is a statement that is verifiable by the data after all – shall we have a look at them?

There ought to be c500 pairs of Hen Harrier nesting on UK driven grouse moors and yet most years (if you exclude the study site at Langholm which is crawling with scientists – GWCT bird botherers?) there are fewer than double figures. That’s thriving is it? Have a look at the statutory agencies’ Conservation Framework for Hen Harriers to check the facts.

There are no Hen Harriers nesting on English grouse moors this year – that’s thriving is it? There should be about 150 pairs or so. Zero is quite different from 150 isn’t it? Whatever else they are doing, Hen Harriers are not thriving ‘in places where gamekeepers control fox numbers’ are they Matt? Are they? No they aren’t.

Apparently, Hen Harriers ‘…have struggled to recolonise England‘ despite all those friendly ‘keepers wanting to clasp them to their moorland bosoms. Not quite right is it Matt? Hen Harriers were much commoner in England 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago and even 10 years ago than they are now. That’s not ‘struggling to recolonise’ they are being bumped off! That’s why Defra set up a stakeholder group and why the world is up in arms about wildlife crime. But in the townie pages of the Spectator you can get away with spouting any nonsense about the wildlife of the UK provided you own a chunk of it – then you are an expert.

Shall we just look at the struggles of the Hen Harrier to ‘recolonise’ the Bowland Fells SPA?

From 2000 onwards the number of Hen Harrier nesting attempts each year was; 6 (2000), 4, 4, 9, 8, 11, 10, 12, 10, 7, 10, 6, 0, 0, 2, 6, 0 (2016).  That looks a lot more like ‘being wiped out’ than ‘failing to colonise’ to me. Remember that last year, when there were 6 nesting attempts, four males, who had successfully ‘recolonised’, disappeared from active nests. Disappeared rather abruptly. Disappeared in the abrupt manner that shot birds would disappear, for example. Matt, you’re right that Hen Harriers are struggling, but not to recolonise: they are struggling to dodge the wildlife crime.

And Matt gets the facts about last year’s breeding success of Hen Harriers wrong as well – compare what he says with what Natural England said and with what the RSPB said (and which has not been contested to the best of my knowledge).  Matt uses the strange phrase ‘controlled by’ to describe some Hen Harrier nests (I seem to remember that YFTB press release using the same phrase) but fails to acknowledge, as clearly stated by the RSPB last autumn, that the RSPB was involved with guarding both the successful Hen Harrier nests on FC land. Did Matt get his information from his mate Ian Gregory? Or maybe Ian Botham? Who knows, but it wasn’t from any verifiable source because it’s plain wrong and has been clearly wrong for months and months.

I’ll come back to Hen Harriers later today, because although our case against driven grouse shooting is much wider than Hen Harriers, wildlife crime is the subject that the grouse shooters find very difficult to cope with. And that may be why Matt writes as he does, inaccurately, about them.

One last thing. Matt goes back in time to the 2014 report on BBC coverage of the countryside matters and uses it to have another swipe at the RSPB and the BBC – unjustifiably I would say (but you can read the report). We know, so I rather think that Matt knows, that the author of that ‘independent’ report is a grouse moor owner herself (provided her husband has shared it with her). I bet Matt knows that don’t you? Funny he didn’t mention it really.


Oh, by the way – there’s an e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting that is heading for a debate in the Westminster parliament.



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28 Replies to “The not-so-talented Viscount Ridley”

  1. Yes, I really think you shouldn't have anything to do with this person who psychopathically lies on behalf of his cronies in the fossil fuel industry and animal killing clubs. Lying is ingrained in the maintaining of a self-serving status quo. Money talks louder than conscience.

    Mark writes: I don't think we can assume that Matt is lying (deliberately telling falsehoods) - he may simply be mistaken in his views (or possibly, we are).

  2. On the Guardian/Observer there is a propaganda puff piece by Clive Aslet, making the stupid false claim that it is only "one or two rogue keepers" behind this illegal persecution of raptors. Every comment critical of the article is being removed. Even a simple comment I made about the difference between facts and opinion has been removed.

      1. It most certainly is odd.

        This is the article.

        I can assure you that I have said nothing abusive. All I have stated is that what Clive Aslet has said is inaccurate, and that as a former Editor of Country Life he should be aware of how to do simple fact checks, and should know better. To contradict him I have mainly used the 2008 Natural England report "A Future for the Hen Harrier in England".

        Aslet claims "while most estates are scrupulous in observing the law that protects the birds of prey that eat young chicks, one or two rogue keepers break the law". My repeated point, which is in my removed comments is that more than "one or two rogue" keepers must be responsible, and that to prevent Hen Harriers breeding successfully, requires widespread and systematic illegal persecution.

        1. I tried posting something. We will see if it gets through.
          As i undertand it most moderating happens because of criticing the person rather than what they say but how the 2 can be separated is a mystery to me.
          I posted this
          ''one or two rogue keepers break the law'

          Those one or 2 must really get around and have clones.
          Real evidence rather that spin is in the crime statistics on Scottish Government PAWS website
          and same on page 37 of this report

          On page 39 of the same report the numbers of gamekeepers convicted between 1994 and 2010 was 86% of 49 total raptor criminals.
          So is the one or two an error or a deliberate distortion of the truth?
          Why is the Guardian publishing this tosh?'

          1. I never even accused the author of lying. I simply said that as a former editor they should know about the importance of checking facts, before making assertions. How that constitutes a personal attack I have no idea. I repeatedly tried just to state the facts, and point out how the claims of Clive Aslet were inaccurate and misleading, only to be repeatedly modded off. In no way shape or form did I contravene Community Standards.

            I've made several complaints in emails to the moderators and the readers editor. It's been an ongoing thing as it nearly always occurs on apology pieces for shooting interest. I've even got my own shadow on there who appears to have just signed up to the Guardian to counter my comments on shooting and fieldsports topics. There is a tendency for the Observer to commission apology pieces for shooting and which blatantly minimize the evidence for the illegal killing of birds of prey.

            When Magnus Linklater published an attack on the RSPB in the Observer it was me that uncovered Linklater's carefully hidden shooting interests.

            I then passed on the information to George Monbiot who further researched it and who wrote this article.

            It's hardly rocket science to work out what is going on.

        2. Terrible censorship.
          I tried just making this comment below with no other words and got censored. I have written to complain.

          1. SteB1: no i didn't mean you were accusing anyone of lying. It was me and even then i asked 'So is the one or two an error or a deliberate distortion of the truth?'
            As usual you were quite right, this was far and above any moderating i have ever experienced in The Guardian but of course it is next to impossible to know what is being moderated unless it is yourself that is being moderated
            I wonder if it possible that for opinion pieces they allow the author to moderate. It is quite amazing.
            I eventually got mine through by cutting it little by little until it made no sense to anyone who didn't already know the point i was trying to make.
            The fact that they moderated a one line url to the petition is stifling freedom of speech/expression.
            As i said, i have made a complaint.

      2. I think that was in The Telegraph, in which case not odd at all?

    1. Yes, I had 3 comments 'disappeared' and one 'moderated' ? even a very simple one, providing a link to the petition !

      It seems the Guardian has abandoned any pretence of journalism, and now just presents the shooting lobby PR fluff. I have to assume that the owner or editor has had a word. They are no longer 'moderating', now they are censoring, they must sense that the end is nigh 🙂

    2. I've just had an email back from the moderators. It is such an inaccurate justification that it makes it impossible to enter into any more correspondence with them, as I can only be critical and state the obvious, and that is they are not being honest. They are claiming it was because I said Clive Aslet was deliberately trying to mislead. However, I only said this in a couple of comments and dropped it to get through the moderation, and they were still removing everything I said. One comment they removed simply referenced the Natural England report "A Future for the Hen Harrier in England". Quite how this contravenes their community standards is a complete mystery.

      What is more it is not only my comments. I never saw any actually abusive comments are there and it really is a complete mystery about why so many comments were removed. It is the most outrageous case of blatant censorship I have ever seen on the Guardian/Observer. They were just blatantly removing any comment which contradicted or criticised Clive Aslet's comment.

      I still have a complaint in with the Observer readers editor about it.

      1. Further to this. The Readers Editor's office just told me to contact the moderators, even though I already had and received a completely unsatisfactory response which did not address why most comments were removed.

        However, the fact that proves there was something very wrong with the moderation yesterday, is that they are now allowing comments, which yesterday would have been immediately removed. Yesterday I saw comments removed which merely said it was a "puff piece" and today they have allowed a comment which says it is "propaganda". In other words the moderation criteria today is completely different than yesterday, which tacitly acknowledges that the moderation yesterday was not justified.

  3. I posted a HH YDNP leaflet through the letterbox of said FSA chair, Mrs Hancock in her idyllic residence below her (or her property developer husband's) grouse moors in Littondale. I wonder if she enjoyed reading it. Doubtful she signed though - was it a waste of a leaflet??
    I got away safely and was well received in the village pub and with some residents.

    1. I posted a petition leaflet through the door of the Edinburgh North and Leith Conservative Party Office. Couldn't resist it.

  4. Mark, another thing we learnt from Keith yesterday on our visit to Hebden, was that not so many years ago, the grouse bag from the moor would expect to be 100+ brace.
    Today, the expected bag is around 3000!!!

    That is some increase is it not? It would also seem to correlate with your figures above vis the fortunes of the Hen harrier.

  5. Would someone please ask George Monbiot and John Vidal to inquire about the unreasonable censoring of comments to Guardian.

    1. I already have asked in the past, and have corresponded with Guardian staff. Firstly George Monbiot agrees, that sometimes there is some very strange moderation on the Guardian, but cannot do anything as he's not Guardian staff. The staff will just tell you that the moderators are a separate entity and they have nothing to do with moderation.

  6. I came across the Matt Ridley Spectator piece on August 12th when looking for the source of Beefy Botham's claims on grouse moor wader breeding. I discovered that a slightly longer piece on Ridley's website had some quotes from the apparent site surveyor of the "North Pennine" moor.

    It's worth looking at those quotes because they give an indication of the type of "vanity" survey that seems to have been carried out. The final sentence says:"A superb place for birds across the board & a credit to the team involved!". Yes it ends with an exclamation mark (and it's not the only one).

    Comments aren't allowed on Ridley's site so I emailed him asking where I could read more details of the survey. I didn't hold out much hope of a reply but today I received one via his PA. Short and sweet it said "The document is not published but is a private survey that I was shown". I think we can expect more of this to come from the GWCT - claims (wild claims even) of wader breeding success on moors with no possible verification of even the terms or area of the survey. Birders won't be deceived but some of the wider public may be.


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