Friday, 9 August 2013

Matthew Parris's Rubbish Ragwort Article in The Times

I used to like Matthew Parris, but alas no more.  He is a national figure, regularly on television and a well-known journalist. He sounded as if he was worth listening to. Now, I shall not be able to think about him without the image of a "loverly jubberly", dirty yellow, three-wheeled, Reliant van popping into my head.  I will never be able to think of him without a connection to the Peckham Plonkers of Only Fools and Horses comedy fame.

I usually treat people who make errors about ragwort with the benefit of doubt. You would expect ordinary people who have been mislead, to understandably have wrong ideas. Matthew Parris is different. He is  a well-known national figure and a former MP. He has a first class law degree from Cambridge and has also studied at Yale. You might actually think he would have some critical thinking skills, be able to find the facts of the law, and check his facts first before committing to print. Sadly, this does not seem to be the case.

Matthew Parris, wrote an article in The Times, that was nothing less than appalling. It stank. It stank of horse manure.The main thrust of the article seemed to be that ragwort was some kind of dangerous angry triffid marching across the landscape.

He said,
  "The seed is spreading on the wind like wildfire"

This is NOT true. We have proper studies of this and they only fall within a few metres of the parent plant.
Decent critical thinking skills should tell you this anyway,as the seeds, which are heavier than air, have no motive force only parachutes. Of course there are going to be exceptional dispersal events but simple physics tells you the seeds cannot spread like wildfire.

Then he repeats a well-known myth about the law.

"Landowners are under a legal duty to remove it."
This is NOT true. There are a set of weeds which you may be ordered to remove under a legal order, but landowners do not have a general legal duty to remove it. What is more the guidance from government tells people not to remove it everywhere. For a Cambridge law graduate Parris doesn't half  seem to make a hash of explaining it!

He then says
"UKIP  will doubtless claim, like some country folk,
 that the plant has been introduced by foreigners,
 probably from the EU."
Common Ragwort is a native plant, he does go on to mention it being here in the 19th Century, but, quite dreadfully, he never makes it clear that it is native.

He mentions that he thinks, without offering, evidence, that one of his llamas may have died of ragwort poisoning. Well if it did it may be a first. Contrary to all the nonsense to the contrary we know that ragwort poisoning is rare. The often repeated statistics seem to be very badly derived and come from what seems to be an unreliable source.

Parris is, it would seem no stranger to making foolish remarks. He caused outrage  amongst  cyclists when he said. 
"A festive custom we could do worse than foster would be stringing piano wire across country lanes to decapitate cyclists."
As a joke it was seen in really bad taste, and there is even evidence that someone may have followed his advice.

The really annoying thing is that all of these myths are easily researched. Just google ragwort law and you  will find half a dozen sites explaining it on the first page. The lesson for Matthew Parris is check your facts.
I think that no horse would believe his stuff and only fools would. Unfortunately, as I regularly show with this blog there are plenty of fools out there.
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