Monday 26 March 2012

Matthew Ridley, 1925-2012

Matthew Ridley presenting a tree on behalf of the IDS, October 2010
I was extremely sorry to see from the Daily Telegraph obituaries webpage this morning that Viscount Ridley died last Thursday, at his home in Blagdon, Northumberland. He was a great landowner of  and a businessman, but devoted most of his life to extraordinarily diligent public service, especially within his beloved Northumberland, but also nationally and to the Royal Household, for which he was made a Knight of the Garter. The record of this service is given in the obituary.

Despite his status and achievements he was a very modest man. When I first met him, at an Internationl Dendrology Society function, I greeted him as Lord Ridley, to which he growled 'It's Matthew', and that was that. He was a great supporter, in all ways, of the New Trees project, and I spent a very enjoyable day and overnight stay with him and Anne at Blagdon so I could see the trees in his collection - but also discovered his connections with Kenya and love of flamingoes! He was a great supporter of what is now Plant Heritage, and held National Plant Collections of Acer, Alnus and endemic British Sorbus - and was delighted last autumn to hold an IDS Study Day on whitebeams, which he organised despite being then in very poor health. Alnus is not a very fashionable genus, despite containing some excellent trees, but he flew their flag and there are two A. rubra f. pinnatisecta here from him, as well as the rather nice purple-leaved Acer ×pseudoheldreichii 'Blagdon', which he found as a chance seedling in the garden (Acer heldreichii had crossed with a purple-leaved Sycamore). Another great passion was the conservation of native Red Squirrels and it was a matter of great sadness to him that they died out at Blagdon before he did.

Acer ×pseudoheldreichii 'Blagdon' at Colesbourne.
Matthew Ridley was the grandson of Edwin Lutyens and his daughter Jane has written a great biography of the architect, and his son, who succeeds him, is the evolutionary biologist Matt Ridley. The funeral will be private, but there is to be a memorial service in Newcastle Cathedral on 20 April, which I imagine will be packed - he touched the lives of a lot of people, for the better.

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