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RSPB greenwashing more water companies as SevernTrent partnership details emerge

Lake Vyrnwy once boasted an abundance of wildlife and was widely considered the jewel of the Welsh Uplands.

Described 30 years ago as a virtual upland paradise, it was then managed as a driven grouse moor. But now the RSPB run it, wildlife numbers have collapsed drastically.

At 10,000 acres it is the largest block of heather moorland left in Wales, owned by SevernTrent and their subsidiary Hafren/Dyfrdwy. It is now, according to RSPB, an ecological basket case.

This is some of what RSPB has very recently said is wrong with the place.

The last formal condition assessment in 2005 identified Vyrnwy blanket bog and dry heath as being in unfavourable condition'. Blanket bog has degraded following historic inappropriate management which saw habitat drained for maximum upland stock rates, peat cutting for fuel and afforested with non-native conifers.

An EULIFE project (2006-2011) started to reverse some of these practices, but large areas remain at risk. There is an urgent risk of bogs drying out, accelerating erosion, releasing carbon into the atmosphere and threatening the fragile ecosystem.

Vyrnwy's native woodlands are at great risk from invasive non-native species (INNS), such as rhododendrons, laurel, and multiple conifer INNS pose a similar threat in the designated moorland (dry Heath and blanket bog) where self seeded conifers and rhododendrons have matured and threaten to out compete native species.

Lake Vyrnwy has the largest block of the areas heather moorland left under single ownership: without urgent intervention more of this limited habitat will be lost.

Priority species are at further risk from predation, scrub encroachment and lack of landscape scale management that meets their needs. This particularly the case for the UK BAP curlew and the most southerly UK population of black grouse. Breeding pairs of peregrine falcons have dwindled to just one as breeding site conditions have deteriorated.

Don't be surprised by the frankness of this catalogue of incompetence and under investment. It is not a mea culpa. RSPB never do that. It is a bid for money from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and it was never supposed to see the light of day.

It was also successful and the HLF gave RSPB half a million pounds as a result, or £497,600 to be exact.

You would have thought that a water company making half a billion pounds pre-tax profit, might be willing to cover this cost themselves however that does not seem to be the way water companies operate.

Rather than spending a tiny fraction of their own vast wealth on restoring their land which was in unfavourable condition over twenty years ago, they sent RSPB off to Europe for tax payer millions. Now that gravy train has left the station, RSPB has dutifully gone and found another magic moneytree.

Just to be clear SevernTrent profit before tax in 2022 was £506,200,000. Duration of raw untreated sewage flowed into the waters of SevernTrent (2021) 558,000 hours. Money from HLF courtesy of RSPB £497,600.

Does this not strike anyone as outrageous? Of course the RSPB is right that the situation at Vyrnwy is beyond dire. A previous HLF bid for £3 million was even more explicit:

'Without the serious interventions that RSPB is proposing in this bid, in the next few years curlew, black grouse and merlin will cease to appear as breeding species in this area of Wales. It is likely that the same fate would befall red grouse and hen harrier with the next decade'.

But why should taxpayers have to pay for it? RSPB make a profit of over £14 million and ST of over half a billion.

Worse, far worse, why does the organisation that promotes itself as the leader of UK conservation, think it is even vaguely acceptable to solicit vast funds for a mega-rich water company, whilst it is fully aware that its partner is pouring raw sewage into delicate ecosystems at a rate of over half a million hours in a single year?

Faced with this catalogue, it is perhaps unsurprising that RSPB stands to gain more from the actions of polluting water companies than anyone, certainly more than the wildlife.

To see what will happen if RSPB tightens its grip on the United Utilities estate, we do not need to speculate. Just go to Lake Vyrnwy and despair.


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