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United Utilities and the RSPB: A sordid cycle of 'crapwashing'

United Utilities has a very poor relationship with many of the people it is meant to serve.

This is not just because of how it treats long standing tenants, who have run their affairs exactly in line with United Utilities' instructions, and delivered excellent outcomes for water quality, biodiversity and species abundance. No, it is a far bigger issue than that, important though that is.

The fundamental problem is pollution. It is beyond ironic that, in its statement announcing the end of all shooting on its estates, United Utilities majored on its commitment to water quality.

It is extraordinary that the water company with the worst pollution record in the country has the cheek to even mention water quality.

People who fish, swim or just walk along the river banks in the north west are all, one way or another, the direct recipients of United Utilities' mixture of incompetence and greed.

United Utilities made a before tax profit of over half a billion pounds in 2022. In the same year their raw, untreated sewage flowed into the rivers and lakes of the north west of England for 425,000 hours.

That means that on average 1,164 hours of raw sewage was released every day. This is probably not easy to do. It is so difficult to be this incompetent and careless that no other water utility could get anywhere near them. This is not just sewage spilling, this is United Utilities sewage spilling.

Looked at another way it makes some sense. They made £1,176 profit for every hour that raw sewage flowed into the Lune, or the Wyre or Cumbria's world famous Lakes.

Obviously, without their studied incompetence, they might have felt a need to invest in better, perhaps even vaguely adequate, infrastructure. That would have cost money and pre-tax profits might have been less, and if the pre-tax profit were less, that might have impacted the CEO's bonus.

To be fair, is anyone surprised that United Utilities has the approach to water pollution that Attila the Hun had to embroidery. Getting away with maximising profit at the expense of the aquatic environment is what we have come to expect.

It is not acceptable, it is a disgrace, it is grotesque, but it is what they do and have done for years. At least, faced with such environmental mayhem, we can rely on the bastions of the conservation industry to lead the charge in naming and shaming a business that routinely pollutes otherwise pristine waters on an industrial scale. Can't we?

Well, no actually you can't. The RSPB, ('Give Nature a Home') far from criticising, has actually been working in the most intimate partnership with United Utilities for years. After all, let's be reasonable, what's half a million hours of raw sewage, when measured against the rewards of working hand in glove with these massive land owning businesses?

Nor is their blind eye only turned solely to United Utilities. RSPB have an equally intimate relationship with the UK's second worst polluter, SevernTrent and its subsidiary, Hafren/Dyfrdwy, but we can come to that another day. This is not an oversight, it is a pattern of behaviour.

Just to give an idea of the scale of this blindness let's consider an alleged water quality issue that RSPB does become incoherent with rage about - grouse moor management.

They will tell anyone that will listen that the rotational cool burning of vegetation on a grouse moor has a dreadful effect on water quality. They also assert that it may alter the detailed nature of the invertebrate communities in some of the streams that flow from the moors. It is thus an anathema and must be stopped forthwith.

It will surprise no one that we find this position more than bizarre.

RSPB, who complain at every opportunity about these minor allegations apparently fail to notice that their dearest partners, for whom they solicit vast sums of public money, are pouring half a million hours’ worth of raw sewage into the rivers of England and Wales. Not just slightly altering the invertebrate balance, but happily risking wiping invertebrates out wholesale.

But this brings us to what is probably the most shocking element of this sordid mess - the money.

Governments, and other grant giving bodies, make some odd decisions from time to time. But rather than expect some of the vast profits that United Utilities make each year to be used to repair their damaged infrastructure and land, the company has benefited from the RSPB soliciting public grants on their behalf instead.

It is to no one's surprise that, despite the atrocious environmental record of United Utilities, the RSPB have not only failed to criticise the company but instead actively champion them and their partnership. This is crapwashing of the highest order.


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