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United Utilities' inane decision on sporting leases shows why RSPB's vision of grouse moors is a lie

Well, we can hardly say we are surprised that United Utilities has decided to try a bit of bogus virtue signalling by saying it will no longer lease land for grouse shooting.

Breaking a cultural link with the landscape that has existed for generations, making people redundant, and destroying rural communities are all consequences after all of the strategic plan of their principal conservation industry cheerleader, the RSPB.

The RSPB and United Utilities have been joined at the hip for years. With that sort of access, and with the RSPB seemingly wanting an end to driven grouse shooting at any price, it is perhaps an indication that there were previously more sensible people involved in United Utilities decisions, but eventually they got their way and an awful decision was made.

It is truly awful in several directions. First, it shows that RSPB cannot be trusted, but who thought they could, we hear you ask, good point, but bear with us.

Almost all the grouse shooting affected by this decision is the sort of shooting that the RSPB says it wants to see. Small bags and limited management. Only last month, RSPB policy officer Imogen Taylor said: “There are many voices advocating for a ban, stating the environmental benefits, but assessment of the economic and social impacts of future options for grouse moor management shows there would be an immediate effect on the local rural economy and an effect on some species that benefit from grouse moor management. Through licensing, shooting could continue, more sustainable shoots would become the standard, and environmental outcomes would ultimately improve for everyone".

These are moors on which some days you can see more hen harriers than grouse. Moors where the ground nesting birds do better than average because they are keepered. Moors where foxes, crows and stoats are unlikely to wipe out a harrier nest. Moors where RSPB staff on the ground have expressed their approval in robust terms. None of that matters. They will now be for the chop.

Second, it shows that United Utilities doesn't even care much about water quality. They state, apparently with a straight face, but obviously with their fingers crossed behind their backs, that the ban, 'Follows a review of the management of the land we own to ensure the best possible outcome for water quality and we have been communicating with stakeholders'.

Leaving aside that this is management gibberish, what impact real or imagined can grouse moor management have on water quality? United Utilities don't allow burning, they have complete control of how their tenants conduct their affairs. To suggest that this is anything to do with water quality is frankly ludicrous.

If one looks at their upland portfolio, the moors where United Utilities have experienced water quality problems have all been managed by RSPB and run on a re-wet and walk away regime. This has resulted in appalling wildfires releasing masses of CO2 but also generating ash, peat stain, carbon and heavy metal leaching into the water supply.

To give one just example, the RSPB managed Dovestone moor is said to have cost United Utilities close to £1 million in helicopter fees alone required to quell wildfires in recent years. By contrast, neighbour moor tenants of United Utilities have cost them nothing, and been able to demonstrate a far greater variety of wildlife and biodiversity as a consequence of their management practices.

As for, 'we have been communicating with stakeholders', it would be nice to know who. The people directly impacted first heard via the media. No discussion. No taking people's views and knowledge into account. No listening, except to RSPB and the single issue zealots. It is written to sound as though it was an inclusive process, it was not.

Third, it highlights the RSPB's role in promoting and protecting the interests of the water companies. The RSPB has often fulminated against grouse moor management on the basis of an alleged deterioration of water quality. Even they can't make it a big issue. They cite alterations sometimes seen in invertebrate communities, and slight variations in rates of siltation.

But this silly campaign only serves to highlight a very large elephant standing in the middle of the room. If they are so desperately concerned with these tiny bits and pieces have they not noticed that their favourite water company has a track record in water quality that cannot be beaten by any other water company in the land?

They are not prepared to recognise the work and benefits of grouse moor managers, but they get into bed with United Utilities. They must be paragons of virtue. Mustn't they? What is the water quality record they hold? Are they the best? Are they the cleanest? Well no, they are the country's worst polluter. They are crap, and we use that word advisedly.


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