The recent announcement by United Utilities that it will not renew licenses to shoot game birds on its land has prompted a furious backlash from pro-shooting campaign group the Countryside Alliance.
Water company United Utilities owns 56,000 hectares of land in the Pennines and Cumbria, much of it upland catchment areas held to protect the quality of water entering their reservoirs (the less said about the quality of water downstream, the better). This includes large tracts of the Forest of Bowland, the Goyt Valley, Longdendale, and the West Pennines - all prime grouse bothering country.
Around 40% of this land is designated as SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest), and following a report from Natural England that found much of this is either in an unfavourable or a declining condition, in recent years the company has been working to improve habitats on their woodland and moorland sites.
In July 2023, as part of an update to land management policies, 6,000 hectares were identified as a specific target for restoring nature and biodiversity.
"On a further 12,000 hectares of land, we began to extend that work to improve catchment resilience including plans to not renew around 20 licenses for game bird shooting as they came to their end" say the company.
This has not gone down well with the Countryside Alliance, who work to defend countryside traditions, as they see them.
United Utilities is trying to cancel the countryside.— Countryside Alliance (@CAupdates) August 8, 2023
Banning shooting on their land will wreak havoc on biodiversity, conservation efforts, and rural livelihoods.
Sign our e-lobby today to urge @unitedutilities to reverse their illogical decision 👇https://t.co/0CYXWqzxuE
"The recent announcement that United Utilities will not be renewing shooting leases on its land, citing water quality concerns, lacks any substantiated evidence" they said.
"It appears to be a diversion tactic to distract attention from their own environmental shortcomings as England's worst polluting water company.
"Under pressure, United Utilities is attempting to sacrifice shooting to cover its own environmental shortcomings. Banning shooting on their land will wreak havoc on biodiversity, conservation efforts, and rural livelihoods."
Users of Twitter (or whatever it's called this week) weighed in with some quality wit:
"So you support interfering with the right of landowners to use their land as they wish if it will negatively impact ecology & biodiversity? Huge if true!" posted one.
Another simply wrote "Don't be silly".
In response to the backlash, the company have promised to engage with affected stakeholders and communities, the corporate equivalent of the long grass.
For the rest of us it may seem more than a little ironic to see an organisation, set up to defend the environmentally indefensible, ripping chunks from a firm that enjoys a dreadful reputation for polluting waterways with sewage, on the basis of one policy that may actually improve the environment.
Has anyone asked what the grouse think?