Single Pheasant costs United Utilities £25m

Photo: Oscar Dewhurst

Correction: Hi Mark. Andy Carter here from the United Utilities press office. Did you see that the Times had apologised for getting this wrong (Mark – no I didn’t)? A dead pheasant in a pipe was one of the various rumours circulating during the time we had customers on a boil water notice in Lancashire. The cause/source is still under investigation by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and we await its report.


A Pheasant, one of the 40+million Pheasants released into the British countryside each year, which became trapped in a water pipe, led to compensation payments by United Utilities adding up to £25m (see The Times).  The Pheasant was trapped in a water pipe near Gartang in Lancashire, near where the River Wyre drains off the Forest of Bowland where the Duke of Westminster releases huge numbers of Pheasants onto his ‘grouse’ moor.  The origin of the Pheasant is unknown, except in so far as it is a non-native species which does not naturally occur in Europe.

About 300,000 homes were affected when traces of Cryptosporidium, which can lead to diarrhoea and vomiting, were found in the water supply.

United Utilities profits for the year were cut by around 20% as a result of the compensation payments and overtime to staff.

That’s over £25m that should be taken off the nominal economic benefits of shooting and all down to a single Pheasant.





14 Replies to “Single Pheasant costs United Utilities £25m”

  1. Mark,
    United Utilities own tenants release thousands of the things into some of its catchment, a visit to their Langden water intake just shows how easy this situation could have been created as they are all over the place. You would have thought that if water quality and biodiversity is top of their agenda, allowing this to happen on its own land is fundamentally stupid.

  2. Make the estates ring every pheasant that is released. This way we will know who is liable if a pheasant pollutes water or causes a road accident. Even though the bird cleverly turns from livestock to wild (once it is released), estates should still have some responsibility. SNH provided compensation for farmers for its “released” white-tailed eagles depredating lambs, while Lynx UK have also proposed compensation for similar reasons.

  3. Hi Mark. Andy Carter here from the United Utilities press office. Did you see that the Times had apologised for getting this wrong? A dead pheasant in a pipe was one of the various rumours circulating during the time we had customers on a boil water notice in Lancashire. The cause/source is still under investigation by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and we await its report.

  4. Great story, but actually not true.
    Nice use of rumour to whip up righteous ire amongst the unfortunate consumers of Unitied Utilities water.
    Why the hatred of pheasants? Is it because you can link them somewhat tenuously to a Duke?
    Why not check facts first?
    It seems a pretty half baked story, and a lazy link to your dislike of shooting.

    How dull, could do better.

      1. “I read it in The Times” – then it must be true. I couldn’t read it in The Times because they ran out of pixels after a few lines before they said anything of substance including which species of Crypto. was involved in this outbreak. However they did hack me off by confusing the name of the illness with the name of the organism. You can’t get the staff anymore it seems but anyway no matter look it makes a nice change from the ills of the World being blamed on bovines

  5. Whether or not investigations finally prove a dead pheasant to have been the cause of the Cryptosporidium contamination in UU waster supplies, I am not convinced that this is a good argument to use in the debate about the harm done by the shooting industry or whether it represents a net benefit or a cost to the economy. Were a member of a native species (a wintering duck on a reservoir, say) to die and get dislodged in a pipe I would not wish for that to be used as a pretext to ‘control’ that species, but it would be harder to argue against that if we had previously argued against the release of pheasants on the grounds that they might die and contaminate the water supply. It seems to me that there is a very low probability of the water supply getting contaminated in this way and the best way to manage that risk is for the utilities companies to maintain rigorous systems to prevent carcasses of any kind entering their infrastructure and also to maintain very high standards of water treatment and testing (which I believe, on the whole, they do).
    I do agree, though, that the release of millions of pheasants into the countryside every year does have a number of other serious negative impacts including ecological disruption and the increased risk of road traffic accidents.

  6. On Saturday apparently, The Times ran a good story about an initiative in Solihull to conserve hedgehogs only for a leader the same day to state that the best way to help hedgehogs would be to kill badgers, which anyway are responsible for BTb!
    Not a paper I would buy…..both because it sacked Simon Barnes and because, like the Sun, it is owned by the dreadful Murdoch.

  7. As a former United Utilities employee and long standing shareholder naturally I have an interest in the management of this company. The recent loss of water supplies to the homes of NW consumers has been a huge embarrassment to the company, but I note the share value is now recovering.

    Since 2000 resident raptors on United Utilities water catchments in the Forest of Bowland including peregrine, hen harrier and eagle owl have been having a very bad time. Last year both Sky and Hope two satellite tagged hen harriers vanished within weeks of fledging after disappeared on two adjoining estates. This year the problems increased with the loss of 4 male hen harriers from company estates in Bowland. There are unconfirmed reports that of the 3 resident breeding pairs of eagle owls that once existed on moorland owned by United Utilities in Bowland only a single pair attempted to breed this year. It is alleged the single nesting attempt failed following the disappearance of the incubating female. Only a decade ago I was aware of 9 occupied peregrine territories on the United Utilities Bowland estates, this season of the two breeding attempts only a single breeding attempt was productive. These failures and disappearances coincidentally appear to have gone hand in hand with an increase in game shooting and legitimate game keepering activities currently taking place on moorland in Bowland owned by United Utilities.

    Finally as a company shareholder, I take this opportunity to once again voice my concern regarding the continued use of lead ammunition on United Utilities water catchments in the Forest of Bowland. It appears from my research this is the only water utility company in England to allow lead cartridges to be used on moorland where water is collected for public consumption. For well in excess of 100 years the use of lead cartridge has continued to deposit lead shot throughout this important water catchment in the Forest of Bowland without any concern for the health of water consumers.

    1. terry – thanks. I’d be surprised if UU is the only water company to allow lead cartridge use. Surely Yorkshire Water and Severn Trent do too? Or maybe not?

      1. I did contact all the water companies here in the NW regarding this toxic issue nearly a decade ago, with the exception of UU, all advised me they did not knowingly allow lead shot to be used on their catchments. I can only go by what I was advised.

  8. That is a shame because UU seem to have been a bright spot in the uplands for many years. I wonder how the present situation has come about ? Could it be a land manager/agent grubbing about for every scrap of income ? I remember the same thing happening on the MOD ranges in the Brecks where the land agent at the time bulldozed rabbit warrens to stop the rabbits competing with the sheep – and, through the loss of ground disturbance endangering a whole suite of Breckland plant rareities. As with that case, so with UU – the pathetic amount of money involved simply isn’t worth the reputational risk.

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