Thank you United Utilities

I asked United Utilities for some information on two subjects on 2 March and got my first reply on 19 March – that’s a hell of a lot quicker than Natural England usually manage. Thank you United Utilities.

This question was about lead levels in water. This subject came up in questions after my talk in Preston on 25 February when a gentleman suggested that lead levels might be higher in areas shot regularly for Red Grouse (such as the nearby Forest of Bowland) and I said I wasn’t aware of any such evidence and that it seemed a bit unlikely to me because the uplands are a big place with lots of water! And that if there were a problem I’d expect water companies to know about it and be doing something about it.

Seems like my intuition was right according to the information sent to me by UU.

Dear Dr Avery
Thank you for your recent 2 enquiries.
I shall respond to you under separate cover, as soon as I am in a position to, in respect of your request regarding the numbers of Red Grouse shootings. This will be under my reference ID578 in the subejct header.
In the meantime, kindly note my response to your other queries:
1. Has UU tested levels of lead in water in different upland catchments?  Yes, we analyse for lead in the raw waters in our catchments
2.  Is UU aware (either through its own studies or those of others) of any evidence that links elevated lead levels in water to the occurrence/frequency/amount of shooting (for game (such as Pheasants or Red Grouse) or at targets (such as clays) in catchments?  We routinely monitor lead in our raw waters and are not aware of any links between the occurrence of shooting and an increased concentration of lead in those raw water catchments.
3. Does UU have any concerns about the amount of Red Grouse shooting in catchments such as the Forest of Bowland and lead levels in water?  We do not have any concerns about the concentration of lead in our raw water sources.

Utility companies are subject to these types of request. As you can see, I asked another question and I am waiting to hear the answer.


We’ll see you in court, Natural England

Yesterday, Wild Justice’s lawyers issued the claim form seeking permission for judicial review of Natural England’s decision to issue the General Licences GL04-06 on 1 January 2019.

We haven’t yet got a nice court seal on our claim form as there is a backlog, apparently. We have notified Natural England of our application for judicial review.

You may recall that we sent a Pre Action Protocol letter to NE on 13 February and they should have responded two weeks later but instead they asked for another two weeks, a doubling of the time normally allocated for such a response. We rather kindly said they could have another week but NE took two weeks to send us a confused and inadequate response.

During that four-week period we did not name NE as the public body whose decision we were challenging and nor did we indicate that the General Licences were our area of concern. We have dealt with NE with more sympathy and patience than they deserve during this period.

The NE response received on 13 March indicated that they would need to consult their Board on this matter and that would happen on 20 March and they would be in a position to respond further on 21 March.

We launched our crowdfunder on 15 March, a week ago, and have already raised over £30,000 of the £36,000 we need to take this case all the way through the courts. Thank you to all who have donated – we are touched and relieved by the level of support.

As we had not received a response from NE by 4pm yesterday we went ahead with our request for judicial review as we believe we have a very strong case and that NE are basically just mucking us about. We still have not received a response from NE but things have moved on now.

Is the statutory nature conservation agency for England about to admit that it has issued unlawful General Licences year after year? Or will we have to go to court to prove that?


Plas – y – Brenin on Saturday

I’m looking forward to talking in North Wales on Saturday evening. I’ll be at Plas-y-Brenin in Snowdonia.

The talk starts at 8pm and it’s £5 on the door.


Charlie Moores interviews me about Wild Justice

Here is a link.


We couldn’t have done it without you – says Natural England to the criminal elements in grouse shooting

Yesterday’s devastating scientific description of the impact of grouse shooting on the threatened Hen Harrier (the original paper, my blog on its findings) was greeted by Natural England Director, Rob Cooke with the following:

This research identifies the scale of the problem hen harriers have faced on grouse moors. It makes for sobering reading and shows how vital it is that everyone involved in the future of this wonderful bird pulls together. Natural England is working in partnership with a wide range of stakeholders, including moorland communities, conservation organisations, police and landowners to implement the joint Hen Harrier Action Plan which aims to improve the conservation status of this at-risk bird.

Last year’s Hen Harrier breeding season was the most successful in over a decade with 34 chicks fledged across the country. While this was very encouraging we recognise that a continued partnership approach is required to combat illegal persecution of these rare birds and ensure that numbers of breeding hen harriers continue to grow.

Interestingly, this was a later version of the original quote from Rob Cooke which was circulated by the partners in the study which was:

Natural England will continue its satellite tracking work to further improve our understanding of hen harrier movements and behaviour, and will continue work to improve the conservation status of the species. Natural England welcomes the support of many landowners in this, and will continue to work with all landowners and other interested parties to find ways of enabling hen harrier populations to increase from their current critically endangered levels in England

Both quotes are inadequate. But you notice that the original quote is even weaker than the later one and fails to mention the likes of raptor workers, the RSPB and other real conservation bodies by name but just bangs on about working with all landowners. All of them.

You can see why the quote was changed but there is no more evidence needed to demonstrate that Natural England is in the pockets or under the thumbs of upland landowners. This is not a brave champion of wildlife law and wildlife, this is a public body which is not remotely fit for purpose because it has lost its moral compass.

And it’s not even competent. How senior Natural England staff allowed the original quote (we love land owners and we’re working with landowners even though we now know beyond doubt that they are bumping off protected wildlife wholescale [that’s just my summary]) out into the public domain without realising how awful it looks is beyond me. Today Natural England’s Board is meeting. No doubt Teresa Dent will be asking Marian Spain and Lord Blencathra to harden up the organisation’s line on wildlife crime…

I assume that there was an even earlier version which must have been along these lines;

We couldn’t have done it without the moorland landowners and their keepers – without them there would be no dataset of killed and disappeared Hen Harriers. Of course we are going to continue to cuddle up to the rich and powerful criminal elements who burn our moorland, kill our protected wildlife and are mates with our ministers.

And where is the quote from biodiversity minister Therese Coffey? Maybe she is waiting for a mate to write her lines for her…