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United Utilities announces U-turn on shooting leases

The water company has backtracked on its decision to ban grouse shooting on its land in favour of carrying out an “independent review”

Scottish scenery

The company will now assess the environmental and social impact of changing any land use practices

The decision by United Utilities at the end of July not to renew any shooting leases on its landholdings was one that had the countryside community scratching its head. The consultation process was non-existent, and the decision was in direct opposition to the studies showing the conservation and socioeconomic benefits of active moorland management.

The Countryside Alliance wrote to Louise Beardmore, chief executive of United Utilities, to emphasise their concerns and the consequences that could be expected as a result of the decision. These included wildfire mitigation and water management on top of the detriments to wildlife and communities. The Countryside Alliance challenged United Utilities in the media, mobilised local MPs as well as presenting an e-petition with nearly 7,000 signatures.

In light of this action, United Utilities has announced that it is conducting a full U-turn. For now, there will be no change to existing leases. United Utilities will be carrying out an “independent review” of each of its existing shooting leases to understand exactly what the environmental and social impact would be if it were to change any land management practices.

Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said to ST: “We are delighted that United Utilities has reconsidered its position and announced no changes to existing shooting leases on its land.”

Lindsay Waddell, an upland headkeeper in the north-east for over 40 years and ST contributor, was more wary of this change of heart by United Utilities, saying: “United Utilities’ change of stance is an interesting one in that they will be aware what the cessation of management would be negative for both habitat and bird populations.

“It will only mean something if they actually follow it through and change their stance on lease renewals instead of hoping the bad reaction they have had from the rural community will simply fade away and they can carry out their initial decision anyway.”

United Utilities, which was reported almost 70,000 times for sewage leaks in 2022, has pledged to work with a range of rural organisations on this review. Louise Beardmore has claimed that she, and United Utilities, are totally neutral when it comes to game shooting.