The Flood, The Environment Agency Chair and the Grouse Moor


Sir Philip Dilley, Environment Agency Chair


The Forest of Bowland is an interesting place.

It’s a chunk of Northern England’s uplands, where a number of rivers originate. Much of it is owned by Unitied Utilities, and they ran a project called SCAMP, for Sustainable Catchment Management Programme. SCAMP showed very clearly how changes in the management of the uplands can help with things like Carbon storage, water quality and downstream flood attenuation. Management such as blocking drains in blanket bogs, reducing sheep grazing and stopping moor burning. Here are some slides about SCAMP from one of the project partners RSPB. RSPB were particularly interested in Bowland because it’s a Special Protection Area for birds, like breeding waders and the Hen Harrier.

Bowland is a bit of a black hole for Hen Harriers, thanks to much of it being managed as Grouse Moor. I’m not going in to the detail of this, as you can read about it ad nauseam at Mark Avery’s blog. Suffice to say Hen Harriers do very well on Unitied Utilities’ land in Bowland.

There are two other main estates on Bowland – one is owned by the Duchy of Lancaster. This is a little known offshoot of the Government, but Duchy land is effectively public land. There is no Duke of Lancaster! The third one is called the Abbeystead Estate and it’s owned by the Duke of Westminster, who certainly does exist. The Duke of Westminster is one of Britain’s wealthiest people and enjoys shooting grouse at Abbeystead, as do others. In fact Abbeystead, an 18000 acre estate of grouse moor and hill farms, holds the record, set 100 years ago, for the largest number of grouse shot in one day – 2929 birds were shot by eight shooters.

Coincidentally, 1915 probably held the record for the number of people shot in one year, until it was surpassed by 1916.

Hen Harriers do not have a good time on the Abbeystead Estate. And neither do Lesser Black Backed gulls, an amber listed species.The gull colony has been decimated, under a legal programme of culling.

But Gerald Grosvenor loves his field sports, and was Vice President of the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust. He also bankrolled the Countryside Movement, which became the Countryside Alliance. He gave the Movement a £1.3M “loan” which he never expected to be repaid. I haven’t managed to find out whether that loan still sits on the books of the Countryside Alliance – if anyone can enlighten me, please do.

The Abbeystead Estate, being grouse moor and hill farm, is managed by sheep grazing moor burning and the drainage of blanket bog – all of which contribute to speeding water off the hills. Despite being a European protected Special Protection Area, the moors are still burnt for grouse. Due to the bizarre way Natural England determine SSSI condition, the Abbeystead SSSI units are assessed as unfavourable recovering, apart from those areas where the gull cull takes place. Natural England have produced a plan for the Bowland SPA that recognises all the different “impacts” on the birds and their habitats  – it makes for interesting reading – the Abbeystead Estate are name checked under almost all of the “pressure/threat”.

Although it’s difficult to know exactly where the estate boundary is, as far as I can tell, the Abbeystead Estate comprises most, perhaps all, of the catchment of the River Wyre, which flooded so badly in December. 80 properties were flooded in St Michael on Wyre, though they did not receive a visit from Environment Agency Chair Sir Philip Dilley. Why would they? You may ask, after all thousands of properties were affected by the flooding this year and Dilley visited only a few.

The reason they might expect to see Sir Philip is because he is a Director of Grosvenor Estates, who own the Abbeystead Estate Grouse Moors and hill farms.

It would be interesting to know whether Sir Philip has been invited to shoot any grouse on the Abbeystead Estate yet.


About Miles King

UK conservation professional, writing about nature, politics, life. All views are my own and not my employers. I don't write on behalf of anybody else.
This entry was posted in countryside alliance, Environment Agency, flooding and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The Flood, The Environment Agency Chair and the Grouse Moor

  1. David Dunlop says:

    There is a Duke of Lancaster, Miles. She’s also known as the Lord of Man, but is probably best known as Queen Elizabeth II, whose ancestors ulimately defeated their cousins in the House of York in that unpleasantness some centuries ago, now mainly reenacted on the cricket field.

    Whether the Duchy of Lancaster ( is a public or private body is a moot point: it may depend on who’s asking and why, like the Duchy of Cornwall. Income from the former supports the sovereign and the latter the Duke of Cornwall (aka Duke of Rothesay, Lord of the Isles and Prince of Wales).

  2. Thanks for making the connections I hadn’t seen in the other media! When I read Monbiot he was making suggestions not connections? However, saw a beautiful art exhibition on the North York Moors by Judith Bromley. She certainly painted incredible light into the habitats there and did explain how important the bog land was.

  3. Sue Everett says:

    I was speaking to an ex senior EA employee yesterday whose job was made untenable because he exposed truths, included EA breaches of regulations. This was from some time ago (c. 10yrs). It does sound like the Agency is pretty rotten at the higher level and this has got worse now we have a government with a particularly extreme anti-public sector anti-environmental agenda. Far from being legally constituted independent arms-length bodies quangos and gov agencies are now subject to significant political interference and this is not in the public interest. A corruption of the democratic process that had evolved as a means to prevent politicians dismissing out of hand advice they didn’t like.

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  5. Reminds me of the battles for access in the pre Countryside and Rights of Way Act days, Bowland was one of our black spots. There was a sharp division between North West Water (now UU) land where access was permitted and the Duke’s where it was banned.

  6. Richard Moriarty says:

    I think it should be noted that the estates are not listed as part of the threat in the Natural England document but as partners who are to be involved in working towards overcoming the threat by being part of the delivery team working towards conservation. The question is how to ensure that they become active partners in the conservation work and it is important to recognise this as a significant effort when they do and not to misinterpret their involvement, something which is likely to have the opposite effect of that which is wanted.

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks Richard. You suggest the Estate is working towards overcoming the threat – but the threats are, at least in a significcant part, caused by the land management, over which the Estate has responsibility. To suggest the threats are external to the Estate would be very misleading, would it not?

      • Richard Moriarty says:

        I’m not saying that the land management is not an issue – only that the document you quote as naming the estate as being an issue is actually naming the estate as being a partner in working towards a solution. Where some good is being done this needs to be recognised otherwise those involved are likely to give up and that would be detrimental to the change process. if we really want change to happen we need to recognise the good work being done as well as highlighting the bad. As someone involved in trying to make these changes happen I find it really difficult when people misquote things to make it appear that those who are working towards conserving the moors are actually doing the opposite – that isn’t helpful. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t highlight bad practices but we also need to celebrate every little success that happens – that way we are more likely to get further positive actions instead of getting further negative reactions

      • Miles King says:

        Thanks Richard. I am all in favour of praising positive conservation activities – though that was not really the point of the article; and, to be honest, from what I have read, most of the positive conservation activities on the Bowland Fells have been on United Utilities land. I looked in vain for stories about conservation activity at Abbeystead on the Grosvenor website.

        However, just to clarify, what I said was that the Abbeystead Estate had been name-checked under almost all of the “pressure/threats”, not that they were the pressure/threat.

        The IPENS project has identified the problems at Bowland and proposed solutions and deliverers of those solutions. The delivery of a solution to a pressure/threat like “game management: grouse moors” can only be done by the grouse moor managers who work for the Estate. And there can only be a pressure/threat from grouse moor game management because the landowner is managing the land as a grouse moor for game. It’s not an externality. In this sense the Estate is the creator of the problem, and has the solution in its own hands.

        Also, it’s worth remembering that the IPENS project has not been delivered yet; and that the Bowland Fells SPA was designated 23 years ago – has it really taken that long for the Abbeystead Estate owners to realise that their land management practices were damaging the SPA features?

        If we had access to the English Nature / Natural England SSSI Remedies database, it would show which damaging activities had been going on on the Bowland Fells, in which Estate, and for how long. But we don’t.

  7. Mark Fisher says:

    I went on to MAGIC with the hope that I might use HLS Agreements to identify the Abbeystead Estate, but there are different recipients pretty much in each Unit of the Bowland Fells SSSI. The Estate website says it has 22 tenant farms, which then makes sense of the different recipients. I know NE inspection reports often reuse text, but it is annoying that the Comment justifying the assessment against each of the SSSI Units that are “Unfavourable declining” about the gull population is exactly the same. However, considering that three of the four Units of the SSSI have agri-environment agreements, then what is Natural England “buying” for the £2m that is being shelled out eg.
    Unit 5 GJ & GM IBBETSON (AG00294084) 2011 £1,101,750.07
    Unit 6 No HLS (small)
    Unit 15 P & M Asbury (AG00428307) 2012 £362,700.50
    Unit 50 R H & C Ayrton Limited (AG00498649) 2011 £578,250.57

    The Unit you pointed to that is “Unfavourable recovering” also has an agri-environment agreement, and the Comment suggests that it is recovering from overgrazing
    14 A C & K PYE (AG00318490) 2011 £462,264.10

    This overgrazing seems to be the case for pretty much all the other Units of the SSSI, and which also all have an agri-environment agreement on them – and this is probably the link between water run-off and downstream flooding. However, the text about the decline in gulls is re-used for Units 22, 23, 24 as well, but there is also text about recovering from over grazing, and so these Units are regarded as “Unfavourable recovering” even though there is the issue of the gulls
    22, 23 GJ & ME WALKER & SONS (AG00328681) 2007 £432390.45
    24 J C WALKER & SON (AG00328684) 2007 £592307.65

    So that adds another £1m to payouts on land where the gulls are being culled, but why is there a difference in assessment between Units 5,6,15 and 50 with 22-24? It can’t be that the inspections for the former were in 2012, whereas for the latter it was 2013/2014, or that the agri-environment agreements on the former aren’t also “buying” a reduction in grazing etc

    If your brain is hurting at this point, then so is mine! In theory, the agri-environment agreements with individual tenants isolates land ownership from land management decisions (just ask the NT about that!). However, I guess it is the Estate that has the licence from NE for the gull culling, and the tenants are just being compliant with the Estate’s wish on that. So, in the end, it all comes down to NE chucking millions at moorland but being incapable of getting the UK SPA designations up to date. What a system!

    • Miles King says:

      Thanks Mark. I managed to find the boundaries for all of the United Utilities land, which falls to the south of Abbeystead. And I have it on good authority that the Duchy land is to the North, so that gave me a fairly good idea about which farms and SSSI units fell within the Estate boundary. After writing the blog, I had a number of comments via twitter to the effect that bog drainage (for Grouse moor) was continuing and “plenty of drains, tracks and knackered bogs on this estate.” It does indeed raise the question of what the taxpayer is getting for their subsidy.

  8. Yafflers says:

    Miles, first time I have come across your blog and the new charity. Great blog and the replies show again the power of social media in exposing issues and engaging people who can correct / add information to a story. I’m afraid you have found more evidence of how class, wealth and power still prevail and still operate behind smoke and mirrors. Social media and contributors like yourself and those who have commented do a great service in uncovering what sometimes might be justifiably called scandals. That’s a public service George Monbiot has been doing well for many years. I’m sorry for those affected by floods but I am pleased that for the first time we are hearing conversations about how the natural environment can protect us if only we”d stop working against it.
    Keep blogging and raising the issues some wont want you to.

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