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.