Sky and Hope, female Hen Harriers fledged from United Utilities land in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, have gone missing.
Scientists tracking the movements of the young Hen Harriers became concerned when their tags stopped transmitting. Sky’s satellite signal stopped suddenly on the evening of Wednesday 10 September with the data suggesting she was roosting at her last known location, while Hope’s last’s known location was sent on the morning of Saturday 13 September.
Both of the birds had left their nest sites on the United Utilities Estate several weeks earlier but had remained in the Bowland area since fledging. Searches were made but neither Sky nor Hope has been recovered.
Experts think it is improbable that the loss of satellite transmission is due to technical failure. Only a tiny percentage of Hen Harriers fitted with satellite tags since 2007 have stopped transmitting when it was known the tracked bird was alive.
Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “In our experience, this satellite technology is normally very reliable and it is rare for them to fail for technological reasons. Losing two birds in such a short time frame and in the same geographical area is strange.
Based on the last known data and our understanding of the technology, Sky appears to have suffered a catastrophic tag failure at roost suggesting either natural predation or human intervention as the likely causes for her sudden failure to transmit. However, we would not expect natural predation to stop the tag transmitting data so suddenly. Hope’s tag was transmitting reliably, with no evidence of any technical problems.”
TV presenter and Hen Harrier campaigner Chris Packham said: “It’s incredibly disheartening to discover that two of this year’s chicks have already apparently failed to survive. It shows how vulnerable Hen Harriers are and that four nests are nowhere near enough. Without satellite tagging, these disappearances might never have come to our attention but technology is on our side and we will keep watching.”
Disappearing Montagu’s Harriers and Hen Harriers. The satellite technology is really pinning down where birds are dying and when. We’ll have to see what, if any, information comes out about these latest mysterious disappearances.
In the meantime, just remember that if the birds have been killed then there is nobody killing Hen Harriers deliberately except game shooting interests. The lack of Hen Harriers in our uplands is primarily, and overwhelmingly, due to criminal action by game shooting interests. It is time to ban driven grouse shooting – please sign here.
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