Satellite tags

Photo: Jude Lane, RSPB
Photo: Jude Lane, RSPB

Defra doesn’t have a plan for Hen Harrier conservation – if it did then the deployment of satellite tags on a large scale by private individuals and wildlife NGOs would have to be part of it.

Of course, we taxpayers have paid for satellite (and radio) tags to be deployed on a moderate scale for the last 14 years – but we can’t tell what came out of our investment because it’s almost all secret. I can’t think of another publicly-funded study (of a hot topic too!) which has lasted for 14 years for which there have been so few outputs.

But in 2008 there was an output from Natural England, here are a few quotes:

  • The English Hen Harrier population remains perilously small, with no more than 23
    nesting attempts in any one year in the period 2002-2008.
  • Productivity from successful nests is high, but very few nesting attempts are successful
    on grouse moors.
  • There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season.
  • Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England.

What has changed since then?  Nothing except that the situation has worsened and we have twice elected a government that has done absolutely nothing about this widespread wildlife crime.

If Defra had a Hen Harrier conservation plan then widespread satellite tagging of Hen Harriers would form a major part of it because:

  • we would learn much about movements, habitat use etc (provided the data were anlysed and published)
  • the existence of satellite tags would be a deterrent to wildlife crime which Defra acknowledges (at least I think they do) as being the main problem
  • the existence of satellite tags would aid enforcement of the law in a way that no other approach can do – it will show where crimes occur and when they occur allowing speedier and more effective investigation

bathSo, it really is a no-brainer. And all those who care desperately, about Hen Harrier conservation will no doubt match Defra funding for this element of the Defra non-plan. The RSPB is already doing its bit. LUSH are selling bath bombs to raise more money for tags. ecotricity has promised to fund a tag or two.

No doubt the GWCT will pass the hat around their grouse shooting members, all of whom have a terrible crush on Hen Harriers, to raise a few hundred thousand pounds. The Hawk and Owl Trust will chip in thanks to their hugely enlarged membership. Tim Bonner will make a moving video – apologising to Chris Packham – and promising that the Countryside Alliance will fund several tags, the first three of which will be called Barney, White and Spunner.

Provided tagging is done under licence by qualified individuals then it carries little danger of harm to harriers (large numbers of smaller Montagu’s Harriers are whizzing around the world with similar tags right now) but it is important that standards are maintained in that respect.

The war against this wildlife crime will be won not in the corridors of Whitehall but on the moors of upland Britain when the ability to detect and investigate wildlife crime is greatly enhanced by the deployment of a non-secret weapon of mass detection.




14 Replies to “Satellite tags”

  1. Slam dunk! The case is pretty unanswerable.

    Also, not much makes me actually, literally, laugh out loud but I emitted a hearty “Ha!” at your naming suggestion for the CA’s tags. Good to have a chortle among the serious business of fighting for hen harriers.

  2. I would like to believe your assertion that tagging will reduce
    Wildlife crime but recent evidence suggests otherwise. Tagged harriers
    go missing with alarming regularity, they are no barrier to killing HH
    as in most cases now the killers simply ensure the evidence is
    removed and the crime scene ‘clean’. Tags would possibly
    reveal more evidence of individual HH’s going missing but the current
    problem with battery charging and the subsequent gap in movement
    always provides the criminals with a ‘get out’. (as highlighted in your NE post).
    Maybe we just need to nationalise grouse moors to ensure they are managed within the

    1. Alan – thanks, but that is a ‘glass-half-empty’ response if ever I heard one. Compared with a few years ago we already know vastly more about where Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles are dying. Bowland Betty would not have been a story – a story of a wandering harrier who was shot in grouse moor country – if not tagged. We wouldn’t have know about Sky and Hope either. Nor about the Langholm tagged bird that was found killed. And I am confident there is more to come. more tags, more time, more publicity – more convictions – more impact.

      1. Mark it’s not half empty just realistic, as I said tags reveal some birds
        that have been killed as you have listed but it
        didn’t prevent those same individuals or others from dying at the hands of the criminals did it? I’m not saying don’t tag, just don’t pretend that it will end
        the killing, it won’t.

        1. Alan – I was trying to be kind by suggesting half full – more like a quarter full. You cannot use the recent past as a true indication of the future. Tagging would build up a very good picture of risk of birds in different habitats, survival rate etc. It will, if deployed to a much greater extent, hasten the end of wildlife crime in a way that nothing much else can.

  3. Yes definitely good idea to name tagged harriers after prominent members of the Field Sports sector – they could also be publicly presented with a framed photograph of the chick in question (aaawwww!!!). As they are dead against wildlife crime I am sure they would happily be part of this. Could I nominate Mr Alex Hogg, present chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association as a worthy recipient of this honour?

  4. Tagging on it’s own is unlikely to stop the wildlife persecution, but tagging is not been undertaken in isolation. There are a whole range of conservation measures and inititaitives underway, none of which on their own will lead to the recovery of the hen harrier. Satellite tagging is part of the mix, along with hen harrier day, sky dancer type projects, inglorious book, raising awareness through petitions, Henry and Harry the hen harriers, bathbombs (the list goes on and on). There is no single quick fix for halting the killing of hen harriers (and other raptors), but new technology such as satellite tagging, and the recent evolution of social media, is starting to tip the balance in our favour. Without tags there would have been no Annie, no Betty, no Skye or Hope, and without Twitter etc nobody would have heard of any of these birds and the circumstances around their untimely ends. I guess I’m a glass half full kinda guy.

    (Can we call one Beefy, and one Harry (after a certain Prince, rather than Findlay’s wonderful ‘scarecrow’))

  5. Mark you make a very valid point in this whole satelitte tagging of raptors business ”it is imortant that standards are maintained”.
    Over the last few years I’ve encountered two Golden Eagles in Angus with harnessing problems. I ask the question is this human error acceptable? Either Dave or myself would be most interested on any comments on this very serious issue.
    For details of the above please refer to a recent article written by David Adam.

    1. Aren’t some of them already in public ownership?

      …. & some of their tenants carry on regardless?

  6. Is there anything we can do to try and get Defra to publish the Hen Harrier Sub-Group Action Plan? Feeling pretty powerless but would like to do something – anything – to try and start the discussion on ‘rebrooding’…

  7. Great write-up, I am regular visitor of one’s website, maintain up the nice operate, and It’s going to be a regular visitor for a lengthy time.

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