Yet another satellite-tagged Hen Harrier, this one called Chance, has disappeared – her last known location (when transmitting a strong signal) was on a south Lanarkshire grouse moor. This sounds as though it must be in the same general area where Annie (pictured above) died. Add in Highlander whose satellite tag stopped transmitting abruptly on a Durham moor and the disappearance of Bowland Betty (shot in the Yorkshire Dales – and found on a grouse moor) and of Sky and Hope (tagged in the Forest of Bowland and both disappearing on a nearby moor) and you can see why I advised not getting too attached to satellite-tagged Hen Harriers. Holly too, has died but hers is a death that appears, fairly surely, to have been due to natural causes. You have a slim chance of survival whatever your name if you are a Hen Harrier visiting grouse moors, it seems.
Chance was born and died in Scotland – soon to be a former member of the ununitedUK. Just imagine how it will become more difficult to keep an overview of these events when there is a border between us – it won’t happen at once but we will grow apart.
The good news is that the RSPB has simultaneously announced that they have an active Hen Harrier nest at their Geltsdale nature reserve, where there was a nest last year whose male ‘disappeared’ when away from the nest site (as did four other males from active nests in the Forest of Bowland last year). This is the third in the ‘tiny handful’ of active nests that the RSPB has announced and it is just possible that others might start to nest (although it is getting very late) and there might possibly have been other earlier attempts which might come to light. Whatever the final figure, it’s still a dismal start to the Defra Hen Harrier plan and not nearly good enough.
Let’s hope that this pair of Hen Harriers at Geltsdale fares better than the one last year, and also doesn’t suffer the fate of a bird in that area described by Guy Shorrock in pages 38-40 of Inglorious. Good luck to the RSPB staff and volunteers watching over the nest 24 hours a day – what a ridiculous state of affairs when the birds are at such grave danger because they eat Red Grouse that people want to shoot for fun. I mean – really!
Here is a female Hen Harrier at her nest with chicks – there is enough suitable habitat for over 300 Hen Harrier pairs in England and yet this year it seems as though the number is three or so, not three hundred.
The very best way to stand a chance of seeing more nesting Hen Harriers in England is to get rid of driven grouse shooting, which as well as being underpinned by wildlife crime is also an unsustainable land use that disrupts ecosystem services that benefit us all.