RSPB press release – another missing Hen Harrier

Vulcan – another missing Hen Harrier, presumed dead.

A young male hen harrier has disappeared in suspicious circumstances in Wiltshire and is believed most likely to be dead.

The harrier, named Vulcan, was one of five chicks to fledge from a nest in Northumberland last summer. He was fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, which enabled the nature conservation charity to track his movements.  

Vulcan was tracked by the RSPB moving from Northumberland down to the Peak District where he remained throughout September. He then continued to head further south through Hampshire and Dorset. On 16 January 2019, Vulcan’s tag sent out its final transmission, from a location south of Calstone Wellington in Wiltshire.

RSPB Investigations staff searched the area, which is farmland and heavily managed for pheasant and partridge shooting, but there was no sign of Vulcan or his tag. He has not been heard from since and the matter was reported to Wiltshire Police.

Satellite tagging technology is commonly used to follow the movements of birds. Tags continue to transmit regularly, even when the bird dies, and until the tag reaches the end of its lifespan. Vulcan’s tag was providing regular updates on the bird’s location, so the sudden and unexpected ending of transmission is suspicious and could suggest criminal interference. Vulcan is the 11th satellite-tagged hen harrier to disappear since last summer.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey with only nine successful nests recorded in England in 2018 despite sufficient habitat for over 300 pairs. An overwhelming body of scientific evidence suggests that the main reason for their low numbers is illegal killing associated with driven grouse shooting.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said: ‘When a bird you’ve been following since it was a chick suddenly disappears without a trace, it’s a crushing blow. Vulcan’s tag had been performing brilliantly, so for it to suddenly stop transmitting makes us very suspicious that something has happened to him.

Wiltshire is not the only place where hen harriers have disappeared in unexplained circumstances. Since last summer 10 other satellite-tagged hen harriers have also vanished suddenly across the UK including in Northumberland, the Peak District, Wales and Scotland. There is a very worrying trend here.’.

Vulcan’s suspicious disappearance may prove a hurdle for the proposed southern reintroduction of hen harriers. Natural England is currently looking into the feasibility of introducing hen harriers from the continent to Parsonage Down National Nature Reserve, near Salisbury Plain.

Gareth Cunningham, RSPB Head of Nature Policy, said: ‘The disappearance of Vulcan raises serious concerns over the safety of any planned reintroduction. The RSPB has serious reservations about this approach to hen harrier conservation in England and we believe ending hen harrier persecution is the key to restoring the UK’s population of these magnificent birds. As such, the RSPB does not support the proposed reintroduction.’.

PC Marc Jackson of Wiltshire Police, said: ‘Wiltshire Police have received a report from the RSPB in relation to the missing harrier ‘Vulcan’, and the Rural Crime Team are working with the RSPB to establish the full circumstances surrounding the incident.

To find no trace of this bird raises obvious concerns about what may have happened to it. If anyone has information please contact Wiltshire Police on 101 or Contact Crime stoppers on 0800 555111 if you would prefer to remain anonymous.‘.

Alternatively, anyone with information can call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. Follow @RSPB_Skydancer for the latest hen harrier news


11 Replies to “RSPB press release – another missing Hen Harrier”

  1. I find it amazing that so many politicians and others spring to the support of the grouse shooting industry, even touting their ‘research’ when faced with such clear evidence of the near extinction of Hen Harriers in England and areas of Scotland and Wales where it is practised.
    To my mind they are as culpable as the grouse shooting representative bodies, the estate owners and lastly the gamekeepers who are tasked with their extinction.
    The proportion of satellite tagged birds who vanish without trace is likely to be in excess of 40%, hardly insignificant. The significance of the location of most of the disappearances is clear even without a scientific peer reviewed paper. One must eventually be published to join the score I’ve started keeping.

    1. Dick – it’s a bit difficult to tell exactly as Natural England is cagey about how many it has tagged and what has happened to them, and the RSPB is quite cagey about the total tagged last year. Plus the two organisations never quote each others’ data so you have to do it yourself. And there is a tendency for the RSPB to quote data from Scotland and England separately (and some Scottish birds die in England and some English birds die in Scotland). There isn’t complete clarity.

  2. Ive read these posts again and again but always from far away mainly in the North, Im so upset and angry that this has happened on my doorstep a few miles from my home. I only saw my first Hen Harrier just a few months ago and was so delighted and excited. Words fail me.

  3. If I remember correctly, I think Ian Thomson said in the podcast I listened to that it was around 40%, hardly insignificant.
    I quoted that figure on the RPUK website early this morning, based on the above information and RSPB saying more than 30 were satellite tagged last year, but that is hardly scientific. I’ll try to check exactly what Ian Thomson said as soon as I have some free time. There is, as usual, no danger of finding out from the information provided by NE.

  4. Well, this is pretty shocking.

    Natural England is seriously considering trying to establish another hen harrier population in an area with quite a few shootings estates north and south of Salisbury Plain Training Area (and they shoot on the TA itself). Surely this will antagonise another sector of the shooting community? Hen harriers eat small ground nesters – the odd red-leg partridge chick maybe?

    And stone curlew chicks sitting tight on square bare soil plots in the middle of arable would seem particularly vulnerable given the harrier hunting strategy?

    And why on earth deliberately create a population that’ll nest on arable fields and be vulnerable to crop operations? It costs a small fortune to protect stone curlews nesting in the same area, and NE has cut the budget for that! So now they’re creating another population of arable nesters that’ll absorb another huge chunk of NE funding?!

    Of course, if harriers colonise arable naturally, fair enough – they’ll need protecting – but to deliberately create a vulnerable population?

    This is just stupid.

  5. Field sports supporters complain their representative organisations don’t sing from the same hymn
    This is in a different league.

  6. And I hope those in Spain/France supplying harrier chicks this this ridiculous project are made aware just how unsafe there birds will be.

  7. Ian Thomson said, with many reservations that the fag packet figure of likely killed Hen Harriers from RSPB satellite tagged birds 2015 to 2017 was 44%, (2018 was over 30 birds tagged) so extrapolate that up to the total number of Hen Harriers fledged the number of killed birds is likely to be enormous, with little or no convictions, and in Scotland, no chance of a conviction. Yet.
    New scientific report based upon RSPB tagged birds 2015 or earlier to 2018, please. I’d love to have some idea of how big the iceberg really is.

  8. For interest, and off topic, this is the second time today I’ve had a “Your comment is awaiting moderation…” Now just a last 5 (or 10) comments below the Tweets. Some people are never happy! I however still think this website is the greatest thing since…

  9. I walk my dogs daily on the ridgeway above Calstone Wellington & have been seeing a Hen Harrier regularly, I last saw it on Saturday over the Smallgrains Picnic area car park!

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