A Hen Harrier called River fitted with a satellite tag at a nest in Lancashire in summer 2018. Photo: RSPB

River, a Hen Harrier from Lancashire disappeared in an area of grouse moor in the Nidderdale AONB (a notorious raptor-persecution hotspot) in North Yorkshire in November 2018. She was one of several young tagged Hen Harriers that didn’t even make it to Christmas, yet alone to their first birthday, let alone to raising eggs and chicks themselves. It’s a familiar story these days – sad but familiar.

But this story has a twist. In March, River’s tag started to transmit again very close to the location of her last satellite transmission in November, and that allowed her body to be recovered and to be X-rayed and at least one piece of shot was recovered from the decomposed corpse.

Hen Harrier River’s decomposing body recovered on a grouse moor of the Swinton Estate in North Yorkshire. Photo: RSPB.

It’s a bit odd that the satellite tag went quiet for a few months and then came back to life again but it’s quite possible to think of circumstances that could allow that to happen. For example, a shot, injured bird falls into a place where the tag could not be charged up by the weak winter sunlight and stops transmitting. The corpse is then disturbed in some way, perhaps by a fox, and recharges in the stronger spring sunshine and starts beeping away again. It’s a bit odd but not completely out of the question.

The RSPB blog states ‘Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police.‘. What happened to the other one? And why was one ‘later’ retrieved? That’s a bit odd too. And why did it take so long to X-ray a Hen Harrier corpse and tell the RSPB what was happening? That’s a bit odd too.

Henry Morris and friends pause on their run, less than a week ago, to mark the spot where Bowland Betty’s body was recovered on the Swinton estate. Henry ran 200km in 4 days to highlight Hen harrier persecution – see his crowdfunder here. Photo: RSPB Birders

River’s story will remind many of Bowland Betty’s – she was fledged in Lancashire, in the Forest of Bowland, and travelled widely around the uplands of England and Scotland, made several visits to Nidderdale but her corpse was eventually found on the Swinton Estate – the very same grouse shooting estate where River’s corpse was found. No-one can say where the birds were shot, just where their bodies were found.

But the day after River disappeared in November a man was filmed walking through a Hen Harrier winter roost at night – a roost which I believe that River had used.

You only have to look at RPUK’s map of disappeared Hen Harriers and Red Kites in the Nidderdale AONB to see that this general area is bandit country.

Map of Niddedale AONB (yellow outline) with confirmed illegally killed Red Kites (red dots), disappeared Hen Harriers (orange stars), where Bowland Betty was recovered (red star) and an approximate location of River’s last resting place (which we now know should be much closer to the red star denoting Bowland Betty)

And these are just the ones we know about – only a small proportion of birds of prey are tagged and only a small proportion of illegally killed birds are found and recovered. How full of red dots and orange stars would that map be if we knew about them all? It would be massively more occupied with records of illegally killed birds. This is a disgrace – it’s a local disgrace, a Yorkshire disgrace and a national disgrace, and yet Defra ministers sit down south and turn their faces from the problem that they have known about for years.

We are told there are just a few bad apples in the grouse shooting industry and we are told that no-one knows who they are. Well, at least one of them is being remarkably active in Nidderdale AONB and has been for many years. He, for I bet it would be a he, has been some very active bad apple!

A few bad apples? Raptor persecution is rife in grouse shooting and this government is mates with the industry that has those criminal elements embedded in it. Michael Gove and Therese Coffey you are guilty too – guilty of wilful blindness and of doing nothing.

Now let us turn to Natural England. This blog has heard the rumours for weeks that the (or maybe ‘a’) Hen Harrier nest from which eggs or chicks were taken this summer, under Natural England licence, was on the Swinton estate. This same unlucky estate. That may not be true but I reckon it probably is. It is time now for Natural England to come clean on where the brood-meddled nest was, how they feel that things are going and the decision-making process for this year. Tony Juniper, the relatively new Chair of Natural England made the unwise decision to praise broodmeddling as a way forward but Natural England are actually acting as though brood meddling is a guilty secret between them and the Moorland Association. It is time for Natural England to spill the beans. How far from Bowland Betty’s recovered body and how far from River’s recovered body was the brood-meddled nest? Natural England need to be straight with us all – spill the beans, and spill them soon.


2 Replies to “River”

  1. Every disappearance is a tragedy but as the evidence piles up the ‘plausible deniability’ strategy of the driven-grouse industry becomes ever more untenable and sooner or later Coffey will be pushed off her fence and forced to acknowledge (i) the seriousness of the problem, (ii) the direction that all the evidence points in regarding why/by whom the birds are being killed and (iii) the utter ineffectiveness of the government’s current approach to the problem of raptor persecution. If only in that sense, these birds will not have died in vain.

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