Press release – Moorland Association

Trail Camera

Satellite data from an innovative scheme to help boost England’s Hen Harrier population has shed new light on the activities of the birds at the centre of the initiative.

Five Hen Harriers which fledged this summer were fitted with satellite tags as part of a trial of a brood management scheme in which a brood was removed from the moors and transferred to the ‘Ritz’ of raptor rearing facilities. There they were reared in pens before being relocated to moors in the north of England where they were released.

The data from the satellite tagged harriers give conservationists an insight into the flying habits of the iconic bird, an invaluable tool as part of the government-led action plan to boost the harrier population.

One of the male Hen Harriers has travelled close to 1800 miles since it was tagged, averaging approximately 55 miles per day. The bird travelled as far west to the coast of southern Ireland, went on to  Southampton, London and then up to Wales before returning to the north.

The other birds all have all remained closer to home in the north of England. 

Two of the birds’ tags have currently stopped transmitting, raising obvious concerns regarding their wellbeing. Investigations are underway to establish the whereabouts of the birds. The tags are solar powered, which can result in stretches of time where no data is transmitted, and have malfunctioned in the past with tagged birds being spotted from the ground or the transmitter suddenly retransmitting.

Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association, which is a partner in the brood management scheme trial, said: “This data provides a fascinating insight into the behaviour of these captive-reared young harriers. They appear to have integrated very well and their behaviour seems the same as totally wild tagged harriers. Most of the birds have been content to fly around the uplands and grouse moors which is territory they know and like. The adventures of the bird which travelled further afield are extraordinary and show that the species is quite capable of covering vast distances.

Moorland Association members are enthusiastic participants in this scheme and extensive efforts are ongoing to trace the two birds which have stopped transmitting. The areas to search are massive over difficult moorland terrain hunting for a well camouflaged bird the size of a big crow. Whilst it is expected that at least 50% of birds will succumb to natural causes of death in the first 6 months we very much hope to find the birds alive or at least find them to establish cause of death.

Andrew Gilruth from the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust added: “It is already well known that Hen Harriers fly south to overwinter in Wiltshire and Hampshire but this technology reveals that these young birds appear perfectly content to silently move across vast swathes of the country, without anyone appearing to have the faintest idea.

2019 has been a hugely encouraging year for Hen Harrier with a total of 15 nests, 12 of which were successful in fledging young and a total of 47 chicks fledged – a record breaking total- and the large majority on grouse moors.

Earlier this year as part of the Defra Hen Harrier Recovery Plan, Natural England issued a licence permitting the trial of a brood management scheme of Hen Harriers with the long-term aim of increasing their numbers across England.

The licence permits the removal of Hen Harrier eggs and/or chicks to a world-class dedicated hatching and rearing facility, where they are reared in captivity, before being transferred to specially-constructed pens in Hen Harrier breeding habitat, from which they are then re-introduced into the wild in the uplands of northern England. This intervention may only occur where Hen Harrier nests have reached an agreed density.


Mark writes: how interesting.

  • two birds are missing. Speculation would be idle of course but it is interesting that the press release states (more or less) that the birds whose tags have gone strangely quiet are being searched for by Moorland Association members and that the areas to search are massive. Makes you wonder whether these areas might be grouse moors doesn’t it?
  • no quote from Natural England? Why not?
  • there is no suggestion that anyone with any information should contact the police – nor which police force.
  • the map of where the male bird went is slightly odd as it shows the bird stopping short of the Irish coast (but maybe within sight of my favourite island of Rockabill), does not show it returning across the Irish Sea and does not show it returning to the north of England as per the text.

13 Replies to “Press release – Moorland Association”

  1. Wee Mandy can see the missing birds “oot the windae”.
    They forgot the theory which involves nomadic wind turbines suddenly springing out of the heather- before silently moving twnety miles to the west.

    1. What a farce this all is. The only way to stop this slaughter of our raptors by what are little better than thugs, is to ban driven grouse shooting, take away the guns, ( no one should be allowed to own a gun) and slap very heavy tines on land owners where persecution of raptors occurs.

  2. I don’t think it is idle to speculate why 2 birds out of these 5 have stopped transmitting and why Moorland Association members, enthusiastic participants in this scheme, are able to provide extensive efforts are ongoing to trace the two birds which have stopped transmitting. They presumably are not having to travel far to search the last known locations. The last known location of the tag, in common with those from the RSPB, is likely on land belonging to a Moorland Association member. That is not strange, and the pleas to leave Hen Harriers alone may not have worked as well as hoped. 3 more to go…..
    I’m pleased that we know 2 have gone missing, so thanks for that, although I’d prefer that much more information was released, as the RSPB and the police do in other circumstances.
    I’d go so far as to suggest that the likely fate of the 2 missing birds would not prove to be speculation if we could trust the MA members. It does show the stupidity of the scheme that 40% of these birds are already missing in September. Over to Hawk and Owl Trust. Sorry, forgot, we cannot be sure of the fate of these 2 birds and the others that follow them into an unknown end.

  3. Looks like the only new insight is so far only 40% have disappeared so far. Who knew male hen harriers often flew long distances from nest areas before returning and that others didn’t start too far? Cutting edge science!
    I wonder if the police were informed about protected birds of prey going missing? Or even Natural England have any comments at all. It’d be interesting to see the maps of the two missing birds, just to see where they were when they ended transmission . I’d imagine the only chance of that happening would be if they were around wind farms (real or imaginary)

  4. Are Natural England immune to the Freedom of Information Act? Maybe see if they issued a licence to kill the two missing! Wouldn’t surprise me sadly ‍♀️

  5. How acutely embarrassing for those who signed off this daft project, they effectively licensed the death of these birds? Will we see any accountability anywhere?

    Happy to be proven wrong when the stalwarts of the nature conservation fraternity find the birds fit and well flying around grouse moors 😉

  6. So a widely-roaming Hen Harrier managed to fly from Hampshire to Cumbria, seemingly without its tag even once being detected ‘en route’, it appears.

    Pull the other one, Moorland Association. That’s what a satellite tag did, removed from one of the harriers your members shot or trapped, ably assisted by a late-model Range Rover.. After which it was given to one of RR owner’s chums to drop off from his yacht while it was out cruising the Irish coast.

  7. The press release mentions that the solar powered satellite tags ‘malfunction’. Do other tagging schemes use similar tags and if so, to what extent do those tags ‘malfunction’? As an aside, I notice that the Roy Dennis Foundation managed to recover one of its tagged ospreys when it stopped transmitting in Morocco last week.

  8. Apperently according to the Beijing swift/cuckoo project (per OBC meeting last weekend) the manufacturers of the tags strongly contest that their tags fail, not surprising when they cost £3k each.
    Do these manufacturers accept that there is a high failure when they are attached to Hen Harriers, I think not.

  9. This whole exercise is nothing more than a shop front to make the landowners, gamekeepers, moorland assoc. and natural England look like they care. Pulling the wool over our eyes or trying to comes to mind.

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