NEWS: Two rare hen harriers disappear in suspicious circumstances (RSPB press release)

RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to move quickly to introduce the licensing of grouse shooting, following the disappearance of two more satellite-tagged hen harriers on moors in the Cairngorms National Park revealed on BBC Scotland’s Landward this evening.  

As detailed in the programme, Marlin, a young male, fledged from a nest at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire in 2018, while Hoolie, another male, came from a nest in Easter Ross in the same year.  

Before they left their nests, both birds were fitted with a satellite tags as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project which have allowed experts to track their movements ever since. Marlin flew south after fledging and spent the last two winters in North Yorkshire. Hoolie crossed the sea to Ireland, returning there for the last two winters, where his movements have been closely followed by Irish ornithologists.  

In March 2020 Hoolie returned to Scotland, most likely with a view to finding a mate and raising chicks of his own. However, a month later his tag suddenly stopped transmitting. His last transmitted location was on 5 April and showed he was over an area of moorland intensively managed for grouse shooting near Newtonmore, in the Cairngorms National Park. He disappeared close to where another tagged hen harrier Lad was found dead, with injuries consistent with being shot, in 2015. 

Just three days later, on 8 April, Marlin’s tag also stopped suddenly. He too had returned to Scotland, and his last transmitted position was over a driven grouse moor near Strathdon, West Aberdeenshire, in the Cairngorms National Park. Last April, another Mar Lodge hen harrier, Marci, also disappeared suspiciously, less than a kilometre away, on the same grouse moor.  

When a tagged hen harrier dies of natural causes the tag continues to transmit its location allowing for the body to be recovered. Police Scotland carried out searches for the birds but neither the tags or the bodies were found, and neither tag has transmitted further data.   

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “Scotland had only just been put into lockdown in early April and yet protected birds of prey equipped with highly reliable technology have disappeared on land managed for driven grouse moors. The fact that these two birds have disappeared very close to where other similar incidents have occurred only heightens suspicions that these birds can be added to the very long list of protected birds of prey killed on grouse moors. 

The Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse moor management, published at the end of last year accepted the need for regulation of grouse shooting but proposed a five year probationary period to allow populations of hen harriers and other birds of prey on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status. We believe that this approach is unworkable in practice and urge the introduction of a licensing scheme as soon as possible.”.



4 Replies to “NEWS: Two rare hen harriers disappear in suspicious circumstances (RSPB press release)”

  1. It is just incredible that circumstances allow this criminality to persist. It shames this country, it shames the Government’s concerned and it shames the politicians They standby and do nothing to control the shooters and the criminals associated with the shooters. Banning driven grouse shooting would put a stop to all this lawlessness. Unfortunately most politicians act or in these cases don’t act, out of self interest and this is probably very applicable concerning the issues around driven grouse shooting.

  2. Begs the question if the gun laws/regulations need overhaul? I seem to recall that the licence fee doesn’t even cover the administrative costs of issue? In cash strapped times why should the public fund private individuals pleasure through the police service who have to administer the licence issue?

    Maybe we could get a reduced road tax fee for people who bird watch, or NHS staff who have been the heroes of the pandemic? Why is slaughter of game treated as a special case?

    There’s a strong case now surely for some kind of identity determinant to be present on ammunition? Part of the annual licence process could involve establishing that they are compliant? OK it won’t stop these ‘few bad apples’ from illegal activity but every little helps? Particularly as the industry has failed to bring to a halt illegal activity and wildlife crime which appears to underpin grouse shooting.

  3. Certainly appalling but we are not shocked anymore, although we ought to be. There is more than adequate proof that Hen Harriers are all too frequently killed by criminals on grouse moors. Far too frequently for it to be other than people who are legitimately there. It really is way beyond time that Governments attention was drawn to this by the statutory bodies and something concrete and meaningful done about it, both sides of the border. Platitudes, promises and woeful experiments pandering to the majority criminal elements within grouse shooting no longer cut it. Time politicians got a grip of this and legislated against it and those doing it in a meaningful way, this cannot be allowed to continue.
    Then again I’ll not be holding my breath.

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