Concern as another hen harrier disappears

A young hen harrier from Northumberland has disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a Scottish grouse moor.

Thursday, 15th November 2018, 07:13 am
Hen harrier, Athena, has disappeared.

Athena was one of 11 hen harrier chicks to fledge from nests in Northumberland this summer. She was fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project and her movements were tracked by the nature conservation charity.

After fledging, Athena travelled north into Scotland. Her satellite tag was transmitting regularly when it stopped suddenly and inexplicably on August 16. Her last known position was on a grouse moor a few miles north west of Grantown on Spey in Inverness-shire. As these tags are reliable, a sudden stop suggests criminal interference has taken place. Information about Athena’s disappearance was passed to Police Scotland, but local inquiries have yielded no further information.

Athena is one of eight satellite-tagged hen harriers to disappear in similar circumstances in the UK over the past 10 weeks. Among the other missing birds is Hilma, a Scottish bird, whose last known location on 8 August was near Wooler, Northumberland over land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Satellite tagging technology is increasingly being used to follow the movements of birds of prey, allowing scientists to identify areas important for their feeding, roosting and nesting. The tags are fitted by licensed, trained fieldworkers and are designed to transmit regularly, even after a bird has died. A sudden and unexpected end in transmission suggests criminal interference could have taken place.

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Dr. Cathleen Thomas, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project said: “To have yet another hen harrier disappear is devastating for all of us involved in monitoring these chicks. Athena is just the latest in a long succession of birds to have vanished in suspicious circumstances, with last recorded locations on or near grouse moors. In the past ten weeks alone, there have been eight suspicious disappearances, which represent a further blow for the conservation of a species whose UK population has declined by nearly a quarter since 2004.

“The main factor limiting the hen harrier population in the UK is illegal killing associated with intensive management of driven grouse moors. Young hen harrier chicks already face huge survival challenges in their first few years of life without the added threat of illegal persecution.”