New five-year hen harrier project launched

hen-harrier Gordon LangsburyA £1.8 million five-year project has been launched, aiming ‘to achieve a secure and sustainable future’ for hen harriers in northern England and parts of southern and eastern Scotland.

Funded by the EU LIFE scheme, this project will include elements of monitoring (at nests and key winter roosts as well as funding a national hen harrier survey in 2016), satellite tagging, habitat management, investigations work (two new RSPB Investigation Officer posts have been funded), community engagement, community consultation and stakeholder engagement.

The project will focus on seven so-called Special Protection Areas (SPAs) designated for breeding hen harriers, two in England and five in Scotland. These are:

Bowland Fells

North Pennine Moors

Glen Tanar

Forest of Clunie

Muirkirk and North Lowther Upland

Langholm-Newcastleton Hills

Glenn App and Galloway Moors

However, given the tiny breeding population in these areas, it’s quite likely that project work will extend in to other areas, too.

RSPB press release here

BBC news article here

It’s good to see that the project is being managed by Blanaid Denman, who led the RSPB’s (award-winning!) Skydancer Project in northern England and did an excellent job of raising awareness about this species’ plunge towards extinction in that region. It’s also good to see that satellite-tagging will play a prominent role – let’s hope the RSPB will allow us to follow the movements of the tagged harriers and that they’ll publicise the locations of where the birds’ transmitters suddenly cease (which of course is bound to happen), unlike Natural England who have failed miserably in this respect for the last 12 years. Given that the RSPB recently published the last known locations of Bowland harriers Sky and Hope, who ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Lancashire last month (see here), we’re optimistic that this information will again be forthcoming with the newly tagged birds.

We were particularly interested in the BBC’s report about this new project (see link above). That article includes the following statement:

The birds continue to face threats. In June 2014 two orphaned hen harrier chicks were hand-reared by wildlife experts after the female bird was illegally shot in East Ayrshire‘.

Why is that statement interesting? Well, because at the time of this harrier’s death, Police Scotland refused to reveal the cause of death (see here). They said:

Whilst at this time we cannot divulge how the bird was killed, we do believe it was the result of a criminal act and we need to establish why this has happened“.

Wonder how their ‘investigation’ is going, and whether they’ve yet worked out why this harrier was found shot on a grouse moor? Idiots.

Talking of investigations in to illegally-killed hen harriers, wonder how this one is coming along – a hen harrier found shot dead on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor a year ago.

Or how about this one? The alleged ‘coordinated hunting’ of a male hen harrier on another Aberdeenshire grouse moor, nearly 18 months ago.

Or how about this one? The allegation that ‘someone’ killed a hen harrier ‘somewhere’ in Aberdeenshire in June 2013. This case was passed to the Crown Office ten months ago….no news since.

The press release about this new EU-funded project is pretty much focused on ‘let’s get everyone working together to help our hen harriers’. Whilst that’s a noble aim (and we sincerely wish Blanaid and her team the best of luck with that), it’s probably not going to happen. The killing will continue, the killers will deny all knowledge and they’ll more than likely get away with it. Where this project may have a greater impact is the bringing forward of more evidence of the killing; not that more evidence is needed – we all know it’s happening and where it’s happening. But more evidence from more satellite tags and more evidence from more investigators on the ground. That evidence can only add to the current evidence base, and to the growing anger, and will help us to apply more pressure on the politicians who have the ultimate responsibility for protecting these birds.

Hen harrier photo by Gordon Langsbury

6 thoughts on “New five-year hen harrier project launched”

  1. I hope that the value of this £1.8m of taxpayers money is deducted from the net value of £millions that grouse shooting is alleged to bring to the economy. Of course there would be no need for this expense and the LIFE funds could be spent elsewhere were it not for the criminality of a minority.

  2. Current laws should suffice in ensuring the safety of our birds of prey. But they do not!

    What difference will the new project make? The, not so few, criminals that kill the birds of prey, will not see any reason to stop. Unless the birds can shoot back or we can get the guilty imprisoned and their bosses subsidies stopped.

  3. Surely this is GOOD NEWS ?! despite the overwhelming odds and the weight of the; gun-wielding, poison-ridden, land-owning establishmnet ?
    Surely it is an enormous positive step in terms of releasing funds to support the cause, advertising the cause and acknowledging the problem officially ?

  4. I was talking to a friend about hen harrier and other birds of prey persecution and how satellite gps was giving last known position data.

    He commented on how is the data transmitted? Is it encrypted?

    If not what is stopping the criminals collecting the data to continue their crimes?

    He suggested the encryption of gps data to protect the location data ensuring it is only available to the RSPB and other legitimate users.

    Does this happen and if not why not?

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