The two birds are called ‘Holly’ and ‘Chance’.
Holly had her satellite tag fitted in June this year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group, assisted by the MOD Police and was one of three chicks from a nest located on high security MOD land at Coulport. She was named after a member of the production crew from BBC Scotland’s Landward programme after appearing in a special feature about hen harriers and the threats these birds face from illegal killing (see here). Holly fledged in August and has since left her natal area, moving in to the uplands of central Scotland.
Chance had her sat tag fitted in June last year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and was named by RSPB Scotland staff. She travelled south from her nest in SW Scotland to the RSPB Wallasea Reserve in Essex at the end of October (2014), before crossing the Channel to spend the winter months in western France. Chance came back to the UK in spring this year but has since returned to France via Wales.
The RSPB’s explanation for sat tagging these two hen harriers (and others) is: ‘To better understand the threats they face and identify the places they are most at risk‘.
To be frank, there is already a very good understanding of the threats they face and of the places they are most at risk; it’s been known for at least 20 years that these birds are illegally killed by gamekeepers on driven grouse moors. It’s no mystery and it’s no secret.
However, that’s not to say that continued satellite-tagging is without purpose. There’s a very important reason for continuing to do it, and that is to raise public awareness by getting people ‘involved’ with these individual birds (hence, giving them names) and showing people the birds’ movements (via online maps) so that when they are eventually shot, trapped, poisoned, or they simply ‘disappear’ in grouse moor areas (it’s inevitable), the public outcry will be considerable and the subsequent pressure on the authorities to actually do something about it will be greater. That is, assuming the police decide to publish the information, but it’ll be harder for them to keep quiet if we all know the birds have stopped moving.
There are already plenty of examples of satellite-tagged hen harriers either ‘disappearing’ or being found shot, so nobody should expect anything different for Holly and Chance. Here are some of the well-known individuals from the last few years:
Hen Harrier Annie – found shot dead on a Scottish grouse moor in April 2015 (here).
Hen Harrier Heather – found shot dead at a winter roost site in Ireland in January 2015 (here).
Hen Harrier Sky – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Lancashire in September 2014 (here).
Hen Harrier Hope – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Lancashire in September 2014 (here).
Hen Harrier Sid – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire in September 2014 (here).
Hen Harrier Blue – ‘disappeared’ somewhere (location not revealed) in October 2013 (here).
Hen Harrier Bowland Betty – found shot on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire in July 2012 (here).
Hen Harrier Tanar – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in Aberdeenshire in June 2011 (here).
Hen Harrier (unnamed) – ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in southern Scotland in October 2011 (here).
And then there were the 47 hen harriers that Natural England sat-tagged between 2007-2014. Last year we were told that four were still known to be alive, six had been found dead, and a staggering 37 birds (78.7%) were ‘missing’ ‘somewhere’ (see here). Natural England has been persistently coy about telling us us where those 37 birds went missing, even though the satellite tagging project has been funded by us taxpayers.
And of course it’s not just hen harriers that we’ve watched meet a premature death. Other species have also been sat-tagged in recent years including Montagu’s harrier ‘Mo’, who ‘disappeared’ on the Queen’s Sandringham Estate in Norfolk last year (here) as well as at least eleven golden and white-tailed eagles (listed here), including some very high profile cases such as golden eagle Fearnan (found poisoned on a Scottish grouse moor here), golden eagle Alma (found poisoned on a Scottish grouse moor here) an unnamed golden eagle that had been illegally trapped on a Scottish grouse moor before being dumped in a lay by (here) and the first fledged white-tailed eagle in East Scotland for over 200 years who ‘disappeared’ on a Scottish grouse moor (here).
So, contrary to the belief of the Hawk & Owl Trust who earlier this year told us that fitting satellite tags to hen harriers “would prevent any gamekeepers from shooting them in the sky” (see here), gamekeepers don’t give a toss whether the bird in their gun sight is carrying a transmitter or not because they know full well that they are highly unlikely to get caught, let alone prosecuted. Not one of the above cases has resulted in a prosecution. So, no, the purpose of tagging isn’t to directly save the bird, but indirectly it just might, if enough of us follow the online movements of Holly and Chance and all the other tagged harriers that will be part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project and then shout from the rooftops when each bird is illegally killed. It’s going to happen, and we are going to shout.
Top photo: Bowland Betty alive (photo Jude Lane).
Bottom photo: Bowland Betty dead (photo RSPB).