Satellite-tagged hen harrier Holly “has died”

Hen Harrier Holly 2015Three weeks ago we blogged (here) about two Hen Harrier chicks that had been satellite-tagged as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project. The two birds were named Holly and Chance, and members of the public could follow their movements on the Hen Harrier Life+ Project website.

Chance was a 2014 bird from SW Scotland, and she traveled to France for the 2014 winter, then back to the UK in spring 2015, and is currently back in France.

Holly was a 2015 bird from a site on MOD ground in Argyll. She fledged in August 2015 and in mid-October was reported to have dispersed to ‘the uplands of Central Scotland’.

The following statement has just appeared on the Hen Harrier Life+ Project website:

Holly – Latest Movements

“Unfortunately, recent data received from Holly’s satellite tag suggests that she has died. This is being followed up, and we will provide further information as soon as possible”.

There isn’t any further detail provided. The wording above suggests that her corpse has not been recovered (if it had, project staff would know for definite that she was dead, rather than inferring death from her sat tag signal). If that is the case, then obviously the cause of death can’t be ascertained until her body has been retrieved and examined. It’s hard not to assume the worst given the grouse-shooting industry’s inherent hatred and intolerance of this species, but it’s also worth being cautious at this stage. As unlikely as it sounds, it’s entirely possible that her sat tag has simply dropped off and it is just the tag that’s drilling a hole in the map. Time will tell.

We look forward to further updates from the project team.

Photo of Holly from the RSPB Hen Harrier Life+ Project website.

30 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier Holly “has died””

    1. The satellite tag will be sending a signl from the same spot as long as the solar batteries remain charged. It is very unlikely that the harness has broken so the body will remain in the last position unless deliberately removed and hidden. We have found many ospreys in various countries when the dreaded static signal is sent. It is nearly always due to human interference when this occurs.

    1. that case there is a good likelihood the last signal would be from the location of a wind turbine. Or if the transmitter is intact, the running signal would be from such a site…. It is too early to cast aspersions. The usual cause of death is more usually down to everything else but wind turbines! Guns or a poison.

  1. Why should Grouse shoots be automatically blamed for this birds death when there is a myriad of potential causes, lets not forget its been proven that keepered shoots actually contribute to the conservation of raptors by managing their habitat in a positive way.

    1. Grouse shoots haven’t been “automatically blamed for this bird’s death” – please re-read the blog.

      Your last statement is somewhat misleading! There’s a large and compelling body of scientific evidence that demonstrates some keepered shoots (mostly intensively managed driven grouse moors) do not contribute to the conservation of some raptor species….they do the exact opposite.

      1. The statement “It’s hard not to assume the worst given the grouse-shooting industry’s inherent hatred and intolerance of this species” seems to me to indicate the writers jumping in with both feet to blame the shooting fraternity from the off so why not comment on energy companies & their wind farms etc. On the matter of moorland conservation I understood there to be scientific evidence to prove keepered moors attract far more wildlife species than un-kept moorland so providing more food for raptors?

        1. Ah yes, but you’ve conveniently forgotten to read the end of that sentence, which reads: “…..but it is also worth being cautious at this stage”.

          As for your claim that “keepered moors attract far more wildlife species than un-kept moorland so providing more food for raptors”, it doesn’t make a blind bit of difference how much prey availability there is if those raptors are poisoned, trapped or shot on that moorland!

          1. But surely your now tarring all moor owners/keepers with the same brush, its only a very small proportion of rouge keepers that have been prosecuted for killing raptors!

            1. More tired old cliches. You’ll have to do better than that.

              It’s well established that conviction rate (for raptor persecution) is not an accurate indicator of the extent of the crime. You only have to read a few pages of this blog to understand that. Instead, try looking at the scientific papers that show POPULATION-LEVEL effects of persecution…..golden eagle, red kite, hen harrier…all with severely limited distribution on driven grouse moors. It takes more than ‘a few rogue gamekeepers’ to have this level of effect.

            2. Is the Pope a Catholic? Christopher, I don’t know where you’re coming from, but you’re either being naive or disingenuous. Even the Game & Wildlife Conservancy Trust believes that Hen Harriers need to be reduced to a density of one pair per ten-kilometre square, way below the natural population level. They might be suggesting this is done non-lethally (a ridiculous unscientific “brood management” scheme which will never work), but it indicates their conviction that harrier numbers need to be controlled for the sake of “improving” their Victorian hobby of shooting grouse. This attitude is anachronistic, socially and ecologically irresponsible, and the only civilised solution is to end grouse shooting.

                1. What does that really mean? If you believe that it is ethically okay to reduce harrier numbers deliberately to make grouse shooting more productive, then I find your opinion pretty biased and abhorrent. There is little point in debating with someone with such fundamentalist views.

        2. I would happily debate with you on your statement that “keepered moors attract far more wildlife species than un-kept moorland”. Can you provide any evidence for this belief?

          1. Really where I was coming from re that statement was more in reference to Hen Harriers & their success in breeding on keepered Moorland, one paper I have read is:

            Hen harriers on a Scottish grouse moor: multiple factors predict breeding density and productivity
            David Baines* andMichael Richardson
            Article first published online: 30 AUG 2013
            DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.12154
            Journal of Applied Ecology © 2013 British Ecological Society

            But there is:

            Changes in breeding success and abundance of ground-nesting moorland birds in relation to the experimental deployment of legal predator control
            Kathy Fletcher1,*, Nicholas J. Aebischer2, David Baines1, Robin Foster1 andAndrew N. Hoodless2
            Article first published online: 8 MAR 2010
            DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2010.01793.x
            © 2010 The Authors. Journal compilation © 2010 British Ecological Society


            Click to access Research-White-Paper-Grouse-shooting-and-management.pdf

            1. So, you deliberately provided a factually inaccurate comment, then?

              I’ve asked you for evidence to support your statement, and it is patently obvious that you cannot provide any, then you shift the goalposts and provide some papers produced by those involved with the shooting industry (and therefore a clearly biased view).

              Not exactly what was asked, so I will give you another opportunity to redeem yourself. You stated that “keepered moors attract far more wildlife species than un-kept moorland”, and I would still like an answer to that question. I believe the statement to be an outright lie, and it is a typical of the propagandist nonsense used by shooting industry “experts”, so I will make it even easier for you.

              Never mind a list of all of these species that are supposedly found only on keepered grouse moors, just provide the name of one species that will be found on keepered moors, but not on un-keepered moorland.

              1. It is possible that Christopher is desperately searching through the records of poorly recorded invertebrate groups and trying to match the least recorded ones up to a known grouse moor, in the vain hope that other records do not correspond with un-keepered moors.

                Or perhaps he just can’t find any evidence at all that will back up his claim!

            2. Christopher, you may as well compare apples to pears. “Un-keepered moors” vary tremendously in their degrees of agricultural improvement, over-grazing and consequently in biodiversity, so it is perfectly easy to bias the sample deliberately or unintentionally. Grouse moors are by necessity associated with heather, often with extensive areas of blanket bog, with predators artificially removed creating an imbalance, so it is hardly surprising that certain species become more abundant. This effect tends to gradually wear off, due to disease and other factors, hence grouse moors which produced up to 2,000 brace per season immediately following removal of predators, are now lucky if they produce 200 brace. We know that predators act as an essential natural control mechanism and stabilising factor, as game managers are very quick to point out when they feel the predators themselves “have no natural enemies.” I often imagine a first-year class of trainee gamekeepers sitting at their desks repeating this mantra all day long.

  2. Of course we can blame them, because it’s a vicious circle. Gamekeepers deliberately perpetuate the myths that stem from the earlier days of ignorance, and stereotype predators as ruthless killers of their target species, the Red Grouse. This helps to justify their existence and keep their jobs. Despite advances in the science of ecology, and a greater knowledge of natural history, certain sectors of society, including the gamekeepers’ employers, continue to believe these myths. Even the Carrion Crow is ruthlessly persecuted quite legally, yet there is no scientific evidence which proves the contention that predation of grouse eggs by that species (the main allegation justifying their slaughter) is at all significant. They serve the same “purpose” in the ecosystem as predators, except mainly by scavenging, and in a real sense they are harmless, and deserve protection the same as any other wild bird. Most gamekeepers, although some might deny it, go into the profession because they love the outdoors and the feeling of freedom and job satisfaction it provides (often on less than minimum wage), but they also do it because they belong to a subculture that loves killing wildlife. This is a primitive hunting urge which most of us have learned to control, or have decided not to pursue for intellectual or ethical reasons. It’s called civilisation.

    1. Jack careful what you say here..just because research in some cases shows that raptors have a less than devastating effect on grouse doesnt mean they will not have some effect..but all of that is besides the point..which is that our civilisation through democratic means has created laws protecting the raptors because it is and has been for a long time the will of the people of the UK.[hence the constant strengthening of these laws] The shooting industry/lobby/managers have shown for grouse moors at least, that they will not stop breaking the laws of the land. Therefore their right to shoot driven grouse will be taken away. If conservationists exaggerate their case without science to back it up, it just prolongs the whole situation…To sum up, driven grouse shooting = illegal predator control = a ban on driven grouse shooting.

  3. Dave, I’m completely baffled by your piece of advice to me, and can’t find anything in what I said that either states or implies that raptors have no effect on grouse. Please explain. Of course all raptors and predators in general have some effect on their prey species (and vice versa), but that’s nature. I have explained in previous posts that there is plenty scientific evidence that harriers do not normally take as many grouse as the shooting industry would have us believe. I can’t agree with you that fundamental facts like these are “besides the point.” I agree that conservationists should not exaggerate their case, and have always been a strong advocate of such. I’m very careful myself with that principle, so am intrigued as to what you consider to be exaggeration on my part. Sometimes I think we forget that grouse are wild birds, not free range chickens.

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