Hen Harriers surviving on grouse moors? Not a Chance in hell

hen-harrier Gordon LangsburyThe RSPB’s Hen Harrier team has today announced the ‘disappearance’ of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

This time it’s a two-year old female called ‘Chance’, whose last sat tag signal came from a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire at the end of May. The RSPB’s Investigations team conducted a search for the body/tag but nothing was found.

Incidentally, this is the same area, dominated by grouse moors, where another sat-tagged hen harrier (Annie) was found shot last year (see here).

As always, this ‘disappearance’ leads to two standpoints. Without conclusive evidence of a carcass or a dropped satellite tag, the grouse-shooting industry can, and will, suggest that the bird hasn’t been killed but rather it’s just a sat tag failure and that Chance is probably still alive, and that it was just pure coincidence that the last sat tag signal came from a grouse moor.

Now that explanation might be plausible if it was the first or second time it had occurred, but the thing is, it isn’t the first or second time this has happened to a sat-tagged hen harrier. We know from past experience that an awful lot of young, sat-tagged hen harriers mysteriously ‘disappear’ when those birds have been visiting grouse moors. In fact, the majority ‘disappear’. According to Natural England data, we know that of 47 young hen harriers that were fitted with sat tags between 2007-2014, a staggering 78.7% of them ‘disappeared’.

And only a couple of weeks ago we were told of another sat-tagged harrier that had ‘disappeared’ – that was a bird named Highlander whose signal vanished when she was visiting a grouse moor in Durham earlier this spring (see here).

We’ve also learned, in recent weeks, that some of the methods employed to ‘help’ hen harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors are still very much in use (see here and here), even though the grouse-shooting industry is supposed to be signed up to DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Inaction Plan.

It has been blatantly obvious for some time what has been going on, and with the familiar, predictable news of yet another ‘disappearing’ harrier on a grouse moor, the picture becomes ever clearer. The Untouchables are still getting away with it.

In the same RSPB blog (here), it has been announced that there is currently a hen harrier breeding attempt at Geltsdale, bringing the total number of known, active hen harrier nests in England this year to three. You might think that’s good news, and indeed the RSPB are painting it as such, but let’s be honest, three hen harrier nests in the whole of England, where there’s suitable habitat for an estimated 330 nests, is appalling by anyone’s standard. It’s a less than 1% success rate and we don’t yet know whether these three nests are even going to be successful.

You might think that the hen harriers have made a safe choice by attempting to breed at Geltsdale – it’s an RSPB Reserve and so the birds can expect a very warm welcome from the wardens and volunteers who look after this site. But remember, there was a breeding attempt at Geltsdale last year but it failed after the adult male ‘disappeared’ while he was off hunting, away from the safety of the Reserve. He was one of five adult males that ‘disppeared’ from active nests in England last year (see here). And over the years there has been a catalogue of raptor persecution incidents, both on Geltsdale and on the neighbouring grouse moor estates. These incidents, dating back over the last 20 years, include shot hen harriers, shot peregrines, poisoned ravens, poisoned buzzards, poisoned peregrines, poisoned baits, and a poisoned hen harrier.

And even if, against all odds, these three active nests in England ARE successful this year, what chance do the young fledged birds have once they leave these heavily protected sites? Not a chance in hell while driven grouse shooting is allowed to continue and while the authorities continue to turn a blind eye to the criminal activities of the grouse-shooting industry.

If you want to put an end to this carnage, please join 46,000 concerned members of the public and sign this e-petition to ban driven grouse shooting: HERE

Photo of a hen harrier by Gordon Langsbury.

18 thoughts on “Hen Harriers surviving on grouse moors? Not a Chance in hell”

  1. Im not sure how much money has been wasted on this failed tagging exercise so far, but it must be a lot and must be considered a failure.
    Surely, if all this money is going to be spent, you need to get different satellite tags that also monitor the heart beat of the bird and send a signal with current location as soon as a there in registered heart beat.
    At least that way there would be a chance of finding any dead birds and an actual demonstration of where they died.

  2. Not at all surprised and even though they do not say which grouse moor the hopetoun estate is gearing up for the season and this area is renowned for raptor persecution which you have covered again and again and…….

  3. Just a thought; are there not satellite tags that can be fitted more discreetly to the bird? If a perpetrator was unaware that a shot bird was tagged then perhaps there would be more possibilities of a carcass being found.

    1. Only surgical intervention would hide such a device and that would put the bird at great risk. If ever the device could be planted like a dog/cat tag just under the skin then maybe. That technology may be on the way. But currently the size and solar charger requires surface mounting.
      Even then the savvy criminals would burn or bury the carcass.

  4. By the nature of it, an active tag needs a power source, so for BoP that means a solar powered battery, which means the current tag. Dog/Cat microchips are passive devices, they only activate when scanned.

  5. Not that it will make anyone feel any better, but over here in my area of France we get breeding Montagu’s Harriers, upto 5yrs ago I could usually find five or six breeding females & three or four active males. For the last 3yrs I’ve been lucky to find one breeding pair and this years breeding pair seemed to have now disappeared too! very depressing and a sad outlook for the state of mankind.

  6. Reading this blog prompted me to do something I haven’t done previously – read the Defra Action Plan from start to finish. Up till now for information I’ve relied upon the excellent reviews and summaries in Raptor Persecution UK and Mark Avery’s blog. Once again I find myself at a bit of a loss as to what to say, but I’ll give it a try anyway. It’s hard to believe that this document was put together by highly paid civil servants and scientists, aided and abetted by Natural England and RSPB. The fact that the grouse shooting representatives were represented by three organisations was no great surprise, but I was astonished that the appalling Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust was included. It’s like a Government health committee to ban smoking taking advice from the big tobacco companies.

    This goes deeper than this superficial comment might imply. I couldn’t help but note certain individual scientists quoted, with whom I have had previous experience of difference of opinion regarding Hen Harriers, mainly in connection with wind farm Public Local Inquiries in Scotland. Let’s just say I didn’t find honesty to be their best quality, and I sometimes felt that the science was being manipulated in favour of the paymasters. Some advocates seem to forget that they are supposed to be providing independent evidence, albeit on behalf of their client, the developer in these cases. It seems to me that these same scientists could be operating to an agenda, this time controlled by their grouse shooting clients. It’s easy to believe that tobacco company scientists produced biased evidence, and there’s absolutely no reason why the same unethical behaviour doesn’t enter into the environmental world. In my experience it does.

    Unfortunately in this field where nature conservationists are up against big business or landowners, one can become acutely aware of corrupt practices, but it is very difficult to expose them due to the considerable risk of being sued for defamation. Any hint of criticism is met with intense indignation and accusations of questioning their integrity. Up until now I’ve resisted the temptation to expose some of the evidence with which I’ve been presented with by fieldwork assistants employed in the Langholm Project. Obviously I can’t reveal sources, but people I trust have told me of certain irregularities in data collection and analysis. One example relates to the diversionary feeding experiments. It has been said that certain researchers were keen to demonstrate that this was an effective method of reducing the number of grouse chicks taken, but perhaps just a bit too keen, and the results were, to some extent, exaggerated. I was not particularly surprised to hear this, because my own experience where a pair of breeding harriers in my study population was provided with supplementary feeding, over three seasons, was that not one item of carrion provided was taken by the pair. Adverse effects included the attraction of foxes and passing Lesser Black-backed Gulls to feed on the dead rabbits and Mountain Hares, causing considerable disturbance to the harriers.

    Hopefully the scoping exercise being undertaken into the infamous “brood meddling” experiment will lead to abandonment of this disgusting and obviously unworkable proposal. It illustrates perfectly how ignorant the various stakeholders are in the biology and ecology of Hen Harriers. Anyone with a modicum of insight can see that the whole idea is simply ludicrous. The idea that taking a young harrier, rearing it in captivity, and releasing it into a blissful life in lowland southern England is to truly misunderstand the bird. Imprinting of this nature is extremely unlikely to be effective. It suggests that those who came up with the idea don’t understand the partial migratory or dispersive behaviour of the Hen Harrier. Where do the scientists who suggested it think the harriers come from, the ones who make up the winter roosts which another part of the plan suggests will be protected. It can hardly be the three pairs which are currently breeding in England. The truth is that Scottish birds mostly migrate south to England and northern France for the winter, returning to seek out suitable habitats and territories in Scotland the following spring. There is a tendency, shown by ringing and satellite studies, for them to return to their natal areas, but if conditions aren’t right, a shortage of field voles for example, they will move on and seek out better conditions. So this involves a fair degree of wandering, almost Bohemian behaviour in establishing nesting territories and finding or attracting suitable mates. So any brood-meddled individuals released in southern England, are more than likely to return to upland grouse moors as the breeding season sets in.

    The RSPB should disassociate themselves from this ridiculous plan, now widely referred to as the Defra Inaction Plan for Hen Harriers. I see no way forward other than banning grouse shooting and all the attendant environmental damage and criminal behaviour associated with it.

    1. It isn’t actually a plan but a suggestion for a draft of a plan. Why the RSPB isn’t more oiutspoken about this is beyond me because Andrew Gilruth (Game Conservancy) certainly thinks it is a something concrete.
      The reason i say it is a notion of a draft comes from Martin Harper (on his RSPB
      blog) in reply to clarification of the vague and even contradictory wording of this plan for a draft for a plan.

      ‘As I have said previously, these have not been easy negotiations. I agree that there is still ambiguity in the plan which is why the terms of reference for and composition of the groups on reintroduction/bms are important. We need clarity (which we do not currently have) regarding objectives, scientific design, legality and conservation recovery which would trigger any trial. We do not have any of this yet which is why we pushed hard to prevent a BMS being given the greenlight without clarification on these points.’

    2. I have also heard ‘gossip’ (which can’t be substantiated) from people involved with the first Langholm study, suggesting that some of those working on the ground were prepared to exaggerate, and even manipulate, grouse losses to make the impact of HH seem greater than it really was.
      There is a certain naivety among many of the well-meaning people working in conservation, some of whom have led relatively sheltered lives and are just not streetwise when dealing with the shooting industry.

  7. Yet another example of why the RSPB’s support for the HHAP is so utterly pointless. The DGS industry cannot be trusted, so RSPB needs to make a true stand against raptor persecution. It must encourage its membership to sign the Ban GS petition now.

  8. If this issue is not addressed probably, and soon, then undoubtedly the species will likely become exstreamly endangered or extincted. Why is this significant? Every species of indigenous wildlife is intitled to survive and trive in their natural habitat, losing such wildlife has domino effects upon ecosystems and other species within it. Wildlife needs out help to survive, but we keep pushing them closer to the edge.

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