Young satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Elwood’ disappears on Monadhliath grouse moor just weeks after fledging

ElwoodWith depressing predictability, news has emerged that one of this year’s young satellite-tagged hen harriers (a male called ‘Elwood’) has ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath mountains just a few weeks after he fledged from his nest in Banffshire.

RSPB press release:

Another satellite-tagged bird of prey disappears in the Monadhliath Mountains

RSPB Scotland has today announced that a young male hen harrier, fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the charity’s part EU funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, has gone missing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness.

The bird, named Elwood, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire, which was being monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) ‘Heads-up for Harriers scheme’.

The transmitter’s data, being monitored by RSPB Scotland staff, indicated that the young bird fledged from its nest in the first week of July, but stayed close to the site in the hills above the River Spey until the 20th, when he began to travel more widely. By the 27th, he had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin.

The bird remained in this area, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on August 3rd. The bird’s last recorded position was on an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9.

Last week, news emerged that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had also disappeared in the northern Monadhliaths in the last five years, with three of these birds, whose transmitters were also functioning normally, going ‘off the radar’ this spring [see here].

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.

This case is all the more depressing as the nest from which Elwood successfully fledged was monitored as part of a partnership project between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey – as soon as they move away from these areas they are being illegally killed.

The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands. We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries.”


So what now, Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment? How are you going to react to this one? Are you going to tell us how ‘disappointed’ you are? Are you going to tell us that more research needs to be done to understand why driven grouse moors in Scotland are almost devoid of breeding hen harriers (and golden eagles and peregrines)? Are you going to tell us that the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime is effectively addressing this problem? Are you going to believe the lies of the organisations within the grouse-shooting industry that there is ‘no evidence’ that raptors are routinely and systematically killed on driven grouse moors? Are you going to tell us you’re still looking for ‘a pattern of suspicious activity’? Are you going to tell us that you will ‘not hesitate to take further action if deemed necessary’? Are you going to tell us we need to wait to see whether previous anti-persecution measures are working?

How about you tell us that you’ve had enough, that you believe that further action IS necessary and that you’ll be using your powers as Cabinet Secretary for the Environment to put an end to this shameful slaughter?

You could support the call for an introduction of licensing for all gamebird hunting in Scotland, so that these grouse-shooting estates can finally be held to account for their criminal acts. Well, assuming any licensing system is actually properly enforced, but that’s another matter.

And you really should pay attention to the strength of feeling against driven grouse shooting that has emerged south of the border (with considerable support from Scottish voters, too), which will now result in a parliamentary debate in Westminster later this autumn on the subject of banning driven grouse shooting.

Whatever you do, plenty of people here, and around the world, are watching.

48 thoughts on “Young satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Elwood’ disappears on Monadhliath grouse moor just weeks after fledging”

  1. No doubt some shooting industry spokesclown will arrive at the conclusion that the transmitter simply failed and the bird is still happily flying free, or perhaps the Farr Windfarm will again be used as a convenient excuse. The one cast iron guarantee will be that the criminal apologists will maintain that no illegal act was committed.

    I was hopeful that Roseanna Cunningham would have been more pro-active in her role, and I still sincerely wish that to be the case, however, so far, she has proven to be as effective as her immediate predecessor.

    Now is the time for action, not more pointless soundbites.

    1. I would have hoped it would have been a simple black and white exercise for the new minister… but I suspect the issue is caught in an area where the decision wont be fully within her control. The spectre of Fergus Ewing, the SGA’s placeman, is probably hard at work arguing that it should fall under his rural jobs department. I really have no idea if there is any way that we could get an insight into what is happening behind the scenes? Can you FOI ministerial meetings to find out if they have met to discuss the issue?

  2. Given how much public scrutiny the grouse moors are coming under now could this have been more than the bog standard persecution – there was an extra level of spite involved, ‘we’ll do what we want’, suicidal from a PR perspective. The personal attacks against people fighting the persecution, the misinformation, dirty tactics and downright lies is just the puss coming right to the surface under pressure. There’s certainly enough material here now to have a prime time doc on the BBC about how the grouse moors have been fighting back, they’d be stuffed.

  3. Spite is most certainly involved. Since fox hunting was banned, and the Countryside Alliance formed in 1997, a notable sea change occurred throughout the British countryside, or in my part of Scotland at least. Paranoid fears of their way of life being under attack led to the beginning of a deeply spiteful campaign to heap revenge upon the animals. At the same time, as a birdwatcher roaming on local farmland, I started to feel my presence resented by some farmers, who adopted a more austere “ger orf moi land” approach to any casual visitor who looked remotely sympathetic to the animals those people believe they have a god-given right to slaughter mercilessly. Gamekeepers and many posh landowners, admittedly with a few notable exceptions, were even worse, and I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve been threatened with violence on a number of occasions. Two of my friends were assaulted quite badly, for the crime of counting Tree Sparrows in a field (the farmer came off worse, but he started it), and another farmer physically attacked a 14 year old girl (a “townie”) for riding her pony through an open gate for a canter across his recently harvested stubble field. He was prosecuted for that crime. I was even barred from accessing part of my moorland harrier study area by a Church of Scotland Minister, a man of God no less, who admitted to “hating” Hen Harriers with a vengeance, because they had devalued his land! Such a fine, upstanding and moral Christian gentleman. Shooting and falconry have increased in popularity, or at least intensity, and killing of foxes became even more savage after hunting with hounds was banned. Shotgun ownership also became more prevalent, and even Carrion Crows became targets for spiteful revenge, to the extent that their presence has declined almost to a state of extinction on some farms. Now I can hardly bump into a gamekeeper, or many a farmer, without them launching into a verbal tirade against Chris Packham! “What do you think of that Packham?” has become a common greeting. Chris has become an obsession and a hate figure. It’s all so very depressing, but fortunately he is very popular now with the many decent people out there.

    1. This reminds me of the little bustard (I’ve mentioned it before) that turned up in Norfolk to bird watchers’ delight only to be found shot dead lying beside a road. Since then the same happened to a red footed falcon. Both birds were high profile, and widely publicised. So was it general idiocy or specifically to piss off birdie types? Pretty sure the latter which makes me pretty frightened for ANY species conservationists cherish. Some years ago in New Zealand there were threats from people purporting to represent hunters that if they felt their pursuit was going to be put under more pressure they would release rats, stoats etc on the predator free islands being used as sanctuaries for species such as the kakapo. The arrogance, callousness of this is beyond belief. No doubt there are those who would have carried this out if they could.

    2. Absolutely agree with the above. There is a bigger picture here and it is the control of the countryside and the wildlife which inhabits it. Try taking non-violent direct action against these blood sports illegal or otherwise and you’ll see the violent depths these people are prepared to delve to. For the want of a better word we need a revolution in how our countryside is managed and owned. It’s not a plaything for the rich and their lackeys to do with how they see fit but whilst we have a Government so deeply entrenched in blood sports nothing will change.

    3. The Kirk has always had ministers who honoured the commandments more in the breach than in the application.

      I do agree that the time of having Chris Packham as the lead on wildlife reform is coming to its end though. He has a very in-your-face style of presenting and while that is useful in getting a movement started, once you’ve got your momentum up you want someone who comes across as more amiable and relatable. We should be looking around for a celebrity who is passionate but non-threatening now in order to get the middle class onside.

      1. I think you absolutly wrong. So many years of trying to talk sense to these land owners and look how far it has got us. We need Chris and Mark to keep this in the public eye.

          1. I wasn’t aware that I was. I was only talking about the evolution of campaigns and their changing needs. I apologise if it came across otherwise.

            [Ed: fair enough, but please remember what he has done, and will continue to do, for this campaign, at massive personal risk. There’s barely a week goes by when one of the national papers isn’t hosting a nasty, spiteful attack on him, at the behest of the shooting lobby, and persistent calls for him to be sacked. Chris P is in this for the long haul and thank god for that].

            1. With respect, I specifically praised his contributions so far and I did not call for him to go at this time. In fact I specifically said that this was not the time merely that as the nature of the campaign changed as we moved into a different phase that someone less divisive amongst the middle classes would be better suited. That is not slagging him off, that is just talking about how as campaigns change different personalities are required for different stages in them. I also said that he was the right person for the way the campaign has gone so far.

              1. I had to read your comment several times, crypticmirror, to see if I was missing the cryptic part, because I was appalled at the unbelievably patronising nature of your comment. I’m still not sure if I’m understanding your point that “someone less divisive amongst the middle classes would be better suited.” The people who created the divide are those gamekeepers who are prepared to break the law of the land by killing protected raptors, with complicit support from many of the recreational shooters and the Countryside Alliance, not to mention pressure from their vicariously liable employers. There is a divide, and to deny it, or imagine it could somehow be healed with a bit of diplomacy, is either stupid or naive. That is why we have have given up pleading with the grouse shooting industry to stop killing harriers, and simply demanding an outright ban on driven grouse shooting. We have come to the end of the line as far as the diplomatic approach is concerned, and it’s their fault, not ours. I have enormous respect for for what Mark Avery has achieved, but even more so for Chris Packham, who has stood up to be counted despite having more to lose. The BBC has been supportive of Chris so far, but if they ever bow to pressure from the likes of GWCT or the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, I hope there is an enormous outcry. It’s a pity someone with the stature of David Attenborough hasn’t openly come out in support of Chris, but I suppose only he knows why. If I believed in your upper and middle class honours system, I’d be nominating Chris for a knighthood. However the best way to thank him is to stand firm with him, Mark Avery, RPUK and everyone else who is striving determinedly to consign the persecution of the Hen Harrier into history.

      2. Of course they’d want Chris to stand down, Mark as well in all probability because they’ve raised the profile, lifted the lid of the whole putrid stink pit!

        Who would you want to lead such a high profile campaign, the likes of the GWCT or HOT?

        The lid is off the can and the worms and maggots are not liking the exposure in the spotlight?

      3. I beg to differ, crypticmirror.
        Chris Packham is exactly what we need – someone who speaks out loud and strong, whilst also knowledgeable about the science. We have had years of appeasement and being “amiable and relatable” and this approach has got nowhere. The fact that his name is on all the shooting supporters lips shows he is getting them worried.
        The RSPB executive level is starting to reach out to hang on to the coat-tails of the likes of Packham, Avery, RPUK,et al and I am glad they are. In my opinion, the Investigation Teams and lesser officials have always been supportive. We now have some rolling momentum but the fight is just beginning. We still need Chris – he is such an asset – why else would the CA ; YFTB; MA; and BASC keep gunning for him? Incidentally, I suppose I am “middle class” and I don’t find him at all threatening, more an inspiration.

        Plus, in general we need to support all our lead figures, we are stronger together and should present a united front if we are to succeed in protecting our raptors and upland biodiversity. We are up against the ruling elite, after all.
        Let’s also keep things as well-mannered as possible. We don’t have to descend to their level of personal abuse. It’s hard sometimes but we need to channel our anger into putting the facts out there to the general public. Scotland is leading the way but (from an outside point of view) the SNP seems to be slipping. Is it a “power corrupts” scenario?
        Well done to you all so far anyway. Keep focused.

  4. “Such a fine, upstanding and moral Christian gentleman.”

    I’ve never been able to understand the sheer hypocrisy displayed by so many religious peoples, including men of the cloth. They preach of peace, love and tolerance, yet all of those attributes are immediately dispensed with when it suits.

  5. WHEN IS GOING TO STOP…. I suppose when they are satisfied there are no more hen harrier to persecute.

  6. Well done to the RSPB and RPUK.
    I’m on holiday at the moment. Having driven past 2 “RSPB not welcome” signs this week many people will now start to understand the meaning behind them, whereas previously they might have just been puzzled.

  7. Same old, same old. Nothing will happen, will be swept under the carpet like always. I have stated before money talks on grouse moors. The fact that this exact area is under intense scrutiny at the moment after the Eagles story shows just how little estates worry about the law.

    However I will also point out that I am more than a little irked by the comment regarding the strength of feeling of those south of the Border with the add on of Scotland at the end, we feel as strongly as those south of the Border, if not more so as these extremely high profile cases are in our area.

    I await the response from the Government and the estates replies with bated breath (not) I will go for “transmitter stopped working” reply

  8. This incidence of “disappearing” birds will increase at the same rate as you increase the number of satellite tags on birds of prey. Why, because the persecution of birds of prey in the uplands is widespread, endemic and considered “untouchable.” There has been no change in persecution levels in recent years. It is only through satellite tagging that the true scale and location of persecution is being revealed.

    Satellite tagging is allowing us to highlight the “black holes” where birds disappear. These birds would have disappeared anyway before but without trace.

    Persecution has been shown to have negative impact at a population level on Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers. You need to kill a lot of birds to have this impact.

    Politicians need to realise that raptor persecution is a stain Scotland’s reputation. It also has an economic impact on tourism far greater than the value of the so called sport shooting. Would I visit the Cairngorms National Park to see raptors? No, I would go to Mull, Skye or the Outer Hebrides.

    We need to see urgent action from Roseanna Cunningham to conduct this review of land use and disappearing satellite tagged Golden Eagles.

    Perhaps she could review membership of PAWS asking what contribution SLE and SGA make to the partnership given the consistent denial that raptor persecution exists or even if it does that it is a problem. When a wildlife crime is discovered there is a culture of denial (“wasnae me mister” someone planted the evidence); silence “no comment” or shifting the blame – windfarms.

    We cannot allow this to continue.

  9. I am appalled ? I think the next campaign has to be to ban gamekeepers, they have brought this on themselves.

    Overdue time to stop all subsidy and grants to ‘sporting’ estates. The Scottish government should compulsorily purchase all land required for wind turbines, mobile phone masts etc. Let that profit come to the people, not the criminals.

    We urgently need land reform, and an introduction of LVT, time to break up these landholdings.

    If they break the law, then they are criminals, why should they benefit from their crimes ?

    Letters going today, to my MP, MSP’s and Roseanna Cunningham.

  10. It’s now perfectly clear that a massive effort should be made by the Police to prevent this monstrous slaughter. those guilty of it clearly have absolutely NO regard for any living thing aside from their own artificially created beings, viewed merely as targets for an elite bunch of bullies…surely trying to appeal to any sense of humanity or integrity is pointless where it does not exist and where perhaps, perpetrators may only be happy when ALL wild creatures are gone…. without trace. ( I gather some gamekeepers are instructed to annihilate ALL wildlife considered potential predators to game, deer who apparently eat leaves (duh), or animals known as ‘vermin’). One wonders how, in the 21st century such terrible cruelty is legal…whoever you are or how wealthy, things,which it seems mitigate behaviour in the same way they did in Feudal times.

  11. This will only change if the Scottish government does something about it.

    First and easy and free step……increase sspca powers. This will have an immediate increase in enforcement

    Second. Licence all game shooting. This will change behaviour of estates because of the fear of loosing their licence

    Third. Ensure that when convicted that sentences act as a deterrent and not a fine which is treated as a form of inconvenient taxation.

    Scotland’s wildlife is quick to be promoted to the rest of the world whilst a minority continue to kill out most sensitive species with impunity.

    Is the Scottish Government not vicariously libel given that they are aware of the killing on an industrial scale and have an overall responsibility.

  12. Enough! This must stop, about time some direct action was taken with these estates, disrupt the shoots, just like the hunt saboteurs did! The government and the people in charge never listen to reasoned arguments. So now action while we still have some birds left.

    1. That is exactly what happened on Ilkley Moor last weekend. We need more of it to happen across the country.

      There needs to be a tightening of the gun ownership laws: being a farmer, gamekeeper or rich twat should not automatically qualify you for owning a shotgun.

      1. Hi S Tucker . On gun ownership there is no automatic qualification for owning a shotgun or rifle whether you are a farmer, gamekeeper or ” rich twat “. To get a license you have to be interviewed face to face by a firearms officer , sign a release giving the police full access to your medical records , have two referees who write directly to the police authority and a clean criminal record. I don’t know what more can be done in terms of vetting but that is how it stands at the moment.

        1. Yep – direct action is needed against these criminal estates. Its the only language they appear to understand

  13. With ministers like Fergus Ewing in the government, it is obvious that the SNP will never act against these criminals. Roseanna Cunningham is proving as ineffective as her predecessor.

  14. We have enjoyed our Cairngorm holidays every year but from now on it will be Mull (not a bad thing) for the whole holiday instead of just part of it. I cannot get my head around how these people are allowed to get away with it year after year. Ban driven grouse shooting.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoy Mull. Raptor numbers on this end of the island have taken a hit over the last 20 years in my opinion and as I am 99.9% sure it is not down to human persecution it seems to be “natural “. I haven’t seen a short eared owl for a couple of years, Buzzards are down , kestrels are well down golden eagles static and the only thing increasing seems to the sea eagles. These are just observations from my patch which is on the Ross of Mull before the site pedant arrives and starts screaming for scientific proof. What part of the island do you visit ?

        1. As always it is like two islands divided by the sound of Salen. Lots of bunnies this end and the sparrowhawks seem to be dong well . If the sea eagles would just eat the geese things would be just fine.

  15. Beyond angry. Nothing underscores the reptilian arrogance and spite of the grouse shooting ‘establishment’ that, in the midst of a powerful national campaign to licence or ban their sport, they continue the illegal slaughter in such a brazen manner. This can only be understood in the context of their feeling immune not only from public sentiment but also the law. Good too to see the RSPB’s firmly pointing the finger not only at the culprits but the knowing apologists, little wonder they pulled out of the brood meddling nonsense. Moreover, where does this put Mr Merricks who, as I recall, promised to pull the H&OT out of the scheme too if persecution was demonstrated? He can either stick with the shameful apologists or back the 114,000+ who want action, not fig leaves for institutional criminality.

    1. Merricks was quoted in the media last week with that false remark about ‘not one conservation argument against brood persecution’ [my paraphrase obviously].
      That could be an old quote but if so it was a well chosen priceless Merrickism.

  16. I used to be put off visiting Scotland because of the midges. Now I’m put off visiting due to the thought of all the wildlife crime seemingly being permitted by the Scottish Government. It’s a true disgrace of our enlightened times; such a tiny handful of people destroying our natural heritage.
    Short of banning all forms of grouse shooting management, and why not, it’s time to satellite-tag the gamekeepers.

  17. Every year, sometimes twice a year, I visit the Cairngorms. One of my favourite places is Findhorn Valley. I was lucky enough to see 2 juvs Golden Eagles in October last year and it beaks my heart to think that they could have been killed. What gives these arseholes of humanity the right to take a life and to illegally kill these magnificent birds. Scottish Government take note this is why I visit Scotland! To see Eagles, Ravens & all the wildlife we don’t get where I live especially MOUNTAIN HARES, Pine Marten, Otters, Beavers the list goes on. Sort it out otherwise people will be going elsewhere! And unfortuately the only losers will be the little people, the tourist income won’t affect the rich landowners, but people who rely on income from tourists.

    1. Your right Julie – between the activity of these shooting estates and the ugly sprawl of wind farms across Scotlands iconic landscapes, I would be looking elsewhere myself

      1. Wholly agree with the widespread outrage at all “leisure” hunting, but what a pity to compare it to the wind farms – would you prefer global warming and ultimate environmental disaster to having your view spoilt?

        1. Zero
          The wind farms don’t have to account for the carbon emissions of cement production in their foundations and infrastructure, a bit of dodgy if not dishonest accounting?

          1. Wind farms are simply built to harvest subsidies. They contribute little to emissions reduction as they have to be constantly backed up by conventional power plants due to the unreliability of the wind

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