Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in Cairngorms National Park

Another of this year’s hen harrier chicks has ‘disappeared’ just a few weeks after fledging, this time in the Cairngorms National Park.

This one was called Brian, after raptor worker Brian Etheridge, and he had hatched in a nest in Perthshire, within the National Park. After fledging, he stayed within the Park boundary until his signal, ‘suddenly and without warning‘, stopped abruptly on 22 August 2016 a few miles from Kingussie. Searches for his body and tag proved fruitless. The details of Brian’s short life can be read here on the RSPB Skydancer blog.



This is a photo of Brian taken at the nest in July with his newly-fitted satellite tag (photo by Jenny Weston).

Brian is the second of this year’s cohort to suddenly ‘disappear’ – in early August, hen harrier Elwood also vanished, in the grouse moor ridden Monadhliath mountains just to the NW of the Park (see here).

The area around Kingussie is also ridden with driven grouse moors. In fact, it wasn’t far from here where hen harrier Lad’s corpse was found in September 2015, suspected shot (see here).

So what now? A few weeks ago, following the ‘disappearance’ of eight satellite-tagged golden eagles, as well as hen harrier Elwood, in the Monadhliaths, Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham announced a review of the sat tag data of three raptor species – golden eagle, hen harrier, red kite – to ‘look for patterns of suspicious activity‘ (see here). That review is very welcome but the team working on the analysis is not expected to report until March 2017 at the earliest. That’s six months away. And then there’ll be further delays as the Government digests the review’s findings and thinks about how to respond, or not.

And to be frank, we don’t need to wait for the review to detect ‘patterns of suspicious activity’ – the pattern of illegal persecution has been known for years. The cause of these raptor disappearances is not unreliable sat tags (94% reliability in a recent study of Montagu’s harriers – see here), nor is it non-existent wind farms (see here), nor is it ‘bird activists’ killing the birds to smear the grouse shooting industry (see here).

We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again. Endless peer-reviewed scientific papers and government reports on golden eagles, hen harriers, red kites and peregrines have unequivocally linked the illegal killing of these raptors with intensively-managed driven grouse moors. Why pretend nobody knows what’s going on?

The ‘disappearance’ of Brian is bad enough, but for this ‘disappearance’ to take place in the Cairngorms National Park just adds to the ever-increasing catalogue of shame that the Park Authority needs to address. Cue expressions of ‘disappointment’ and more stalling tactics (futile partnership-working and discussions) from the CNPA.

Here’s that catalogue of shame, in full:


Apr: 3 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + 2 grey partridge baits. Kingussie, CNP

Jun: Attempted shooting of a hen harrier. Crannoch, CNP


May: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cuaich, CNP

Nov: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP


Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Feb: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Cromdale, CNP

Mar: 3 x poisoned buzzards, 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Crathie, CNP


Jan: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Dulnain Bridge, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned raven (Mevinphos). Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Morven [corbett], CNP

May: 1 x poisoned raven + 1 x poisoned common gull (Aldicarb) + egg bait. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: egg bait (Aldicarb). Glenbuchat, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenfeshie, CNP


Jan: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Glenshee, CNP

Apr: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: Pole trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

May: 1 x poisoned red kite (Carbofuran). Tomintoul, CNP

May: Illegally set spring trap. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit & hare baits. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jun: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Jul: 1 x poisoned raven (Carbofuran). Ballater, CNP

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Newtonmore, CNP

Sep: 1 x shot buzzard. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Grantown-on-Spey, CNP


Jan: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Mar: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Dec: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Alphachloralose). Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP


May: 2 x poisoned ravens (Mevinphos). Delnabo, CNP

Jun: rabbit bait (Mevinphos). nr Tomintoul, CNP

Jun: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Strathdon, CNP

Jun: 1 x illegal crow trap. Nr Tomintoul, CNP


Apr: Pole trap. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Jun: 1 x pole-trapped goshawk. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Jun: Illegally set spring trap on tree stump. Nr Dalwhinnie, CNP

Sep: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenlochy, CNP

Oct: 2 x poisoned buzzards (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Nr Boat of Garten, CNP


Jan: 1 x shot buzzard. Nr Bridge of Brown, CNP

Mar: 1 x poisoned golden eagle (Carbofuran). Glenbuchat, CNP

Apr: 1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran & Aldicarb). Nr Bridge of Brown, CNP

May:  1 x poisoned buzzard (Carbofuran) + rabbit bait. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: 1 x shot short-eared owl, found stuffed under rock. Glenbuchat, CNP

Jun: 1 x shot peregrine. Pass of Ballater, CNP

Aug: grouse bait (Aldicarb). Glenlochy, CNP

Sep: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon, CNP

Nov: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Nr Strathdon, CNP


Apr: 1 x shot short-eared owl. Nr Grantown-on-Spey, CNP

Apr: Peregrine nest site burnt out. Glenshee, CNP

May: Buzzard nest shot out. Nr Ballater, CNP


Jan: White-tailed eagle nest tree felled. Invermark, CNP

May: 1 x shot hen harrier. Glen Gairn, CNP

May: Satellite-tagged golden eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat, CNP


Apr: Satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘disappears’. Glenbuchat, CNP

May: Armed masked men shoot out a goshawk nest. Glen Nochty, CNP


Sep: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Lad’ found dead, suspected shot. Newtonmore, CNP.


May: 1 x shot goshawk. Strathdon, CNP

Jun: Illegally set spring traps. Invercauld, CNP

Aug: Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Brian’ ‘disappears’, near Kingussie, CNP

In addition to the above list, two recent scientific publications have documented the long-term decline of breeding peregrines on grouse moors in the eastern side of the National Park (see here) and the catastrophic decline of breeding hen harriers, also on grouse moors in the eastern side of the Park (see here).

And let’s not forget the on-going massacre of mountain hares, taking place annually within the boundary of the National Park (e.g. see here, here).

Let’s see how the Environment Secretary and the Cairngorms National Park Authority respond this time. We’ll add links to any statements if/when they appear throughout the day.

UPDATE 18.40 hrs: Too embarrassing for words (here)

UPDATE 29 September 2016: Official responses from Environment Secretary and Cairngorms National Park Authority (here)

34 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in Cairngorms National Park”

  1. I have deliberately avoided holidaying in the park because of wildlife persecution. A futile gesture really as no one would know. So I have written today to Hamish Trench head of Conservation and Visitor Experience. Perhaps a spending boycott in the park might put pressure on the authority?

    Dear Mr Trench

    We read again today of another raptor that has ‘gone missing’ in the park.

    In the last two years I have holidayed in Scotland but because of the persecution of our native wildlife in the park I have made the conscious decision to not holiday there. Indeed driving to the Orkneys and back in the last week I didn’t even stop for fuel in the park area.

    This is a small gesture but it may be that many people are taking the same view, losing much money for the park in visitor pounds.

    Clearly you won’t know about this unless we tell you, so here is the evidence that wildlife persecution in the park has cost visitor services lost income this last year.

    I hope that the Park Authority can do something to stop the wildlife crime in the park.

    As a sad aside, during my drive through the park I didn’t see one bird on the wing during the whole time, unlike either side of the park.

    Yours Sincerely

  2. I don’t expect to hear anything from the environment secretary if she is not on the missing persons list then she has probably borrowed Harry Potters invisibility cloak off her predecessor Aileen McLeod, here is the thing that annoys, 2nd term in office and she still has not granted extra powers to the SSPCA, she passed that parcel on to Paul Wheelhouse who in turn passed it on to Aileen McLeod who in turn passed it back to Roseanne, all picked up large salaries to make these simple decisions, all of them failed, what other institution or organisation would tolerate such ineptitude? No it would surprise me if we heard anything from the new invisible woman

  3. National parks are simply killing grounds for the rich , seemingly condoned by government and official bodies. Who will rescue our natural wildlife from this seedy establishment?

    1. The presenter Dougie Vipond has the answer. His final remark in this piece: “This collaboration [between landowners and conservation agencies] might also hold the key to their [hen harriers’] future.” Irony was apparently not intended.

  4. The evidence is already there Roseanna! We’ve waited long enough, YEARS, for the Government to make decisions! Let’s see some action, powers to the SSPCA, licensing for shooting estates at the bare minimum. And while you’re at it give the beavers the protection they deserve! Governments are there to make decisions. For goodness sake, please act like a Government!

  5. These acts are so blatant and obvious that they’re bound to count against the dark side in the long-run. Would it be worth a concerted letter-writing campaign to the Scottish authorities? If so, could you please supply some contact details? I’d suggest Roseanna Cunningham and Nicola Sturgeon for a start. Anyone else? They can ignore emails but letters have to be answered. Right – we might get stock replies, but even that would be progress of a sort.

  6. National Park………!

    Disgrace and the evidence will back this up.

    Wonder what investigation will follow…..Police Scotland, National Wildlife Crime Unit,SNH………complete disgrace.
    “wildlife crime is a priority”……utter rubbish.

    SNP. Government policy, business before the environment…… Green.

  7. Musing on these appalling statistics, how much wildlife crime does this really represent ? The CNP is a big place and the killers won’t be keen on their crime’s being discovered – so for every dead bird reported there are probably at least another 4 that go unreported; and it is then extremely difficult to convert the crime into a conviction – a ratio of at least 1:10 – probably more ? Which equates to there being perhaps 50 crimes behind each conviction – not really a small minority of bad apples, is it ?

    Before giving up on CNP, please do exclude Abernethy (RSPB)/ Glenmore Forest Park (FCS) estates where there is a real commitment to the areas wonderful wildlife.

    1. Roderick

      About one in five! – I think you are being rather generously conservative. I’ve been investigating raptor persecution for 25 years dealing with hundreds of reports, picking up the bodies and speaking to people within the shooting industry. We will never know precisely what percentage of persecution incidents are actually detected, but based on my experience I would be astonished if it was more than 1%. Of those that are detected, the prosecution rate is well under 10% – so you start to understand why this sort of crime carries so little risk to those committing them and even less to those who employ them. Increasing accountability for employers and managers will be essential to effect a meaningful change in the current situation.

      1. Guy, thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience, I fear your assessment is correct, we talk about the ‘tip of the iceberg’, but you put the numbers into context.

        How do we take this forward ? The Scottish government, and the national parks, seem to be afraid of the wealthy landowners ? they are deliberately trying to drive our wildlife into extinction, and laughing at the Scottish public, police, judiciary and government. Do they think they are ‘too big to jail’ ??

        There needs to be a well funded wildlife crime unit ( SSPCA ? ) The killing estates should be taxed to pay for this. Sentencing needs to be increased, and APPLIED, vicarious liability should also include forfeiture of lands.

        Another thing to think about, might be to ban all hunting / shooting in Scotland for 10 or 20 years, remove all weapons to army holding sites, to allow our wildlife to recover, while there is still time. Now before the killing estates ( it is not ‘sport’ chaps ) start bleating, you have brought this on yourselves.

        Bimbling, I have never seen a red kite in the eastern CNP ? odd eh.

        LAND VALUE TAX NOW please.

    2. You might like to ask how many red kites there should be in north Scotland by now. Similar numbers released and similar nesting productivity has produced uncountable numbers in the Cotswolds. 70 in and around the Black Isle!

  8. Outrage after outrage, followed by the predictable calls for compromise. Unfortunately the opposition continues to have the upper hand, and their strategy of not giving in to pressure, and being wholly unwilling to compromise, is working so far. We should never underestimate the power of money and organisation, which enables them to interact in a positive way with government officials and elected members in a manner that we cannot, or at least don’t very often. Their strategy is to lie at every opportunity, and deny widespread involvement in criminality. Meanwhile they organise meetings and gatherings of their kind, invite along Government Ministers and the Executive of Scottish Natural Heritage, flatter them with compliments and false servility, all the time emphasising “the valuable contribution to the rural economy” made by grouse shooting and other blood sports. They constantly invoke lies about the role played by predators in the environment, as if the smallest weasel, our only extant wild canine and even mountain hares are major threats to nature conservation and country livelihoods. It’s all false, and most ecologists and conservationists know it to be so, but we simply don’t do an effective PR job like we could if we had the overflowing offshore accounts of the super-rich. The proponents of hunting also have a not-so-secret weapon – the tame Ecologists, so-called scientists who are willing to manipulate their “research” to suit the flawed arguments of the truly biased. And the politicians and other establishment figures fall for it, ironically hook, line and sinker. Sadly there has been the added effect over the past decade or more of infiltration by hunting sympathisers into the conservation business, particularly the national conservation agencies. I suspect that the majority of readers of this blog are blissfully unaware of this particularly sinister form of “entryism.”

    It’s time to abandon compromise, and go for what is morally and ethically right. This might seem a daunting task, but I genuinely believe that in the long run would be far more effective than tinkering with the problem. Even the pressure placed upon the establishment so far has resulted in the dangerous legal precedent of an estate in NE England being granted licence to kill ten Buzzards, “to protect young pheasants.” This is potentially the start of a slippery slope towards further relaxation of the laws protecting raptors, indeed all wild birds. The UK Government has responded to a petition to overturn this decision by stating that it demonstrates a reasonable compromise between the rural economy and nature conservation, citing the BTO’s estimate of 60,000 Buzzards as evidence that the cull does not threaten the species’ conservation status. Defra have shown themselves willing, along with the Hawk & Owl Trust, to adopt a “brood management scheme” for Hen Harriers which would have the effect of suppressing their populations at only a fraction of the natural level which English grouse moors are capable of sustaining. I predict that if the current trend continues, and the calls for better protection are watered down by the compromise of licensing shooting estates, there will be very little change in the current level of threat posed to raptors interacting with the game shooting industry. There is even the possibility that further compromises will increase the threat. What we need is an effective ethical and educational campaign to protect all wildlife from persecution, including an effective public education programme and some straight talking by the media concerning the activities of gun-toting cruel individuals. It is to the RSPB’s eternal shame that they do next to nothing to change this disgraceful aspect of our culture.

    1. Excellent comment, JS. Compromise is always an appealing option to reasonable, decent people, but there are situations where all it achieves is further gains by the ruthless and unreasonable side.
      For the sake of our wildlife, we have to occupy the ethical high ground and expose the moral bankruptcy of the whole shooting business.

  9. I’ve just read on the BASC website that they are raising £10,000 “to produce definitive literature on the issues surrounding driven grouse shooting and enable us to put it in the hands of politicians.” I’d like to know how much the RSPB are spending on the campaign. Or is any other group, like the Raptor Study Group for example? So far all I’ve seen are Mark Avery’s briefing notes, which are excellent of course, but I see very little effort being made by bird clubs, in Scotland anyway.

  10. Absolutely sickening! I’m afraid that the gamekeepers have stepped up a gear this season and excelled in their continual persecution of Apex raptors. FFS a few lousy pheasant poults and Natural England dish out licenses to kill ‘up to 10’ buzzard, when their holding pens have no net over the top… live bait for buzzard.
    I fear that they are moving through the birds, as there are fewer and fewer hen harriers about anywhere and their slaughter will not cease.
    Could it be that the gamekeepers are following the satellite tagged birds, making them simple to seek and destroy?
    People Power is the ONLY way to get anywhere with all the persecution going on and a petition to lobby the bigger landowners such as United Utilities, who actually encourage shooting, from renewing any lease that a shooting estate has and instead employ their own land management group, with clear instructions to keep to an exclusion zone around nesting hen harries, for instance.
    I know there’s always the case of the birds flying over neighbouring shooting estates, but there has to be a start somewhere.
    Easier said than done, but I feel there are baby steps happening, with video footage appearing regularly online, showing everyone what is going on.
    It’s only a matter of time before condemning video evidence is recorded and shown to the masses, of some firm proof of serious persecution and then there will be a mass outrage and the estate responsible must be made an example of and their licenses to shoot revoked and effectively their gamekeepers booted out too.
    It’s hard to know how to try and tackle this, but there MUST BE some sort of plan put in place to further fight the scum who commit these atrocities of nature!

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