Record number of hen harriers fitted with satellite tags


RSPB press release:

The RSPB has fitted a record number of hen harrier chicks with satellite tags in the UK this year, more than doubling the number from any other year.

More than 24 birds have been fitted with transmitters so far, the majority of them in Scotland, as part of the conservation organisation’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project. Harriers were also tagged in Wales and the Isle of Man.

By tracking the movements of these threatened birds of prey, the RSPB will be able to build up an even clearer picture of where hen harriers go and where they are most at risk, for example from illegal persecution.

This is the third consecutive year that hen harriers have been tagged as part of the project [6 tagged in 2015; 12 tagged in 2016]. The increase in the number of tags deployed in 2017 was made possible by cosmetic company LUSH, which raised funds through the sales of a specially created “Skydancer” bath bomb.

Conservationists hope the ‘Hen Harrier Class of 2017’ will fare better than last year’s cohort. Out of the 12 young harriers fitted with tags by the RSPB in 2016, only five are still alive. [See here for fates of RSPB and Natural England tagged 2016 hen harriers].

One of the birds, Carroll, was found dead having suffered from an infectious disease. Disturbingly, a post mortem later revealed lead pellets, indicating she had survived being shot at some earlier point in her life. Two of the other birds disappeared in suspicious circumstances when their tags suddenly stopped transmitting, while a further three were lost to unknown causes. All are presumed to have died, as it is very rare for tags to fail for technical reasons.

It is not only RSPB-tagged hen harriers that have met with untimely demises over the past 12 months. In May this year a police investigation was launched after a hen harrier was allegedly shot on Leadhills Estate in South Lanarkshire, while in October Rowan, a bird tagged by Natural England, was discovered shot dead in Cumbria.

The RSPB sincerely hopes that Natural England will publish the publicly funded satellite tracking data which the statutory agency has collected over the past decade, as this will add significantly to the weight of evidence being gathered through the RSPB’s work. [We have an FoI back from NE about this and will blog shortly].

The need for this sort of data has never been greater. Hen harriers are in serious trouble across the UK. The results of the recently published National Hen Harrier Survey revealed that in the last 12 years, the number of breeding pairs has declined by more than a quarter (27%) in Scotland and by over a third (39%) in the UK as a whole.

While the final numbers are still being collated, anecdotal reports suggest the situation in Scotland does not appear to have improved this breeding season with hen harriers notably absent or in very low numbers in areas of suitable habitat, particularly in the south and east. In England, the final figures for 2017 show only three successful nests across habitat suitable for over 300.

The main reason hen harriers are continuing to decline is illegal killing and disturbance associated with the increasingly intensive management of driven grouse moors. The Scottish Government recently set up an independent enquiry into gamebird shoot licensing after an independent scientific review of golden eagle satellite tracking data revealed that approximately a third of them are being illegally killed.

Blánaid Denman, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, said: By satellite tracking more hen harriers than ever before, we’ll gain a clearer picture of where these birds are spending their time and what exactly is happening to them. We’ve already discovered previously unknown nesting and winter roosting sites, as well as been able to pinpoint where natural deaths and illegal killings have occurred.

“It’s both infuriating and utterly heartbreaking to see these beautiful birds, year after year, disappear off the radar. Something needs to change. A system of grouse moor licensing would not only protect hen harriers but also tackle wider damaging grouse moor management practices, such as heather burning on deep peat and inappropriate drainage. For now though, I’ll be watching our newly fledged hen harriers, praying for their safety, and waiting to see what incredible journeys are about to unfold.”

Paul Morton from LUSH said: “We’re thrilled to hear that the money raised by our customers has allowed the RSPB to sat tag more hen harrier chicks than ever before. Monitoring as many youngsters as possible as they take their first flights across the length and breadth of the country is vital for their long-term protection. The message is loud and clear; a nation is watching and will have the welfare of each of these birds close to our hearts. The illegal persecution of hen harriers or any bird of prey will not be tolerated“.

From September, it will be possible to follow the travels of a selection of this year’s tagged hen harriers, together with last year’s surviving birds at:


A fantastic partnership effort (real, actual partnership-working rather than the charade of pretence we’re so used to seeing from the PAW Raptor Group). Well done to all involved at RSPB and LUSH, and well done to everyone who purchased a Skydancer bathbomb because you helped this project happen.

18 thoughts on “Record number of hen harriers fitted with satellite tags”

  1. It’s telling how certain individuals and groups who are usually openly hostile to (or deny widespread persecution of) birds of prey suddenly become so concerned for their well-being when the topic of satellite tags comes up claiming all manner of dangers inherent in tagging. They know more than anyone that the game is up if use of this technology becomes more widespread.

    1. It has not been announced yet however it will take some time to conclude. We should know more when parliament restarts.

  2. I was concerned at the low number of tagged birds in England. The larger number in the rest of the UK is very encouraging. I’ve no doubt the BAWC have also tagged birds. The RSPB Site worked well last year. I wonder if the HOT site will be active.
    Happy times.

  3. This will be fun….. now the wait for all the criminals & their apologists to trot out all the supposed reasons why the tags stop transmitting !
    This data will prove to be a game – changer in the long run.
    I can already hear the nails being hammered into the coffin lid of the ” bad apple ” argument.

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. In some of the rural Peak District pubs the whisper is that gamekeepers and other ‘estate workers’ are advised to destroy and satellite tags or other tracking devices they “find” by fire. So burning the devices completely and asap.
      Just a whisper I over heard.

    1. We have already had something akin to that with, “It’s a setup by Birders” “They kill the birds and dump them on our grouse moors”.


  4. This is great news , particularly considering very few have been tagged in England due to weather considerations in the brief window when chicks in nests could have been tagged. Whilst this is disappointing it is imperative and right that welfare issues come first, attempting to tag chicks in very wet conditions is just a no no.
    When it comes to NE satellite tagging data we should not only be asking nay demanding that last fix data be accurately published but asking for the same data for the last fixes of those birds radio tagged too. Currently the nondisclosure is protecting the guilty, tarnishing the innocent and starving the campaign against persecution of data confirming crucial arguments. It also of course tarnishes what little reputation that NE has left.
    One hopes that many of this years’ tagged cohort survive to breed, if they do not their deaths should be used to further our knowledge of harriers and the cause of ending illegal raptor persecution.
    Remember to add any sightings to the RSPB harrier hotline too!

    1. Yes Paul – entirely agree. One question I would ask though – It seemed that the information that individual birds from certain nests in England couldn’t be tagged because of weather issues, right as that may be, appeared to be broadcast widely and early and has, quite conceivably, marginally lessened the chances of the survival of individuals from those broods, at least in their local areas in the early months following fledging. Did that information have to become public knowledge as early as it did ? If every bird was tagged, or thought to have been tagged, there might just be less of a risk of them meeting an untimely end.

    2. This might lead one to ask why public money and private donations are still being spent by “Natural” England on hen harrier tagging.

      They have shown themselves to be incapable of publishing peer-reviewed research on years of data, incapable of stating that dead birds that are found with lead pellets in them have been shot, and incapable of clamping down on estates where tagged birds regularly disappear.

      NE might as well fix their tags to their desks for all the use they are.

  5. Agree that accurate public publication of retrieval data should be a matter of course. I still fail to understand why such data regarding the retrieval of poisoned birds and baits [a direct threat to public health] has not been made public in the past – even if it is a year or more after the event “for investigative reasons”…

  6. I’m leaving an update here on my correspondence with NE regarding gas guns and Sarah Fowler of PDNPA regarding the discovery of stink pits (both previous RPUK blog topics). To be brief both have attempted to fob me off with platitudes. I followed up my original enquiry to NE requesting detailed answers to specific questions and got the automated 10 working day response time. That was 15 working days ago. I follow up has receive the same automated response – this correspondence trail could take a long time! Sarah Folwer has just completely ignored my follow up again asking for a detailed response to specific questions rather than the sop I received to my first email.
    On another topic I hope to write a small HH piece in my local emagazine VoiceforArran for next months issue. Anyone willing to correspond on this topic greatly appreciated. I want to compare what’s happening here in Scotland (and Arran in particular) with what’s going on in England.

  7. Hello
    I have seen and photographed a satellite tagged harrier at Jamaica Bay preserve in New Your USA. I have looked for any record of tagged Harriers and only found it being done in the UK. This leads me to believe this one may be one of yours. I will be posting the picture on instagram tonight and my ID is @heffstoppe. Another friend of mine has also seen the bird.

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