Satellite-tagged hen harrier disappears on grouse moor in Cairngorms National Park

Well that didn’t take long, did it? Just a few weeks after fledging, one of the 2017 cohort of satellite-tagged hen harriers has already ‘disappeared’, with its final signal emitted from a grouse moor on the 12th August, the opening day of the grouse-shooting season.

Hen harrier ‘Calluna‘ (photo RSPB Scotland)

RSPB Scotland press release:


RSPB Scotland has issued an appeal for information after a young hen harrier, fitted with a satellite tag as part of the charity’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, disappeared on an Aberdeenshire grouse moor.

Calluna‘, a female harrier, was tagged this summer at a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, near Braemar. Her transmitter’s data was being monitored by RSPB Scotland and showed that the bird fledged from the nest in July. She left the area in early August, with the data showing her gradually heading east over the Deeside moors. However, while the tag data showed it to be working perfectly, transmissions abruptly ended on 12th August, with no further data transmitted. Calluna’s last recorded position was on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors and the 2016 national survey results released earlier this year showed that even in Scotland, the species’ stronghold, these birds are struggling. The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27 per cent since 2004, with illegal killing in areas managed for driven grouse shooting identified as one of the main drivers of this decline.

David Frew, Operations Manager for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge Estate, said: “It is deeply saddening to learn that Calluna appears to have been lost, so soon after fledging from Mar Lodge Estate. Hen harriers were persecuted on Deeside for a great many years, and we had hoped that the first successful breeding attempt on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016 would signal the start of a recovery for these magnificent birds in the area.

Only one month after fledging, and having travelled only a relatively short distance, it appears that we will no longer be able to follow the progress of our 2017 chick. We hope however that the data her tag has provided will help to inform a wider understanding of the lives and threats faced by hen harriers.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations at RSPB Scotland said: “This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting. We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment has commissioned an independent group to look at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. We look forward to a further announcement shortly on the membership of this group, and we are committed to assist the work of this enquiry in any way that we can.

The LIFE project team has fitted a significant number of tags to young hen harriers this year, with the very welcome help from landowners, including the National Trust for Scotland, who value these magnificent birds breeding on their property. The transmitters used in this project are incredibly reliable and the sudden halt in data being received from it, with no hint of a malfunction, is very concerning. We ask that if anyone has any information about the disappearance of this bird we urge them to contact Police Scotland as quickly as possible”.


Here’s a map we’ve created showing the location of the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in the Cairngorms National Park, where Calluna hatched, and the town of Ballater, close to where she disappeared.

The RSPB Scotland press release doesn’t name the estate from where Calluna’s last position was recorded, it just says it was “on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park“.

Hmm, let’s have a closer look at that. Here’s a map showing the grouse moor area a few miles north of Ballater. According to estate boundary details that we sourced from Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website, Calluna’s last position could have been recorded on either an Invercauld Estate grouse moor or a Dinnet Estate grouse moor.

If you’re thinking that this part of the Cairngorms National Park looks familiar, you’d be right, we’ve blogged about it a few times before. There was the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, and then there were the illegally-set traps that were found nr Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016. This area of Royal Deeside is quite the little raptor persecution hotspot, isn’t it?

The evidence just keeps mounting. Is anyone still wondering why the game-shooting industry is so keen to try and discredit the use of satellite tags on raptors?

We wonder what explanations, to avoid the bleedin’ obvious, they’ll come up with this time? Perhaps they’ll suggest Calluna was sucked in to a vortex created by Hurricane Harvey? Or maybe they’ll say she was hit by a North Korean test missile? They might tell us that Vladimir Putin must have hacked the satellite signals? All just as plausible as the usual tosh they trot out, such as how a fieldworker eating a sandwich at a tagging session causes eagles to die (here), or how non-existent wind farms are responsible for the disappearance of eight sat-tagged golden eagles (here), or how ‘activists’ have been killing sat-tagged raptors as part of a smear campaign against the grouse-shooting industry (here), or how a faulty saltwater switch on tags attached to Olive Ridley turtles on the Indian subcontinent means that all satellite tags are unreliable (here).

We’ll be updating this page throughout the day if and when statements are made by the following:

Response of Environment Secretary Roseanna Cunningham –

Response of Alexander Burnett MSP (Conservative, Aberdeen West) –

Response of Cairngorms National Park Authority – Grant Moir, Chief Exec of CNPA said: “A hen harrier has once again disappeared in the Cairngorms National Park, with a satellite tracker ceasing to transmit. The Park Authority is determined to stop these recurring disappearances. Earlier this week the CNPA met with Police Scotland to discuss how increased use of special constables can help to tackle wildlife crime in the Cairngorms National Park. We also continue to work on other solutions to these issues. The CNPA look forward to the establishment by Scottish Government of the independently-led group to look at the environmental impact of grouse moor management and will feed in to that review“.

Response of Scottish Land & Estates – David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land and Estates, said: “Estates in the area have welcomed a number of hen harriers to the area during August and only today one moor reported three harriers. Local land managers reject the inference that the loss of signal from this tag is connected to grouse moor management and are now offering every assistance in searching the area where the last transmission was recorded. They are dismayed that they were not informed earlier that the tag had stopped transmitting nearly three weeks ago, as this would have assisted the search“.

Response of Scottish Wildlife Trust – Susan Davies, director of conservation at the Scottish Wildlife Trust (SWT) said: “It’s extremely disappointing to learn that yet another hen harrier has disappeared over a grouse moor. The most recent surveys show that hen harrier numbers are declining in most parts of Scotland and that illegal persecution is a factor in this decline. Anyone who has information on this bird’s disappearance should contact Police Scotland immediately. 

The Trust has repeatedly called on the Scottish Government to be tougher on wildlife crime and introduce a system of licensing for grouse moor management to encourage sustainable practices. We welcome the recent announcement that a working group will be formed to look at the environmental impact of grouse moors and options for better regulation, and we stand ready to assist this group in any way possible“.

Response of Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association – A spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland. This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation. We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the Police immediately.”

Response of Scottish Moorland Group –

Response of Grampian Moorland Group –

Response of GWCT – Nothing, nada, zilch. But on Twitter they announced the availability of the new GWCT Xmas Cards. That’s nice.

Response of BASC –

Response of Countryside Alliance –

Response of Scottish Association for Country Sports – (from The Times) – Julia Stoddart, head of policy for the SACS, lamented the practice of killing hen harriers to protect grouse. “However, we would remind the RSPB that tag technology can fail for a number of reasons, and that raptors are susceptible to natural causes of death as well as to illegal persecution“, she said.

Other media coverage:

BBC news here

Scotsman here

Press & Journal here

UPDATE 2 September 2017: On cue, Scottish landowners’ rep throws false allegations at RSPB (see here).

UPDATE 4 September 2017: Political silence in response to missing hen harrier Calluna (see here).

UPDATE 5 September 2017: Scottish Land & Estates and their indefensible distortion of the truth (see here).

46 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier disappears on grouse moor in Cairngorms National Park”

  1. Well the linkage can hardly be more direct, can it surely? I’ll have a fiver on their excuse being “kidnapped by Lord Lucan and Elvis to keep Shergar company” though. That is as believable as anything they’ve said previously.

  2. Rotten to the very core… every last one of them. We will endeavour in our efforts to wipe away their rhetoric and their sport and with it their management of their lands.. it will take time and many more needless disappearances. But we will.

  3. Licensing is essential to have any chance of reducing this blatant criminality in Scotland’s countryside on so-called “sporting estates”. The only other alternative is a ban on driven grouse shooting.

  4. This sadly predictable outcome of the loss of Calluna has just got a mention during the 7am news on Radio 4’s Today programme, so perhaps there is some hope that this will gain national traction and now come to the attention of the wider public at the shameful events taking place on these ghastly Grouse moors on a daily basis.

  5. However predictable this was and the regular disappearance of satellite tagged raptors on the UKs grouse moors is pretty predictable each incident still makes me very angry, sad and ever more determined that they shall not and cannot win, these ignorant,po faced criminals. No I don’t mean the keepers who pull the trigger, set the trap or lace the bait with poison bad as though that is, I mean the moor owners, the agents and factors who commission these crimes
    and of course their clients. As an absolute minimum we need licencing, strongly policed and with real, harsh penalties for transgressing, when that fails and I believe it will fail the only option is a ban, the sooner the better of driven grouse shooting and the mass release of non-native game birds..

  6. The BBC really is useless.
    From actual RSPB press release which they refer to
    ‘The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27 per cent since 2004’
    BBC photo caption
    ‘There are thought to be about 600 breeding pairs of hen harrier across the UK ‘

    1. Not sure what the problem is with this – 460 pairs in Scotland plus the pairs that nest in Wales, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man, and the tiny number in England, combined may well make up around 600 pairs over the UK?

        1. Thanks RPUK, as an avid follower of the blog, I know well the problems that the harriers face. I can’t see what anandprasad’s issue is with the BBC’s reporting though? they report 460 pairs in Scotland, and 600 across the UK.

  7. The grousers are complaining that it took 3 weeks to be told about it.
    Hilarious. If they had been told on 12th August they would have complained another form of conspiracy.
    Lead laced lunacy and yet the media print this guff without mentioning the most important fact, that there has been a Scottish Parliament review on missing satellite tags on grouse moors. I am fuming but don’t think i missed it.

  8. Every statement so far mentions either Calluna or Hen harriers apart from the SGA which say ‘… the bird..’, as if they can’t accept the importance of Hen harriers, or perhaps I’m over thinking this.

  9. What about RSPB (or a fund) offering a reward, substantial enough to persuade someone to come forward and point the finger at the person if they know they are responsible?

  10. That wee bit of Invercauld in isolation to the north of Ballater was sold. Dr. Andrew Cameron Salvesen D.L. OBE was rumoured to have bought it. He leases a fair on Invercauld including Micras. H e also leases a lot of Dinnet via Findrack Investments Ltd

  11. I’ve seen all the excuses – ‘raptorphiles’, ‘bird botherers’ ‘wind turbines’, ‘extreme bird watchers’, ‘dog walkers’, ‘sat tags’, ‘weather’ and ‘the BBC’ – all these things are killing raptors off apparently, and the latest fantasy is that raptors are being killed by other birds of prey, they turn the birds on their backs to eat them, which stops the tracker working, and no one can find the tracker in the heather. I would say you couldn’t make it up, but they do.

  12. I am probably asking the bleeding obvious here but I will go ahead anyway .Do the transmitters stop working after the bird has been stationary for ages? or is it the pellets that damage it when the bird is shot ? or do the keepers break the transmitters after they have killed the bird ? If the latter why don’t they take the transmitter to an other area and dispose of it there?

    1. Hi J. Coogan,

      The transmitters under normal circumstances will continue to transmit data showing their location for a while after a bird dies (provided that the unit was charging well which can be viewed from the received data).

      They also contain electronics to switch over to a “ground track” signal when a bird becomes inactive for a period of time, this helps you locate a downed bird.

      Generally speaking birds that are located dead will have either died naturally or been injured rather than killed outright at the time when persecution incident took place.

      As time goes on those involved in persecution of wildlife (in particular raptors) have realised that leaving the evidence to be found is causing them a lot of bad press, so extra effort is being made to ensure that any evidence is removed. (Oddly they think that the rest of the population aren’t clever enough to a) recognise changes in behavior and b) that the breeding population data collected for these species won’t show disparity with areas that aren’t intensively managed. As per this study

      I am watching with interest as those involved cry foul at every report of raptor persecution, despite having been given multiple chances to put “their” houses in order, I guess now that the a few bad apples excuse is well and truly defunct, we should expect this of individuals who take no responsibility for their colleagues illegal activities, they know who is doing what, it’s up to them to do something about it before it’s too late.

      Things are certainly heating up, what many fail to realise is that whilst they pay lip service to all the attempts that are made to work with them as they prefer to make excuse after excuse and then continue to kill protected wildlife, is that the data will not lie. Overtime patterns emerge and it becomes plain to see what is happening.

      I will offer an example, a historically successful peregrine nesting site, occupied every year for a decade and yet never successful, even the biggest fool must see that there is a problem, add in a few raptor persecution incidents (shot and trapped raptors found dead and dying in the same area) and we are expected to believe that it’s wind farms, global warming or whatever this weeks excuse might be.

      What I find most difficult to understand is why their representatives are invited to PAW to peddle their particular brand of BS when it is clear they are only interested in being involved to muddy the waters.

      1. Thanks Homer. It is particularly significant that the ‘cry foul’ brigade has been silent on the question of the video showing two men apparently trying to shoot a nesting Marsh Harrier and carrying off its eggs. See here:
        Faced with irrefutable evidence, they have chosen to stay silent, at least publicly. Maybe, this way, they think that the fuss will die down more quickly and that people will forget it. If this is so, they couldn’t be more mistaken!

    2. “If the latter why don’t they take the transmitter to an other area and dispose of it there?”

      Because they’re probably to thick to have thought of that. Let’s not give the bastards ideas, eh.;)

      1. I thought transmitters detect body temperature so that wouldn’t work if they were to dispose of the carcass well away from the area where the crime was committed. If that’s the case these people could also be caught in the act of perverting the course of justice (ie preventing the detection of the killing of a Schedule 1 bird) if the change in data was noted before they disposed of the carcass elsewhere.

  13. Would it be possible to advertise at all UK airports and main sea ports from Europe with the following -A picture/pictures of dead Raptors etc with the words “This happens in the UK so people can do this ” a picture/ pictures next to it showing
    shot Grouse,Pheasants etc .Am suggesting this as I recently had the miss fortune of travelling passed a ” shot ”
    near Loch Tay ( they were a bit too close to the single track road I was on and a couple on bikes also looked visibly upset, no signs up to warn public) A ” car park ” a short distance along this road had about 15 cars/ 4×4 parked in it nearly all with overseas registration numbers.

  14. All this shouting when a prosecution should be taking place. Fact – the birds last location can be shown in court. Fact the estate was shooting on the glorious 12th from the same butts where the bird was shot. No may be not the individual that shot the bird but the estate can be put in court. If not a public prosecution a private prosecution. What are you waiting for?

    1. John,

      What on earth are you on about now? We don’t even know the name of the estate from where the last transmission was sent, let alone whether that estate had a shoot running on 12th, or indeed whether the bird was shot.

      We know its last signal came from a grouse moor area a few miles north of Ballater on 12 August. That’s it. We can speculate and draw our own conclusions based on the wider circumstantial and scientific evidence but no more than that.

  15. An area rife with raptor persecution, a huge building site for second homes, the Cairngorm National Park should have its status removed. It must be the worst managed NP in Britain. It’s an embarrassment to be called a National Park.

  16. I’ve made a comment on the ‘Scotsman’ article and I’m being patronised and told it’s all down to wind turbine strikes. Fancy that, eh?

  17. Didn’t this same thing happen last year and the bits turned up fit and well 2 months later with a knackered tag

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