Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’

Last month we blogged about yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that had suspiciously ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here). We only knew about it because North Yorkshire Police mentioned it on Twitter and posted a few photographs from the search scene:

We made a general enquiry to Natural England and asked for further details (which hen harrier it was, where and when it was satellite-tagged, on which grouse moor it had ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park). Natural England refused to provide any detail, other than that ‘key stakeholders’ (i.e. the landowner!) had been notified. The landowner had probably been more than ‘notified’ – if Natural England was following the ridiculous ‘satellite tag protocol’, the landowner’s ‘permission’ would have been sought to conduct the police search! Honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, back to the hen harrier. We weren’t happy that Natural England was withholding information on what was probably a publicly-funded satellite tag so we submitted a formal FoI to request this information. We managed to find out some details:

Why Natural England didn’t release this information when we first asked for it is anybody’s guess – just following its normal practice of putting obstacles in the way, hoping that we’d shuffle off and forget about it, probably.

Anyway, we now know that this missing hen harrier is ‘John’, who was tagged on 8 July 2016 in Northumberland. We blogged about John in February 2017 (see here) – he was the mystery hen harrier about which little was known. We still don’t know very much about him because Natural England has chosen to remain silent on his movements over the last 14 months [but see UPDATE below], although from the updated spreadsheet that Natural England published in September, we know that his tag was transmitting in September 2017 in Northumberland. See: hen-harrier-tracking-data-2002-onwards

We also know that Natural England realised John’s tag was no longer transmitting on 5 October 2017 and that North Yorkshire Police conducted a search for him ten days later (15 Oct 2017) on a grouse moor in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. What we still don’t know is the name of this grouse moor and whether North Yorks Police found any evidence such as a tag or a corpse.

We’ll be submitting an FoI to North Yorkshire Police to ask about this – it’ll be very interesting to see the response. North Yorkshire Police appear to have upped their game recently in terms of investigating suspected raptor persecution crimes – a very welcome and much-needed change of pace in England’s leading raptor-killing county. Let’s see how open they’ll be about this latest investigation.

Meanwhile, it’s time to update the list of what hapened to the satellite-tagged hen harrier class of 2016, which includes harriers tagged by Natural England and the RSPB:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging, presumed dead (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Hen harrier John – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Oct ’17)

Eleven down, six to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

UPDATE 20 November 2017: Thanks to the blog reader who pointed out that John had been recorded at Langholm in the summer of 2017, as mentioned in the hen harrier update on the Langholm Demonstration Project website on 28 June 2017 – here.

UPDATE 22 November 2017: Threshfield Moor named as missing hen harrier John’s last known location (here)

17 thoughts on “Hen harrier ‘missing’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park is ‘John’”

  1. When can we get widespread, in depth, publicity for all this as many people do not realize the carnage going on in our National Parks and on estates receiving subsidies? Panorama, Channel 4………

    1. Good point bettylee13.
      I work in health and social care and asked fifteen of my colleagues what a hen harrier was. Only two of them knew.
      If people don’t know what a hen harrier is (let alone the magnificence of them) they are not going to care or protect them.
      And of course, the hen harrier is the symbol of everything diabolically wrong in the uplands.
      Thank god for RPUK and their incessant pursuit for justice! Absolutely heart-breaking reading about the class of 2016 :(

      1. I’ve asked this question before but have never received an answer (unless my memory is failing). Does RPUK provide press releases to the media? If not, why not? Loki’s point is significant in this respect. At bird club and other natural history meetings where I am talking about persecution of Hen Harriers in relation to grouse shooting, I occasionally ask for a show of hands to determine how many of the audience read RPUK blogs. Most don’t know it exists and hardly anyone within these groups, who should be interested in the plight of harriers, admits to reading it. There is a strong message to e told that we’re not getting out to most ornithologists (including some members of Raptor Study Groups!), never mind the public at large. I hate being even mildly critical, because I have serious respect for those who put out the blog and all the others who contribute comments.

  2. From the FoI information, I would have thought that the reporting procedure could have been more forthcoming. Ideally it would be helpful to know how soon after the last signal the police are informed, and how that relates to the time the police visit the site. Who would have informed the landowner and when would that have been done.

  3. Such a pity Natural England has no emthusiasm for this subject.
    Better by far if it gave responsibility to someone who gives a s**t

  4. I’m sure I should know, but can you tell me if any of these ‘missing’ birds are individuals tagged by the Hawk & Owl Trust team? By the way, surely the ‘huddle’ of policemen on one of the photos means they had found ‘something of interest’? Not a patch of white heather I presume!

    1. Two of these birds’ tags were funded by Hawk & Owl Trust (but fitted by Natural England).

      Rowan – found shot dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park Oct 2016
      Sorrel – still transmitting in Scottish Borders, Sept 2017

  5. I had hoped that the weight of the NY Police presence in one place on 15/10 was an indication that they were hot on the trail of something, rather than it being a follow-up of information which was ten days old. I wonder where and why the delay arose. The full story should be interesting. if and when it ever comes out.

  6. I’m not sure if this response from the Government can be published again directly, but it’s what I received from a petition, I guess everyone’s seen it, but if not:

    “The Government has responded to the petition you signed – “Ban Driven Grouse Shooting”.

    Government responded:

    Defra is working with key interested parties to ensure the sustainable management of the uplands, balancing environmental and economic benefits, which includes the role of sustainable grouse shooting.

    The government appreciates that many people hold strong views on the issue of driven grouse shooting. The government considers that shooting activities bring many benefits to the rural economy and can in many cases be beneficial for wildlife and habitat conservation. We recognise that it is vital that wildlife and habitats are respected and protected and the law is respected. We will continue work to ensure a sustainable, mutually beneficial relationship between shooting and conservation. We do have concerns that in some limited instances management practices have unwanted consequences for the wider environment.

    Persecution of British raptors and other wildlife

    All wild birds are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. We have identified raptor persecution as a wildlife crime priority. Each wildlife crime priority has a delivery group to consider what action should be taken, and develop a plan to prevent crime, gather intelligence on offences and enforce against it. The Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group (RPPDG) focuses on the golden eagle, goshawk, hen harrier, peregrine, red kite and white-tailed eagle. The group is working on developing tools to help tackle raptor persecution crimes.

    The National Wildlife Crime Unit, which is part-funded by Defra, monitors and gathers intelligence on illegal activities affecting raptors and assists police forces when required. Despite instances of poisoning and killing of birds of prey, populations of many species, such as the peregrine falcon, red kite and buzzard have increased. We are concerned that with respect to eliminating illegal bird of prey persecution, there are still individuals who continue to commit these crimes. We will work with all stakeholders to try to eradicate these crimes.

    In particular the government takes the decline in the hen harrier population in England very seriously and is committed to securing its future. In January 2016 the hen harrier sub-group of the Defra led Upland Stakeholder Forum published the Hen Harrier Action Plan to increase the English hen harrier population. It contains six actions which individually can bring benefits for hen harriers, but when combined, underpin each other and have the potential to deliver positive outcomes.

    The Action Plan was developed with senior representatives from organisations including Natural England, the Moorland Association, the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Parks England and formerly the RSPB. These organisations, led by Natural England, will monitor activities and report annually on progress to the Defra Uplands Stakeholder Forum and the UK Tasking and Co-ordinating group for Wildlife Crime.

    Targeted control of problem species is only one part of a complex mix of factors that can influence populations. Maintaining the balance between biodiversity and the numbers of each species is important. Defra monitors populations of a number of rare or vulnerable species where human intervention is thought to be a contributing factor in their decline, and ensures appropriate action is taken to keep their populations out of danger.

    Subsidies to grouse moorland estates

    Neither subsidies nor agri-environment payments are paid to farmers to support shooting activities. Agri-environment schemes provide funding to support environmentally beneficial land management, including the management of habitats and work to improve water quality, facilitate carbon capture and protect our historic landscapes. Uplands, including grouse moors, have complex land ownership and tenure arrangements with many areas being designated common land with multiple beneficiaries. Hence, many of the agreements under our schemes result in funding going to grazing tenancies that are critical to the beneficial management of these areas.

    Flood risk, water pollution & environmental damage

    The government is aware that the UK uplands have 75% of the world’s remaining heather moorland and about 13% of the world’s blanket bog. 70% of the UK’s drinking water is provided from upland catchments, and tourism brings in an estimated £1.78 billion to England’s upland national parks.

    The government recognises that healthy, active peat provides good habitat for grouse as well as numerous environmental benefits and ecosystem services. Natural England is working with landowners of grouse moors within Special Areas of Conservation to develop voluntary agreements, which include vegetation management principles for the various habitats on grouse moors. The government encourages land managers to work closely with Natural England to put voluntary agreements in place for all the benefits they bring to moor owners and to the environment.

    The government is also working with moor owners and stakeholders to further improve management practices and peat condition, such as through the Blanket Bog Restoration Strategy.

    Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

    Click this link to view the response online:


    The Petitions Committee will take a look at this petition and its response. They can press the government for action and gather evidence. If this petition reaches 100,000 signatures, the Committee will consider it for a debate.

    The Committee is made up of 11 MPs, from political parties in government and in opposition. It is entirely independent of the Government. Find out more about the Committee: https://petition.parliament.uk/help#petitions-committee

    The Petitions team
    UK Government and Parliament”

    They say nothing about planting more trees, or leaving areas to rewild, on our moorland to prevent the repeated flash-flooding of places such as Hebden Bridge.

    As for the rest of it, it’s smoke and mirrors, nothing will change until the rich are taxed on their land, driven grouse shooting is banned, and perhaps the moorlands could return to what they should be, with a healthy hen harrier population.

    Hold the line and follow the dream, it will come if enough of us suppport it.


  7. If there is a view that Natural England are not fit for purpose then people should consider raising concerns supported by case studies/evidence with their MPs and asking them to make representation on their behalf to the Minister (Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales – wherever) Critical mass of correspondence can cause reaction and Gove at least has promised (ha) a new independent watchdog (suspect it’ll be another lapdog but we can live in hope) ….

    Brexit is the MSM focus as it is the politicians so wildlife and criminal activity associated with it is neglected. It’s for us to #spreadtheword?

    RPUK do a fabulous job by providing an incredible record of crimes and information we can use, thank you team.

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