Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Kathy’ found dead in suspicious circumstances

Press release from Police Scotland, 20 December 2017:

Police Scotland and RSPB Scotland are issuing a joint appeal for information after a young hen harrier was discovered dead with unexplained injuries on an estate near Dunoon.

“Kathy”, a female bird, was satellite tagged as a chick on the Cowal Peninsula in August this year (2017) as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project.

After fledging in late August, Kathy remained in the vicinity of the nest she hatched in for the next month. RSPB Scotland staff monitoring her tracking device became concerned when data suggested she hadn’t moved on October 3.

A search was carried out on October 5 when Kathy’s body was discovered.

The post-mortem results indicated that the bird had unexplained injuries which may be the result of criminality.

PC Donald Mackay from Police Scotland, said: “I appeal for anyone who knows what happened to Kathy to contact Police Scotland so that we can establish how she may have died. Although this would be an isolated incident in my area, it is concerning that a raptor may have been deliberately killed in Argyll. Hen harriers are a particularly fragile bird of prey in terms of their numbers in the UK, and Police Scotland will work with its partners to thoroughly investigate this incident and robustly deal with any person who may have been involved.”

Will Hayward, Investigations Officer for RSPB Scotland, said: “We are advised that this hen harrier has died from unexplained injuries that may be the result of criminality. If criminal cause of death is confirmed, this incident will sadly be another statistic to add to a catalogue of hen harriers that meet their end in this way. Only through the use of satellite technology are we finally getting an accurate picture of the true scale of a human persecution problem that has been denied by some parties for decades. We look forward to hearing the results of the police investigation into this hen harrier death in due course.”

Hen harriers are one of the country’s most threatened birds of prey with the latest national survey recording only 460 breeding pairs in Scotland, a drop of 27% since 2004. Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101 and ask to speak to a Wildlife Crime Officer.


Two and a half months to make an appeal for information? Even allowing for the time it takes to conduct a post mortem and interview estate employees, that’s nowhere near good enough.

A photograph of Kathy has not been made available so here’s a photo of another dead satellite-tagged hen harrier (Caroll) found earlier this year. Photo by Northumberland Police.

UPDATE 24 December 2017: MSP urges closer cooperation to protect hen harriers – a futile request while illegal raptor killing continues (here).

36 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Kathy’ found dead in suspicious circumstances”

  1. I look forward to hearing the circumstances behind the tagging of this bird. I assume the police eventually realised that they had to say something before the RSPB revealed what they knew.

    1. Why are we SO cynical Alex. Answers on a postcard…….Licencing and stiff custodial penalties are the only solution. So sad.

      1. Unfortunately penalties are only effective when culprits are identified & convicted. Vicarious liability and licensing are surely the priority – assuming banning driven grouse shooting is unrealistic any time soon.

      2. RSPB: “Only through the use of satellite technology are we finally getting an accurate picture of the true scale of a human persecution problem that has been denied by some parties for decades.”
        If one third of Golden Eagles come to a suspicious end, what is the figure for Hen Harriers?
        We should find out in the next couple of years.
        I’m sure the RSPB will give the figures to a responsible researcher to provide a scientific paper.
        SNH and NE. Please take note.

        1. ‘what is the figure for Hen Harriers?’
          We already know from Brian Etheridge’s study but the public, media and politicians don’t appear to rate science unless it has a continuous stream of physical evidence in nice media friendly packages with photos and names of birds (very clever that). As we appear to be living in the middle ages it is absolutely essential but it is also totally mad that it is necessary at all.

          I hope that all the costs of all this technology (and its studies); the cost of all aspects of the HH’FuckUp’Plan; all the ‘Conflict Resolution’ studies (i notice they get grants); plus all the time spent rejecting FOI requests; time debating this in Scottish Parliament; policing costs (what little there is) etc. etc. are also included in the hidden costs of driven grouse shooting in the upcoming study (including the costs of that study itself).

          Probably people will consider this bonkers but the work RPUK and Mark Avery do is also a hidden cost. The work is free but free work is still work. Think what other things the RSPB could be doing with the resources waisted on raptor persecution, waisted in the sense that the vast majority of raptor crime could be stopped virtually immediately if there was a political will to do so? The RSPB could be using these resources on real conservation work, not trying to highlight crime and catch criminals. This additional cost is not only monetary but is a cost to other aspects of the environment which could benefit from the extra resources. We could be helping to stamp out wildlife crime in Malta or Cyprus.

  2. Why has this fact not been put out earlier by the RSPB that one of their tagged harriers
    was missing with its last know position.

      1. It’s still unacceptable. In law a memory is regarded as reliable for the first 21 days only – or it used to be when I worked in the legal field. This is well past that so any potential witness evidence will be much more readily open to challenge. As you say, it’s not good enough asking for help months after the event.

  3. The attitude of shooting estate’s is:

    We are overrun with Hen Harriers and we must cull.

    One HH was sited, EXTERMINATE!!!! (To be spoken in a rough, harsh tone!).

    But of course the cause of death is not published, I wonder, did Kathy find the burden of lead too much to carry?


  4. Sadly there is a sort of inevitability about this, harriers are tagged and many of course are not they fly onto areas of managed grouse moor and they disappear,the tag stops working or they are found dead (usually shot). One question how long have Harriers and for that matter other raptors game shooting don’t like got to pay this price before something effective is done to stop it. Ones patience is running out.
    Perhaps we should be applying for licences to lethally control the perpetrators, rather like MA members applying for licences to lethally control Marsh Harriers but then we wouldn’t be granted ours.
    What we need first and foremost is obligatory custodial sentences for both the culprit and the commissioner of the crime but of course they are often impossible to get to court. The only long term solution is a total ban on driven grouse shooting. For licensing to work it would need to be vigorously policed—– do you think that will happen, no I don’t either.

  5. For virtually all other crimes the coppers can get their appeals out the same day, within an hour or so if it was a police victim. Why does it always take them so long for wildlife crime? I wouldn’t want to suggest corruption and collusion in the police, oh dear me no, so I’m sure there is another answer. Right?

    1. Never happens. Police totally trustworthy as in the case of Andrew Mitchell MP and the “plebgate” incident.
      Never any collusion or corruption.
      Although I personally have had one blatantly lie under oath to get a minor traffic conviction. That’s how to totally demolish trust in the police force.

  6. vicarious liability sounded a good idea,but i’m afraid it’s working against us! Landowners are wealthy powerful people in the main with friends in high places ,politicians,police and the judiciary.That’s why prosecutions are so rare!!

  7. Email sent to Police Scotland today:

    Re: hen harrier Kathy, found dead 05/10/17, estate near Dunoon:
    I would like to know why it has taken Police Scotland two and a half months to appeal for information regarding yet another hen harrier found dead in suspicious circumstances? This hen harrier was found dead on 05/10/17 and Police Scotland issue an appeal on 20/12/17. I am sorry but that level of delay is unacceptable. Please explain why it took Police Scotland so long to issue an appeal?

      1. What a time to release this appeal!!! Xmas nears and minds will be on other things. It’s an absolute joke that lost its humour decades ago. One of the few reasons for delaying the appeal would be if there was CCTV/photographic evidence and efforts were made to ID the offender(s). The chance of that is less than nil.

    1. Got this reply so far – will post what actually arrives…


      Good afternoon,

      Your email copied below has been received at the Professional Standards Department and an Officer will make contact with you after the 25th of December.

      Yours sincerely.

      Complaint Assessment and Resolution Unit
      Professional Standards Department
      Police Scotland

      1. Got this at 0921 today – I’m going to reply as a concerned member of the public? They seem a bit jumpy though eh:


        Good morning

        Further to our email below (above), we would be grateful if you could firstly explain what your connection is to this matter? i.e. do/did you work at the estate in question/report the matter initially etc.

        Kind regards

        Complaint Assessment and Resolution Unit
        Professional Standards Department
        Police Scotland

        1. Reply to Police Scotland:

          Dear Police Scotland

          I have no direct connection to this matter and I am complaining as a very concerned member of the public.

          I look forward to your response.

          Yours sincerely,

          1. This is my reply from Police Scotland. In my first email I asked what time targets they had for issuing appeals for info and targets for completion of autopsies. In my second email about Kathy I asked why the media appeal had been made so late. Once again the good reputation of the RSPB’s crime instigation unit is being used to prop up the reputation of a partner.

            “Thank you for your recent emails concerning raptor persecution in Scotland.

            With regards to your initial email (below), I can confirm that Police Scotland does not impose specific timescales or targets on wildlife crime investigations (although obviously the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 imposes a 3 year time bar on bringing an offender to justice). Wildlife crime policing is firmly embedded in Police Scotland and all reported wildlife crime (including raptor persecution) is investigated in a similar manner to other forms of reported crime to ensure both a consistent approach and that a thorough investigation takes place.

            All forensic analysis in relation to a carcass (such as a post mortem examination) is undertaken by specialist external agencies which then report their findings to Police Scotland at the earliest opportunity. Any potential evidence of criminality gleaned from the forensic reporting is considered alongside other available evidence when developing a specific investigative strategy. This strategy will also include consideration of the development of a media appeal and the evidential gain to be made from such an appeal, should one be made.

            In terms of your specific enquiry about Hen Harrier Kathy, I can only reiterate the point made above that a media appeal is just one strand of investigative strategy. In the case of Kathy, the decision on when or whether to issue a media appeal, and the benefits to be gained from it, was considered as part of that overall investigative strategy (including consideration of the conclusions from the forensic analysis) and the recent appeal was made at an appropriate point in the investigation. As this remains a live investigation l am unable to make further comment on this case.

            Police Scotland is committed to tackling wildlife crime and works closely with a range of partners (such as RSPB) to pursue those that damage Scotland’s reputation through this form of criminality. We would encourage anybody with information about wildlife crime to contact Police Scotland by telephoning 101 or by contacting Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111. Please be assured that should any further information come to light which could assist with this specific enquiry Police Scotland will investigate it thoroughly.


            Andrew Mavin

            Sergeant Andrew Mavin
            Scottish Wildlife Crime Coordinator
            Specialist Crime Division
            Police Scotland

              1. There should be a Policy Log with the rationale for the release timing within. Ask for a copy of that in due course.

            1. Well done lizzy – I’m still waiting for my written reply but I got a call from Police Scotland Professional Standards in my area. The sergeant said that a written response would be forthcoming. She also indicated that the delay in raising the appeal for Kathy had been due to ongoing investigations and that raising the appeal at the outset might jeopardise enquiries. I did counter with the view that keeping the discovery low-key also gave the potential perpetrators time to cover their tracks. I got the usual response about things being managed on a case by case basis… Hopefully the written response will give more detail.

  8. I can not wait for a answer Loki , the whole situation is pathetic and shows the enormous divisions we have in this country. The Hen Harrier is now our own Giant Panda… imagine shooting one of them and covering it up.

  9. xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxx

    xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxxxxx

    Police now routinely refuse to the place where wildlife has occurred (usually and estate) and also cause of death.

    News Flash: 6 months ago,somewhere a raptor has been killed unlawfully.

    Newspapers and other media are not interested in reporting incidents presented this way.

    Routinely holding back such information serves only to protect the sporting industry and land landowners.

  10. Belatedly – what were the ‘unexplained ‘injuries? Surely not hard to identify – even by a Scottish police force?

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