Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc disappears on grouse moor at Wemmergill

And so it continues.

Joint press release today from RSPB and Durham Police:


Durham Constabulary and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier near Middleton-in-Teesdale.

The harrier, named Marc, was one of a nest of two chicks tagged as part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ project in July last year from a nest in the Scottish Borders.

Photo of Hen harrier Marc (right) photographed at the nest last summer with his brother Manu, who also disappeared on a grouse moor in the North Pennines. Photo by Tim Jones.

Marc’s tag had been transmitting regularly, showing no signs of any problems, until it suddenly stopped on the afternoon of 5 February. Data from Marc’s tag indicated he had been in the same area of upland farmland since late November before moving 10km north west on 27 January to an area of driven grouse moor, from here he posted several positions on the 5 February until 2.04pm, after which the tag inexplicably failed to send any further data.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors with only three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. There have been a number of other hen harriers that have gone missing in similar circumstances both in England and Scotland since the tagging project began in 2015. This includes Marc’s brother, a bird called Manu who was tagged in the same nest but went missing in October 2017 with his last known location being close to a grouse moor in Northumberland.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Principal Specialist, said: “Hen harriers are facing an uncertain future: these spectacular birds should be flourishing in our uplands but studies show that we are down to just a handful of pairs in England with illegal persecution identified as a prime factor. So it’s depressing when yet another hen harrier goes off the radar like this, especially when the supporting tag data is so precise.”

A spokesperson for Durham Constabulary said: “We are very concerned at the disappearance of one of these iconic birds of prey. Hen harriers are fully protected by law and raptor persecution is a national wildlife crime priority. We urge you to come forward if you have any information about the disappearance of this bird.”

If you have any information relating to this incident (ref 163 2022018), call Durham Constabulary on 101 or the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.


The RSPB has also published a blog about Marc’s suspicious disappearance here

The RSPB has published a map showing the last known location of Marc’s tag:

A quick look on Google Earth shows this area is managed for driven grouse shooting:

We’ve done a bit of research and it looks like this area is part of the Wemmergill Estate, a well-known driven grouse shooting location in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It is also part of a Special Protection Area (SPA) designated specifically for hen harriers. There should be at least 11 breeding pairs of hen harriers in this SPA – there are none.

The estate boundary (in red) on our map suggests the estate is divided in to two separate areas, but this could just be a function of the system used to assess rural payments received by the estate, which is the source of the estate boundary we have used above.

This map below, from the North Pennines AONB, suggests Wemmergill is not split in to two separate areas:

This is not the first time that the police have investigated a suspected raptor persecution incident in this location. In 2015, two dead short-eared owls were found shoved inside a pothole – both had been shot (see here).

So, it looks like DEFRA’s outrageous Hen Harrier Action Plan is continuing to fail. Launched in January 2016 and designed to supposedly protect hen harriers from criminal persecution, here we have yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier that has vanished without trace in an area managed for driven grouse shooting.

As Dr Hugh Webster commented recently, “They can hide the bodies. They can hide the tags. But they can’t hide the pattern“.

If you’re sick to the back teeth of hen harrier persecution and you have no faith in DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, there’s no better time than now to support this legal challenge to the brood meddling part of that Plan – please support the crowdfunder here.

Here’s DEFRA Wildife Minister Dr Therese Coffey visiting Wemmergill Estate last August with her friends from the Moorland Association, the grouse moor owners’ lobby group.

Captions, anyone?

51 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier Marc disappears on grouse moor at Wemmergill”

  1. Well we can’t expect a statement from the Scottish Moorland Group, but perhaps the Moorland Association will let us know what didn’t happen to this bird.
    Sad, angry, despairing doesn’t cover my varied feelings.

  2. Ok chaps, how near to the sea are we?

    Therese dear, If we let the hen harrier in, we will soon have nothing else, even that moss won’t be safe.

  3. How many more of our iconic raptors have to disappear before the government gets off its arse and bans driven red grouse shooting. If the police can’t enforce the law is there another choice!!

    1. As far as I’m concerned Roger, it has gone beyond banning driven grouse shooting, I want all shooting for ‘sport’ banned -with no ‘grey areas’ giving these bastards any room for manoeuvre.

      1. I do agree, however one step at a time is more likely to succeed. It is also why I have signed the petition to license driven grouse shoots. I know it won’t work but it is another step on the road to banning driven grouse shooting.

          1. One way will be to charge the going rate for gun licenses. The cost of passports has increased while gun licenses have remained low.

            1. The costs of issuing the licenses are more than the actual charge so taxpayers are subsidising gun owners. I believe it was David Cameron who stopped the charges being increased to cover the actual cost – probably to keep in with the Chipping Norton set.
              Not to mention the drain on GP’s time when they could be helping the sick instead. Or the Police who have had massive cuts.
              However, I think we should tighten the rules still more – like they do in Japan where shooting crimes are very rare. I mean we don’t want to end up like the USA do we? At least Scotland has included airguns in licensing. Catch up England.

              1. Just to expand on how to own a gun in Japan (courtesy of the New York Times):-

                1 Join a hunting or shooting club.
                2 Take a firearm class and pass a written exam, which is held up to three times a year.
                3 Get a doctor’s note saying you are mentally fit and do not have a history of drug abuse.
                4 Apply for a permit to take firing training, which may take up to a month.
                5 Describe in a police interview why you need a gun.
                6 Pass a review of your criminal history, gun possession record, employment, involvement with organized crime groups, personal debt and relationships with friends, family and neighbors.
                7 Apply for a gunpowder permit.
                8 Take a one-day training class and pass a firing test.
                9 Obtain a certificate from a gun dealer describing the gun you want.
                10 Buy a gun safe and an ammunition locker that meet safety regulations.
                11 Allow the police to inspect your gun storage.
                12 Pass an additional background review.
                13 Buy a gun.

  4. I trust someone with influence will show this report to Therese Coffey?…Id like to think that someone in Her Majesties Opposition would publicly castigate her for consorting with this estate and widely publish this photo – imagine if it was a private company with a previously unsolved crime on its premises…oh look, it is!

  5. An abridged precis from their website shows xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx [Ed: deleted as potentially libellous]

    “Wemmergill Hall and Grouse Shooting, the playground of the rich and famous.

    Its heyday huge numbers of birds were shot and members of the Royal Families of Europe, including of course our own, and MPs were regular visitors during the shooting season,

    In the twenty years before I took over Wemmergill not a yard of burning or draining had been done. I introduced carefully controlled burning to ensure a regular supply of young heather and put in thousands of miles of drains. The result was an improvement in the grouse population and in the bags.

    Wemmergill does not recover from a poor grouse year as quickly as some other moors; the rainfall is much higher, but in a season when everything goes right Wemmergill has a greater power of producing grouse than any moor I know.”

    xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxx [Ed: deleted as libellous]

    1. If you look at the aerial photograph of the area in more detail – something like,-2.1891921,5514m/data=!3m1!1e3
      and zoom in it looks worse than I ever imagined. I don’t think I have ever seen a more unnatural and ghastly-looking piece of countryside in my life! How does this ever qualify as an AONB?
      I’m from the south, and I don’t know the area. Could someone who does please interpret these aerial images for me? Are all those near-parallel lines fences?

  6. Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil?!

    I really hope that day by day this is being brought to the attention of the public and the police and that xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx land owners finally realise that their days of thinking they’re above the law are truly numbered!

  7. Re that conspiracy theory that it’s actually the conservation side , the Eco Zeolots who are bumping off raptors to give the DGS fraternity a bad name…
    Well we couldn’t do half as good a job as they are doing, you really do have to take your hat off to them, their timing and spread of locations and species is giving such good coverage. It’s have taken a good team to plan it all!

  8. The above text seems to have originated from a 1950ish book ‘A Shooting Man’s Greed’, quoted on the Lunedale Heritage Project Website, itself supported by Nationwide and Heritage Lottery Fund. Not particularly helpful.
    The Wemmergill Management Plan at is perhaps more illuminating of current practice, co-authored by people from Natural England and hardly a draconian burden on the owners.

    How can we get more publicity about the apparent levels of collusion between DEFRA, Natural England, the Moorland Association and GWCT ? Chris Packham can’t do it all !

  9. RPUK – my try for a caption = ‘Birds of a feather stick together, but not all survive once they reach a Grouse moor’. I note that the one on the right hid under his cap so we can’t identify him! Is that a ball of bullshit Theresa is holding?

      1. MMPs said by MA spokesperson to be “exciting & encouraging” …. as a taxpayer I want them to deliver tangible public benefit and I ask, seriously, do they? Where is the address of alleged illegal activity on and around grouse moors? Where is the public benefit when peat is burned, water contaminated, wildlife massacred to sustain abnormally high numbers of a quarry species?

        How can we go about seeking independent assessment of these ‘agreements’? Begs the question whether Defra and subservient NDPBs are fit for purpose?

        Step up Michael Gove and sort this shambles out please? Has he lost his vertebrae and nerve? iThat is to say if he ever meant the spin delivered around his 25 YEP?

  10. Hi Ed,

    My try at a caption

    “One of the obvious benefits of driven grouse shooting is an endless supply of top quality saffron”

  11. Just like Fred the Golden Eagle – moves a few miles out of safe territory and that’s that! We know what sort of a reception harriers get in many areas from the Denton Moor video. Even though no case was taken against these individuals, their behaviour showed the world what tricks they get up to if they think they’re not under observation. New readers – see here:

  12. Just how bad does the situation have to be before the RSPB calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting!

    1. It would be good to live in a world where there was no DGS. However, we don’t, so we have to face reality.What concerns me is that, if DGS was banned tomorrow, we’d still be stuck with the vindictive morons who are persecuting BOPs – indeed the situation could become worse as they retaliated against such a ban. I used to favour a ban, not least because of the wanton destruction of the Red Grouse – one of our most spectacular indigenous wild species. However, looking at the practicalities of the matter, I now believe that licensing should be given a trial. If it doesn’t work, we all know what the next step should be.

      1. Dylanben, licensing is actually a ban. If licensing worked it would end driven grouse shooting because as Langholm demonstrated legality and DGSs cannot co-exist.
        In the real world we know that licensing won’t be enforceable so it all drags on for decades more. I won’t live to see it end.
        Having said that if Scotland licences DGS next year it will speed up the process. This UK government can’t stay in power for ever and will have to eventually follow Scotland’s lead. Even then we are still talking about decades.

        1. Anandprasad, I fully appreciate the logic of what you’re saying, but it would not be achieved without licensing actually being brought in and proving the point.

  13. Caption – “This small turd I grasp has hidden within it a postage stamp size document announcing peace in our time between the elite privileged Landowners and those pesky plebs who apparently like to see the countryside full of Grouse slaughtering flying vermin” “Well done chaps, Large Whiskies all round”

  14. For many years I have regularly climbed Mickle Fell which is approached over this estate. The estate has a very arrogant unpleasant gamekeeper who barely tolerates hill walkers and the estate has numerous signs trying to deny walkers with dogs “due to ground nesting birds” ha ha ha. On the approach track to Mickle Fell I counted 13 fen traps for killing stoats and weasels and whatever else they can get. All in all a rather threatening and unpleasant feel about the place, but one that is replicated across many grouse moors in the N Pennines. I am not at all surprised that a hen harrier has gone missing on this estate or that short eared owls were found “stuffed down a hole” there.

    In 2010 I found 3 badly decomposed carcasses of raptors on an estate near Croglin in the N Pennines. The birds had been dumped just behind a tin hut used by shooting parties for their “jollies”, on top of a dry stone wall and barely concealed. I reported the find to the RSPB and got a call from their crime officer and gave him grid references, he found the birds and they were identified as buzzards and peregrine but they were too badly decomposed to follow up with a prosecution. The estate near Croglin is just over the watershed from RSPB Geltsdale where hen harriers regularly fail to nest succesfully. Any golden eagles from the S Scotland reintroduction programme will be at threat of serious persecution if they stray S across the border into the N Pennines.

    1. This is why I don’t holiday (or spend time ) in North Yorkshire. As an outdoors type I’ve always been made to feel especially unwelcome in that county. I suppose the lost revenue from the millions of hill walkers that populate this country is factored into the grouse moor economic benefit model ( of course it,isn’t since that model only exists in the minds of GWCT et al)

  15. Dylanben is right about the probable behaviour of the vindictive morons should DGS be banned. This is exactly what the poachers did in East Africa when Black Rhinos were dehorned in the hope of stopping their slaughter for their horns. They then killed them out of spite! We must never forget that we are dealing with mindless sub-humans who delight in slaughtering literally thousands of Red Grouse and Mountain Hares in the name of ‘sport’! Don’t expect normal behaviour from the likes of them. Licensing is our best hope I suspect.

  16. Caption 2: “Imagine this ball of Sphagnum is Defra and Natural England rolled into one, it is my gift to you, My gift to Grouse.”

  17. Caption suggestion
    “It’s the beating heart of the countryside and we are ripping it out to benefit driven grouse shooting “

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