Satellite-tagged hen harrier Aalin ‘disappears’ near Ruabon grouse moor, North Wales

They can hide the tags. They can hide the bodies. But they can’t hide the pattern” (Dr Hugh Webster)

RSPB press release (21/3/18):


North Wales Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier near Wrexham.

The harrier, named Aalin, was tagged as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ project in July 2016 from a nest on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Aalin left the Isle of Man in 2016 and spent her first winter in Shropshire, before heading to Wales in the spring of 2017, where she remained ever since.

Hen harrier Aalin (photo by James Leonard)

Aalin’s tag had been transmitting regularly, until it suddenly stopped on the morning of 9 February 2018. Data from Aalin’s tag indicated she spent the last few months in the same area of moorland around Ruabon Mountain near Wrexham, from where the tag unexpectedly sent its last signal at 10.34am. A search was conducted by RSPB Investigations staff, but no tag or body was found and she has not been seen or heard of since.

RSPB map:

Dr. Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, said: “It’s incredibly disappointing to lose yet another hen harrier in these circumstances, especially as this bird is so scarce in the UK. It’s also the first suspicious loss of a bird in Wales for our project, after the elation of tagging our first chicks there in 2017. We were hopeful that heading towards the breeding season Aalin would have nested in Wales and successfully reared chicks this summer, so her loss also affects future generations of this rare and beautiful bird in the area. We believe the loss of Aalin and other recently tagged hen harriers in the UK is having a devastating impact on their conservation status.”

Rob Taylor, Rural Crime Team Manager, North Wales Police, said: “We have been notified by the RSPB of this incident and we are investigating the disappearance, but at this time we have little to go on. We are appealing to the public for any assistance they can give and we hope that foul play hasn’t played a part in the loss of this rare bird.”

Neil Morris, Managing Director of Manx Birdlife, said: “This is heart-breaking news. As well as the sudden unexplained loss of yet another magnificent bird of prey, we still know so little about the behaviour of Manx-born hen harriers. Clearly there is an impulse for young birds to wander soon after fledging. But we don’t really know why or whether any of those that leave the Isle of Man as juveniles make the return journey as mature adults to breed back in their native hills.”

If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Wales Police on 101 quoting the reference WO28466. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.

If you find a wild bird that you suspect was illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form:


Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life Project Manager has also written a blog – here.

We’ve produced a habitat map covering the area of Aalin’s last known satellite-tag fix. The tell-tale heather strips show this as, surprise surprise, a grouse moor:

Aalin was one of the 2016 cohort of young satellite-tagged hen harriers. Here’s what happened to the others:

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 – ‘disappeared’ in the 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)

Hen harrier Aalin – ‘disappeared’ in Wales, presumed dead (Feb ’18)

Twelve down, five to go (DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

More evidence then, that DEFRA’s Hen Harrier Action Plan, launched on 16 January 2016 months before these hen harriers even hatched, is a categorical failure. Will DEFRA or any of the other supporters of this pathetic pantomime (Natural England, Moorland Association, GWCT, Hawk & Owl Trust, International Centre for Birds of Prey etc) re-assess and pull the plug? Of course not.

It looks like Mr Carbo needs to update his sketch:


19 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier Aalin ‘disappears’ near Ruabon grouse moor, North Wales”

  1. Yes, the OS maps shows several grouse buts on Ruabon Mountain as well.

    These people are bold, are they not?

    With the UK government not believing that there is any issue with driven grouse shooting, what can you expect?

  2. Ruabon moor has not seen driven grouse shooting in over 2 decades. yet, now, within a couple of months of the shooting tenancy being sold off we now have a hen harrier go missing, and driven grouse shooting set to return.

    1. Do we know to whom it was sold; it would be interesting to know whether they have any previous experience of grouse moor management. This might provide an insight into their M.O. and their approach to management.

  3. Only one, perhaps two, known not to have died as a result of persecution so 70% in total lost in say 21 months that’s equivalent to 80% loss in two years (fully 67% – 2 out of 3 lost over two years where the tags haven’t been recovered), conceivably to illegal killing.
    If that’s indicative that’s a 35% reduction per year and that’s across the country so that in the areas of persecution, not only are birds not being allowed to breed, these areas of high incidence are preventing visiting birds breeding anywhere – At that rate of reduction, even if 100 birds were released or dispersed they would be down to 2 within say 8 years at the 35% decimation rate. So what chance of successful introduction if they have only a 1 in 3 chance of reaching maturity at 2 years (probably optimistic at 2 years old) If a total of 100 birds are introduced UK wide, the numbers surviving from the original 100 released would be –
    after 1yr – 65 birds, 2yr – 42 birds, 3yr – 27 birds, 4yr – 17 birds, 5yr – 11 birds, 6yr – 7 birds, 7yr – 5 birds, 8yr – 3birds, 9yr – 2 birds. I know that the average lifespan is indicated on some sites as 7 years.

    That isn’t factoring in death due to natural causes, which could be 7-10% per year – probably greater in that additional birds could be lost to natural causes if they remain free of persecution. The point is, the losses occur predominantly in these areas of high incidence of persecution – any bird wandering into any of these areas immediately becomes very high risk – it’s difficult to gauge this without the data. Can birds survive short term visits to “high incidence areas” ? Remember 6 birds of the 17 were lost in the first 6 months or so. It looks like the persecution threat resulting in death is more than 3 times greater than dying of natural causes – and that’s an average across the whole of the UK.

    I only looked at this and started playing about with numbers – I wanted to try to make sense of the reduction rates. I’m basing my percentages on the 17 tagged birds – 5 surviving after say 21 months – with 2 of the losses down to natural causes. If I’ve misinterpreted the information I’d be comfortable hearing about it. I have to admit I’ve become increasingly angry during the process.

    1. I’m no statistician or mathematician, but two points occur to me. Firstly, in the first six months there would be more targets. Secondly, I would imagine that the same strike rate will be suffered by the untagged young birds – those we tend to forget about. If we knew how many young fledged each year, someone who is better at these things than I am could work out the likely true rate of attrition committed by these sad bastards.
      Over the last two months or so I have been privileged to have been able to watch an adult male Hen Harrier on a number of occasions. I have feared for this bird, not least through the predictability of its timing. While waiting for it to appear I have been entertained by Red Grouse going about their business. Why should these two species be subject to such horrendous treatment, legally or otherwise, purely for the pleasure of a perverse minority? It is barbarous.

      1. I’m really just trying to have a stab at the percentages representative of what happens per 100 birds, from across the UK, fledged or released, tagged or un-tagged, based on the fate and age of these 17 tagged Hen Harriers from 2016 to now and calculating the average loss in the first two years, rather than the first six months. Clearly, it may not represent total accuracy in outcome, but at the very least it indicates frightening losses. The assumption is made that the bird has met its end through persecution if bird and tag have disappeared from the vicinity of the last known signal. I agree that birds are generally more at risk in the first 6 months anyway but if any bird migrates to a high risk area the risk for that particular bird increases exponentially. The 35% risk applies on average to every single bird wherever it fledges in the UK and is likely to migrate. That risk decreases per individual if it fledges in a safe area and doesn’t travel to a high risk area, and obviously increases where a bird is close to high risk or seeks territory there. Death from natural causes will be less likely in these high risk areas – it doesn’t mean it can’t happen but is presumed not to have happened where the tag isn’t recovered.

  4. What do the alleged conservation organisations that swore that they would walk away from the “plan” if the killing did not stop have to say for themselves? They bound themselves to trusting in trackers so they cant say that the data cant be trusted. Unless they are totally corrupt.

  5. Need to look at the money, who funds what, who supports who and how much is “donated”. Until the hidden agendas are exposed absolutely nothing will change in this corrupt system. Alternatively put the army on the moors “on exercise” watching over keepers.

  6. Iolo Williams said at Hen harrier Day at Sheffield last year that the decline in the Welsh HH population was down to them straying on to grouse moors elsewhere. Well this confirms that birds are dying in suspicious circumstances away from the areas that they fledged in that might be quite safe. Safe and legal protest on the moors when the beneficiaries of bird of prey loss are there seems to be in order and in fact the next logical step. They don’t care, they seem intent in rubbing our noses in it.

    1. Sounds right, think about it, there is far more suitable habitat and far more potential prey over in England than here in Wales, so, when a Welsh harrier leaves the nest, if it ends up in England then it will find an abundance of unoccupied territory and and abundance of food resulting in the Welsh harrier settling in England. Trouble is, England is a sink, into which hen harriers drain, some get out of that metaphorical plughole, but most as we know disappear, never to return.

  7. Every legal recourse has been tried and has failed. They just laugh at us and carry on the slaughter as usual.

    There only remains illegal action. We have seen this used successfully in the past by [Ed: Sorry, John, the rest of your comment has been deleted. We can’t incite illegal action. Thanks]

  8. Resorting to illegal tactics in a conflict like this will undo all of the good work so far. When fighting against money and influence, the moral high ground and the facts are mostly all we have. Two wrongs and all that.

    1. Moral high ground and facts versus money and influence. I know which I would bet on – the one that always wins, every time, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. I will pick up the stake wagered, but will not be happy with the win.

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