Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappears’ near grouse moor on Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary

Hot on the heels of this morning’s news that satellite-tagged Hen Harrier Thor ‘disappeared’ in Bowland on 3 October (here), there’s now news of another one.

Hen harrier ‘Mabel’ hatched from the only nest in the Yorkshire Dales National Park earlier this year (you’ll remember, the nest that was declared by the Yorkshire Dales Moorland Group and the National Gamekeepers Organisation as being located on a grouse moor, when actually it wasn’t – see here). She was satellite-tagged by Natural England.

Mabel did a bit of travelling in to Teesdale but her last satellite tag fix came from the Little Smale Gill area, north of Ravenseat Moor, on 2 October 2018. You won’t be surprised to learn that the area is close to some driven grouse moors.

North Yorkshire Police have issued the following appeal for information:

Concerns raised following hen harrier’s disappearance

Concerns have been raised about the welfare of a hen harrier which may have gone missing along the North Yorkshire – Cumbria border.

[RPUK map showing last known location of hen harrier Mabel]

Female hen harrier Mabel was one of four chicks that fledged in July 2018 from a nest site in the Cumbrian area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Along with her sibling Tom, she was fitted with a satellite tag on 10 July by Natural England.

Since fledging, Mabel has been into Teesdale and wandered as far north as Allenheads, and also spent time around the Tan Hill area.

The transmitter functioned up until 2 October 2018, with the last signal being received from the Little Smale Gill area in Cumbria, north of Ravenseat Moor – but the bird could have been further afield when something happened to Mabel or the transmitter.

[RPUK map showing the grouse moor habitat close to hen harrier Mabel’s last known location]

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey, with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, despite full legal protection, their numbers remain consistently very low.

A search was conducted by Natural England staff but no tag or body was found. Cumbria Constabulary and North Yorkshire Police were informed, and are making enquiries.

Sergeant Stuart Grainger, of North Yorkshire Police’s Rural Taskforce, said: “I was lucky enough to spend some time monitoring Mabel’s nest site, and, despite following birds all my life, this was the very first time I’d ever seen a male or female hen harrier because they are so rare.

It is therefore particularly upsetting that one of the fledglings from the nest has inexplicably gone missing. I would urge anyone with information to come forward.”

PC Helen Branthwaite, Wildlife, Rural and Environmental Crime Co-ordinator at Cumbria Constabulary, said: “It is extremely worrying to hear of Mabel’s disappearance and that we are facing another enquiry into a missing hen harrier. With so few successful nest sites every bird that is lost has a severe impact on the conservation status of this rare bird.”

A spokesperson for Natural England said: “The sudden disappearance of the hen harrier, Mabel, is a matter of grave concern. We urge anyone with information to get in touch with North Yorkshire Police.”

Landowner farmer Andrew Brown said: “It was a pleasant surprise when Natural England staff knocked on my door and let me know these rare birds were likely to breed on my land.

The experience of watching them throughout the spring and early summer from building their nest to fledging four chicks was a real privilege.

NE gave me the chance to see them close up when they were satellite-tagged, and it was an honour to name the tagged birds Mabel and Tom after my grandparents. It is such a shame that something may have happened to Mabel. NE were keeping me regularly updated about Mabel and Tom’s whereabouts, and I was looking forward to hopefully welcoming them back next year.”

David Butterworth, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “There was delight from all right minded people when four hen harrier chicks fledged earlier this year in the National Park. That has been matched by the despair felt that one of the birds, Mabel, has now gone missing.

The North of England has an unenviable reputation for criminal activity in terms of raptor persecution, so it’s hard not to think the worst in this case. However, for the moment we would strongly support the efforts of North Yorkshire and Cumbria Police to find Mabel, and would urge anyone with information to contact the police as soon as possible.

Anyone with any information about the hen harrier’s disappearance should contact North Yorkshire Police on 101. Alternatively, speak to the RSPB in confidence, by calling the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.


This amounts to blatant and relentless criminality. It’s happening at such a scale that it should now be defined as serious and organised crime.

[RPUK map showing the last known locations of ‘missing’ Natural England satellite-tagged hen harriers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, Nidderdale AONB and Bowland AONB. Red star = HH found dead & confirmed illegally killed; orange star = last known location of missing hen harriers; Black star: missing hen harrier but grid reference withheld by Natural England; orange stars 1, 2 & 3 = last known locations of RSPB-tagged hen harriers Hope, Sky and Thor; Purple star last known location of hen harrier Mabel].

Here’s the definition of serious and organised crime from the National Crime Agency:

Serious crime planned, coordinated and conducted by people working together on a continuing basis. Their motivation is often, but not always, financial gain‘.

At last week’s wildlife crime conference in London political leaders, including our own, made a commitment to tackle the illegal wildlife trade as ‘a serious crime carried out by organised criminals’ (see here).

How bloody hypocritical when those same political leaders remain wilfully blind to the serious and organised wildlife crime happening on their own doorstep.

It’s abundantly clear to anyone with just a passing interest that the Westminster Government’s vested interests are preventing determined action against these criminals, aka The Untouchables.

UPDATE 20 October 2018: Responses to missing hen harrier Mabel (here)

13 thoughts on “Hen harrier Mabel ‘disappears’ near grouse moor on Yorkshire Dales National Park boundary”

  1. Thank goodness the “unexplained” loss of a Natural England tagged bird has been notified to the police and the location given. Is this an indication that things at NE are changing somewhat? It used to be a complete secret.
    Pressure works, albeit slowly, perhaps.
    I suppose that now the organised criminals presumably may have had training courses on actions to be taken on finding a dead hen harrier it is unlikely that many of these can be pursued with vigour by the police as they only know the last history of the bird, the last known location and time/date, I can’t imagine that they would be permitted to undertake serious searches.

  2. Excellent that there has been a press release and comments from Natural England.
    But it begs the question why didn’t this happen to all the other NE tagged birds.
    Perhaps we can take away one consultation that our doggedness is paying off.
    These are small first steps.

  3. This is so sad. My daughter and I saw a female hen harrier (possibly Mabel’s mother?) just north of there, on the north side of the A66, on the way back from our Hen Harrier Weekend road trip. We commented on the irony of actually seeing one over a grouse moor and wished it luck, albeit without a great deal of optimism.

  4. when a bird of prey goes missing on an estate then that estate immediately becomes the property of the public until the culprit(s) are caught and jailed, for at least 15 years, then the estate is returned to the lawful owner. If it happens again on the same estate within 1 year the property will be returned to the public for all time. No exceptions.

  5. Appalled to hear again that another of these birds, and particularly such a high profile bird, has gone missing. I am now adding information to my monthly newsletters about these missing birds.

  6. Interesting to see no mention of any of this on the Hawk and Owl Trust’s Twitter. Guess they don’t like mentioning that their partnership arrangements are basically being used by the bird bothers as misdirection.

  7. Thoroughly predicable thoroughly depressing, it makes me very angry that we have not really made any real progress in getting this stopped. The presumed criminals get away with it every bloody time whilst all those with either knowledge or power to stop it make the right noises but in reality do fuck all!

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