Just a little over a month ago the RSPB told us that three of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harrier chicks had all ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors (here).
This morning they’ve announced the suspicious disappearance of another one. Here’s the RSPB’s report:
Thor is no more: First hatched hen harrier in Bowland for three years disappears in suspicious circumstances.
This summer we were overjoyed to have hen harriers nesting in Bowland for the first time since 2015. Our project team worked round the clock to monitor the three nests there, and the parent birds fledged an amazing 13 chicks between them.
Young hen harriers were fitted with tags as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project and we watched with anticipation as the chicks grew and started to fly away from their nests and make their way into the world. Unfortunately, it was unlucky 13 for one of our brood.
Young male hen harrier Thor fledged from a nest of four chicks in the Forest of Bowland and his satellite tag was fitted in mid-June. After leaving the nest he remained in the vicinity for several months.
[Photo of hen harrier Thor by Steve Downing]
His tag was transmitting regularly when it suddenly and inexplicably stopped. His last known fix on 3 October 2018 showed he was over Goodber Common near Salter in Lancashire, adjacent to a managed driven grouse moor. This disappearance was reported to the police, and a search revealed no sign of the bird or his tag.
[RPUK map showing Goodber Common in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty]
Thor is the fourth bird to disappear in the past two months, following the disappearances of Hilma, Octavia and Heulwen in August this year. Alarmingly, the last known fix for Thor is directly between the sites where tagged hen harriers Hope and Sky were last heard from before they disappeared back in 2014.
[RPUK map showing last known location of satellite-tagged hen harriers Sky and Hope and the approximate last known location (no grid ref provided) of hen harrier Thor]
James Bray, RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, was involved in monitoring the nests in Bowland over the summer, and watched as Thor hatched, grew and fledged from his nest. He says: “Whilst we know that hen harrier mortality rates are high for young birds – with a survival rate of around 22% within the first two years – if Thor had died naturally we would have expected to find some sign of him or his tag. His tag was functioning well before he disappeared, which sadly suggests there has been some kind of interference with it.”
If anyone has any information as to what may have become of Thor, you can contact Lancashire Police on 101.
According to Guy Shrubsole’s excellent Who Owns England website, the grouse moors to the south of Goodber Common, shown in our map above, belong to the Duke of Westminster’s Abbeystead Estate.
Nobody will be the least bit surprised that yet another young hen harrier has vanished close to a grouse moor in northern England, and especially in the Forest of Bowland AONB. We know from Natural England’s HH sat tag data (2007-2017) that Bowland is one of several areas (along with the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Nidderdale AONB) where the land is dominated by driven grouse moors and where young hen harriers tend to disappear. We prepared a map of those areas in August 2018 after Natural England had finally released the HH sat tag data (which didn’t include details of any missing RSPB-tagged birds). Here’s an updated map to include hen harrier Thor’s last known location, as well as RSPB-tagged birds Sky & Hope who ‘disappeared’ in 2014:
[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].
So what happens now? Absolutely nothing of any significance.
The grouse-shooting industry will either stay mute and hope the news blows over quickly, or we’ll hear from Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT telling us how well the Government’s Hen Harrier (In)Action Plan is working (it isn’t, it’s a sham), or we’ll heard from Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association that there’s no need for concern as she saw Thor flying past her kitchen window just yesterday.
DEFRA Minister Dr Therese Coffey will be too busy shuffling around in her handbag to even notice her Government’s complete and utter failure to protect this species.
UPDATE 19 Oct 2018: Responses to missing hen harrier Thor (here)