Satellite-tagged hen harrier Arthur ‘disappears’ near grouse moor in North York Moors National Park

RSPB press release (12/11/18):

A rare Hen Harrier has suddenly disappeared in North Yorkshire, triggering an investigation by the police and the RSPB. This is the ninth bird to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the last 12 weeks.

The bird, named Arthur, hatched from a nest in the Peak District this summer. This was the first time Hen Harriers had successfully bred in the Peak District since 2015. Arthur, along with his sister Octavia, was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag by RSPB staff as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE project, which has enabled the RSPB to track his movements since leaving the nest in July.

[Hen harrier Arthur, photo by Steve Downing]

Transmissions from Arthur’s tag showed him fledging from his nest and remaining faithful to that area in the Peak District. He then moved to the Brecon Beacons, South Wales, in mid-October before flying back north to Nidderdale, North Yorkshire. On the morning of Friday 26 October he flew onto the North York Moors National Park. He registered his last position at 0955hrs when he was just north of Lowna Bridge, near Hutton-le-Hole.

[RPUK maps showing approximate last known location of Hen harrier Arthur in the North York Moors National Park, close to Spaunton Moor, owned by George Winn-Darley, the North York Moors representative for the Moorland Association. Red star denotes Lowna Bridge]

RSPB Investigations staff searched the area of the bird’s last known location but found no sign of either a tag or a body – prompting concerns that the bird may have been deliberately killed and the tag destroyed. In August, his sister Octavia’s tag also suddenly cut out, with her last location coming from a driven grouse moor in the Peak District. No trace was found of her either. The police and the RSPB are appealing for information.

RSPB Assistant Investigations Officer Jack Ashton-Booth said: “Arthur’s last location showed he was in an upland area close to several driven grouse moors. When tagged Hen Harriers have died of natural causes in the past, the tags and bodies of the bird are usually recovered. To find no trace of Arthur or Octavia is extremely concerning. Arthur is the ninth Hen Harrier to suddenly disappear in suspicious circumstances since August. This is gravely concerning given that the species is on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England.”

Hen Harriers are one of the UK’s rarest and most persecuted birds of prey. They nest on the ground, often on moorland, and are known for their spectacular courtship display, the ‘skydance’. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally harm or disturb them. Anyone found to have done so faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail. But, despite full legal protection, studies show that the main factor limiting their population is illegal killing by humans.

Over 30 Hen Harriers were tagged during June and July 2018 in England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project. Of those, eight birds (Hilma, Octavia, Heulwen, Thor, Athena, Stelmaria, Margot and Arthur) have since disappeared in suspicious circumstances, along with another bird, Heather, who was tagged in 2017.

Calculations based on habitat and prey availability indicate that England should be able to support around 300 Hen Harrier pairs. But this year only 34 chicks fledged from nine English nests, according to a report by Natural England. In 2017 there were only 10 chicks in the whole of England.

The RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report showed that North Yorkshire is consistently the worst county in the UK for recorded bird of prey persecution, accumulating significantly more confirmed incidents in the last five years than anywhere else. Data showed that 15 of the 55 confirmed incidents in England in 2017 took place in North Yorkshire. Since these only represent known, confirmed incidents, the RSPB believes this is just a glimpse of the true scale of the problem, and that many more crimes will have gone unreported and unrecorded.


28 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier Arthur ‘disappears’ near grouse moor in North York Moors National Park”

  1. I have just written a post saying that the RSPB has my full support. This shows why we need to keep supporting them. I look forward to the publication of another paper, before I have even seen the last one, showing the carnage that shooting interests, supported by NE, DEFRA, the UK government and most of the media are causing to our wildlife.
    Is there no shooting body willing to stand up against these people?

    1. I doubt very much that the entity Natural England supports the illegal persecution of raptors. If there is support it would only come from the top echelons of their management who are in the pockets of certain politicians and the land-holding class’s. Think about it for a minute, to get away with breaking the law in such a blatant fashion one would have to be very close to the top in order to get away with it. Doesn’t this tell us there’s something truly rotten at the top of the pile! One law for them, another law for the rest of us.

  2. The intensive persecution is an indication of the shooting industries attempt to create an “extinction event” with hen harriers. They are so close to achieving it in England. These wicked people need to be dealt with, using the full strength of the laws and no loophole escapes available to “clever”, crooked barristers. Jail terms are now essential for convicted criminals and closing estates. Not just grouse shooting but also pheasant shooting too.

  3. The noose tightens !
    Even now I suspect that the moor owners and managers do not realise that the actions of their slaves [ keepers ], in killing these sacrificial birds is their own funeral.
    Just another battle in the long fight.
    Well done all concerned in publicising these criminal acts.
    Every tagged bird killed is another nail…….

    Keep up the pressure !

  4. They obviously think that they can do as much of this as they like, they’re untouchable. if it’s officially proved that instead of bringing in jobs they’re driving them away, which is almost certainly the case, then driven grouse shooting is as toxic for rural jobs as it is for birds of prey. Then they lose their ability to employ the old jobs blackmail they’ve been using to effectively get away with snares, stink pits, bulldozing tracks, intensive muir burn, chemotherapy drugs on the hill, lead shot, mountain hare slaughter and of course the brutal extermination of birds of prey. While keeping these ongoing issues in the public eye we also need to look at better alternatives (not hard) to DGS – which is why Revive is so important in pulling the carpet from under their feet. And of course right now there’s this YouGov petition to sign, share and promote – once it gets to 10,000 signatures the government will be obliged to make a statement on the need for a proper economic analysis of DGS which will be difficult to deny given that the grouse moors receive public subsidy and the Scottish Government has commissioned an economic study as part of a wider review of grouse moors. If anyone living in one of the English grouse moor areas wants to push the petition in their local press that’d be great. I’m pretty sure most locals would like to know if they could be living in a nicer area with more job and activity prospects – cheers –

    1. Just for clarity – the online petition has no connection with YouGov (a market research and opinion polling company). It is actually a petition to HM Government run through its GOV.UK platform.

      1. Thanks – this is what happens when a boy does a man’s job. I had been googling YouGov petitions and had got to the petition that way which compounded this mistake, had been uncertain, but as I say because the googling worked thought I was correct. Anyway did you sign it? Cheers!

    2. Unfortunately Les your petition is too narrow to get people involved more than you have already. If you had maybe used the loss of raptors within the scope of the petition it would have garnered more support. To keep it to just to loss of jobs is a major flaw.

  5. It really does piss me off to hear that this bird, which had roosted on my local patch and survived the rigours of Denton Moor and Nidderdale, appears to have met its death by venturing into another North Yorkshire hell-hole. Meanwhile, the Westminster Government apparently sits on its hands, seemingly oblivious (or pretending to be) of the carnage being wreaked on English moorland. At least the Scottish Government acknowledges that there is an issue and is taking action. I don’t know what it would take to stir their English counterparts into some form of sensible and effective response. Wilful blindness is alive and well!

  6. The evidence of criminality on Driven Grouse Moors grows daily,Those who rely on tourism in North Yorkshire should be seriously concerned that this county leads the way in wildlife crime.It won’t be long before people start to question whether they wish to visit a place so rife with it.I am beginning to.

  7. I stopped spending time and money in Yorkshire or any other DGS dead zone many, many years ago.
    My money is always spent in places such as Abernethy, the New Forest or indeed Andalucia where they are pioneering anti raptor poisoning etc.etc. and joining the call for non toxic ammo where culling is necessary or where sustainable hunting actually could benefit the local economy.
    The message about green money and the effect of the health of the ecosystem on investment needs pushing hard.
    The big problem is simply interpreting these issues to the consumers of tourism etc. so that they realise what a biodiverse landscape really is.
    Don’t underestimate this problem however- my family even roll their eyes when I bang on about it even though they know I’ve worked at the sharp end of raptor conservation for nearly 50 years.
    Perhaps fresh thinking and more young role models are what is needed rather than boring old …… ?

    Keep up the pressure !

    1. Likewise, NYM, along with much of Cairngorm NP have been off our ‘time out’ destinations for many years now. You’d have thought that their tourism industries would have caught on by now that there are folk who avoid these areas.

  8. As an ex North Yorkshire resident and long term raptor worker there I am hardly surprised that Harriers are still being successfully targeted there. We think of the Nidderdale AONB or YDNP as bird of prey blackspots yet away from the areas of forestry the NYM has always been worse fewer raptors of all species including almost no Peregrines away from the coast. I was once told that when a harrier is seen in the NYM grouse moors all the keepers know very quickly and visit all harriers known haunts, under that sort of regime Arthur or any other Hen Harrier is living on borrowed time.
    The raptor workers who toiled long hours to ensure all this year’s young harriers fledged must be heartsick I know I was when nests failed and birds disappeared. The only thing I can say to them is that your anger needs to spur you on. We are all with you on this one and despite it all we will win against the criminals, their immoral employers and corrupt organisations that act as their apologists. put simply we cannot afford to loose.

  9. That’s nearly 30 % of cohort in 6 months. NE data suggests near 70 %. No wonder they struggle with this attrition rate. NE have failed in their statutory duty of upholding EU birds directive. Someone take them to court please.

    1. Mark Avery looked at this in his blog here before the loss of Arthur was announced:
      This is his conclusion: “So of the 19 young Hen Harriers which have either died and been autopsied or ‘disappeared’ mysteriously, not a single death from natural causes occurred on a grouse moor and not a single ‘mysterious disappearance’ occurred anywhere other than a grouse moor.
      12 – 0 and 0 – 7. Fairly remarkable scores, don’t you think?”
      As we do not know how many Hen Harriers were tagged we cannot draw proper conclusion at this time. We can just watch the total of mysterious disappearances on grouse moors grow, but also knowing that birds remarkably do not appear to die of natural causes on grouse moors.
      I’m sure that in time we will see a proper (not by a QC nor leaked by NE in dribs and drabs complete with errors) paper on the 2018 cohort. Perhaps the RSPB will give some early indication before or during the next breeding season, ignoring any NE statistics, if they are not aware of them. It is possible to draw minor conclusions from the RSPB Skydancer site, but likely not accurate enough.

  10. I wonder if you plot deaths over time on different land usage, if death rate over non-grouse moor shows 1st order decay and grouse moor populations show some bizarre skew, due to the habits of gamekeepers.

    1. Land usage is not easy to establish, but there is a strong corelation between grouse moors and burning of heather, which, linked to local knowledge, can used to demonstrate that the skew you are suggesting does exist. However, some clearer statistics would be useful to campaingers and if they were published here we could share them. Down to the RSPB I suppose.

      1. I believe that RPUK have been very clear and illustrated, usually with a satellite view, that the land usage is clearly established as grouse Moor. If you care to check back through this blog you will note that grouse Moor has been established at every stage with all these lost birds and that the pattern is no skew, it is unequivocal.

  11. Grimly predictable outcome for any raptor that ventures into this part of the UK in which wildlife criminals of all kinds operate with little hindrance from the so-called law

  12. So on and on it goes. We all know what is happening and they know what is happening but even now the moderate voices in their industry allow it to go unchecked.They know they can either successfully defend any legal action or if a prosecution is successful throw the gamekeeper to the wolves and claim they were unaware.They must see the tide is turning but is their arrogance so great that they still think they have politicians and the judiciary where they want them? Hopefully, this arrogance will be their downfall as the public finally sees the true picture. They could have found a way to compromise that would have kept some people on their side but their total disregard for the wishes and interests of others will hopefully see Driven Grouse Shooting condemned to history. Few people will shed a tear.

  13. FYI
    3 Walkers Meadow
    Knighton Rd
    LD8 2AX

    Who in their right mind would want to shoot a buzzard? Let alone the 5 found dead in a sack in forestry above New Radnor. It was Poet Laureate Ted Hughes that so eloquently described this bit of Creation…


    Big hands, big thumbs, broad workaday hands
    Darkened with working the land
    Kneading the contours, squeezing out rats and rabbits.

    Most of the day elongates a telephone pole
    With his lighthouse lookout and swivel noddle.

    O beggared eagle! O down and out falcon!
    Mooning and ambling along hedgerow levels
    Forbidden the sun’s glittering ascent.

    As if you were sentenced to pick blackberries
    At Easter searching so fearful-careful,
    So hopeless-careless, rag wings, ragged trousers.

    Too low born for the peregrine’s trapeze, too dopey
    For the sparrowhawk’s jet controls
    Where’s the high dream when you rode circles
    Mewing near the sun
    Into your mirror self-something unearthly
    Lowering from heaven towards you?

    When he treads by chance on a baby rabbit
    He looks like an old woman
    Trying to get her knickers off.

    In the end he lumbers away
    To find some other buzzard maybe older,
    To show him how.

    I say shame on whoever it was shot these creatures and then secretly sneaked up that dingle to dump them. This never used to happen in Wales. This can not be allowed to continue.


    Peter Hack

  14. It should be fairly easy for North Yorkshire Police to match people with local shotgun licences and mobile phone signals to that particular area near Lowna Bridge at the time Arthur disappeared.

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