Did hen harrier Margot ‘disappear’ on a Royal grouse moor?

Earlier this month RSPB Scotland announced that four of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers had ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on Scottish grouse moors (see here).

Yesterday we highlighted how two of those four missing hen harriers (Margot & Stelmaria) had ‘disappeared’ inside the Cairngorms National Park (see here).

Today we’re going to take a closer look at the last known location of hen harrier Margot.

[RPUK map showing approximate last known locations of hen harriers Margot & Stelmaria]

The first problem we have is not knowing the grid reference of Margot’s last known location. All we have is a description from the RSPB Scotland press release as follows:

Margot disappeared on 29 August [2018], with her last known position on a grouse moor on the Aberdeenshire/Moray border, a few miles south west of the Lecht ski centre“.

Here is the Lecht ski school, on the Cock Bridge to Tomintoul road on the eastern side of the National Park:

The RSPB press statement said Margot’s last known tag signal had been “on a grouse moor…..a few miles south west of the Lechy ski centre“.

As you can see from this zoomed in map, the RSPB’s description doesn’t narrow it down very much as the area to the SW of the ski school is pretty much all driven grouse moor. It’s not like there is an isolated patch of grouse moor that stands out from the wider landscape that would be easy for us to pinpoint:

So then we had a look at Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website, a fantastic resource that helps readers to, er, find out who owns Scotland. According to Andy’s data, the area “a few miles to the SW of the Lecht ski school” is covered by three estates, Glenavon, Delnadamph and Allargue.

Our search area can be narrowed down further by referring back to the RSPB press statement, which says Margot’s last known signal came from “a grouse moor on the Aberdeenshire/Moray border…..”, which we’ve added as a black line to this map:

Glenavon Estate is apparently, according to this 2015 article in the Sunday Post, owned by a ‘Mr Saleh’, a reclusive Malaysian-based businessman who has never been identified, through a company called Glenavon Ltd. According to Andy Wightman’s website, Glenavon Ltd is registered in Grand Cayman.

The estate offers driven and walked-up grouse shooting (here) and has previously been granted a licence by SNH to kill 900 mountain hares out of season, apparently to protect forestry (here, p.15).

It is one of six estates involved in the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, whose objectives include ‘enhancing raptor and other priority species conservation‘.

Delnadamph Estate borders Balmoral and was bought by the Queen (or to be more accurate by her Trustees) in the late 1970s, apparently because Balmoral ‘didn’t have adequate grouse shooting‘. The estate was apparently gifted to Prince Charles on his engagement to Diana and is now used by Charles and Camilla and perhaps other members of the Royal family.

Earlier this year the Balmoral Estate advertised for a new Head Gamekeeper for Delnadamph Estate, someone with ‘extensive knowledge of grouse and moorland management’ (see here). We happen to know (via an FoI on an unrelated issue) that the new Head Keeper was interviewed by Prince Charles and Prince William, no less, and was appointed to this position in late spring 2018, leaving his position as a grouse moor gamekeeper in the Pentland Hills for this job. We understand there are at least two under-keepers at Delnadamph.

Allargue Estate is owned by Mrs Rosemary Walker, according to Andy Wightman’s website. According to the Allargue Estate Management Plan the Walker family have owned this estate since the 17th Century and approximately 65% of the estate is managed for grouse shooting.

Allargue Estate was one of the first fully accredited members of the Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative and the Head gamekeeper here won the Purdey Gold Award in 2014 for Game & Conservation. According to the Purdey Awards website this estate “works tirelessly to uphold the Wildlife Estates Scotland high standards of wildlife management”.

We’ve blogged a little bit about Allargue Estate, not in relation to raptor persecution, but because it is believed this is the estate on whose land a load of men with a truckload of dead mountain hares were photographed in 2016.

To be absolutely clear, not one of these three estates is on our radar as being a raptor persecution hotspot.

Also to be clear, unless the RSPB releases the actual grid reference of hen harrier Margot’s last known location we’re not going to be able to identify the estate from where she vanished. And even if the RSPB did release that information, it still wouldn’t be that informative as the local authority Aberdeenshire/Moray border runs along the boundaries of all three estates. So if, for example, Margot had been shot on that border, the gunman could have shot her from a position on any one of the three estates. Criminal activity on estate boundaries is a well-known tactic to frustrate any potential targeted police investigations.

So to return to the question of whether Margot disappeared from a Royal grouse moor – the answer is possibly, but there’s no way we can be sure. There’s a one in three chance that that’s where she was when her tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped sending signals at the end of August this year.

What happened to her? Well you can draw your own conclusions, in the context of all the other young satellite-tagged hen harriers that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on or close to grouse moors across the UK.

Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the last known location of Margot’s sibling, hen harrier Stelmaria.

[Hen harrier Margot. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

11 thoughts on “Did hen harrier Margot ‘disappear’ on a Royal grouse moor?”

    1. I thought it had been alleged that a Harrier was shot on the royal estate at Sandringham, albeit around a decade or more ago, so this shouldn’t be a surprise.

        1. Sandringham is a royal estate and its location is irrelevant to the arguement. The royal family have always enjoyed drivem bird shooting and gamekeepers are not immune from the pressures to produce greater and greater bags of birds, grouse, pheasant or partridge.

    1. Yeah, you can always tell a royal cover up; the level of effort to obfuscate and muddy the waters suddenly shoots right up. It isn’t the actions that give it away, it is the cover up. So, do we think that the parties involved are being more than normally evasive?

  1. Charles and William, the two outspoken “conservationists” that regularly lecture on worldwide wildlife crime, but have never spoken out against the widespread persecution that happens on grouse and pheasant shoots on a daily basis.

    Pair of parasites.
    Pair of hypocrites.

  2. Any charity with an R needs to nail it’s colours [ fully ] to the mast……
    Interesting possible political tipping point in UK now….. failed Brexit…..election….change in Gov’t hue…..independence for the constituent nations…..loss of moor subsidies….plunge in land prices……pressure on dirty money in land and property…..or…. more [moor ] …… of … the same….. time to wake up ?……

    Keep up the pressure !

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