From which grouse shooting estate did Hen Harrier Stelmaria ‘disappear’?

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).

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

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

Yesterday we looked at the last known location of hen harrier Margot, which was on a grouse shooting estate that’s either a member of the East Cairngorms Moorland Partnership, or on a grouse shooting estate owned by the Royal family, or on a grouse shooting estate that’s an accredited member of the Wildlife Estates Scotland initiative (see here).

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

As with Margot, the initial problem is that her last known location as reported by the RSPB is a bit vague – no grid reference and no named estate. The only details revealed in the RSPB press statement were:

Stelmaria was last recorded on grouse moor a few miles north west of Ballater, Aberdeenshire on 3rd September“.

Here’s a map showing the location of Mar Lodge Estate (from where Stelmaria, and Margot, hatched earlier this summer) and the location of Ballater:

As you can see from this next map, there are a lot of grouse moors positioned “a few miles north west of Ballater“:

So once again we referred to Andy Wightman’s Who Owns Scotland website to work out which estates are situated “a few miles north west of Ballater” and we found two – Invercauld Estate and Dinnet Estate:

This map may look familiar to some of you. That’s because we used it last year when we were looking at the last known location of another satellite-tagged hen harrier, Calluna, who had also ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances. Calluna vanished “on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater” on 12 August 2017, the opening day of the grouse shooting season.

In fact these grouse moors around Ballater are becoming very familiar indeed. We’ve blogged about a number of alleged and confirmed incidents as follows:

There was the discovery of an illegally shot peregrine at the Pass of Ballater in 2011, the reported coordinated hunt and subsequent shooting of an adult hen harrier at Glen Gairn on the border of Invercauld and Dinnet Estates in 2013, and then there were the illegally-set traps that were found nr Geallaig Hill on Invercauld Estate in 2016, which resulted in ‘secret action‘ being taken against a gamekeeper but no prosecution followed, and nor has SNH imposed a General Licence restriction for this incident (and SNH has refused to discuss its decision saying ‘it’s not in the public interest‘ to tell us).

Last year, as mentioned above, satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Calluna’ disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in this area (here), although it’s not clear whether this was on Invercauld Estate or neighbouring Dinnet Estate and then earlier this year a satellite-tagged white-tailed eagle ‘Blue T’ also ‘disappeared’ without trace on the Invercauld Estate (see here).

And now hen harrier Stelmaria has also vanished.

There’s a pretty clear pattern emerging in this area, but it seems to be one that Scottish Natural Heritage, the Cairngorms National Park Authority and the Scottish Government are all refusing to see.

19 thoughts on “From which grouse shooting estate did Hen Harrier Stelmaria ‘disappear’?”

  1. CNP should do the decent thing and come puvlicly and not support driven grouse shooting within the park

    But it won’t because of the financial loss and not wishing to upsett some wealthy people.

    CNP = raptor sink

  2. Well done, RPUK – it is truly sickening what your investigations are revealing. The worst part is the failure of the Cairngorms National Park, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Govenment to do anything about this. At a HH event this year, I told Grant Moir, CEO of the CNP, that he should rename his park the Cairngorms Grouse Park!

  3. Same old, same old, and I am feeling the now familiar mixture of anger and frustration about the ” disappearance” of satellite tagged raptors. This particular area is one where SNH have completely failed us.

    Where is the General licence restriction on the estates and individuals involved?

    When are police Scotland going to get a grip and search all premises and persons associated with these estates and if not why not?

    It’s simple really XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX doing nothing should not be an option. It may or may not continue if these things are done but one thing is for sure if nothing is done there are no consequences so the almost certain criminality will continue unabated.

    Where are the CNP Authority in this where are their words of condemnation because at the moment their credibility is being destroyed by XXXXXXXX and their complicit silence.

    Currently we the interested public ( and of course the birds themselves) are being badly let down by every level of authority and government, local and national. What will it take to get their interest and make them bloody act WTF are they waiting for admissions of guilt?

  4. Cairngorms National Park, what a joke.
    You can build as many houses as you like.
    Release as many pheasants as you like.
    Kill as many raptors as you like.

    The National Park Authority is totally incompetent.

    How many times XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX before some action is taken?

    When is the Scottish Government going to get real? More Special Constables, Rose?

  5. The same locations, the same estates, time and time again.

    [Some] areas are completely lawless thanks to those in sitting in Holyrood.

  6. Hmmmm did a golden eagle not go missing from near Braemar in the summer. I seem to recollect it being very near to xxxxx extensive areas of wet desert. Shameful but all too regular.. keep up the fight!

  7. Looking at the maps it seems like Stelmaria didn’t disappear on a grouse moor, but very close to the boundary of a couple of moors. I think it is still highly likely she was killed, however given the location I think it would be almost impossible to say which estate was responsible. This raises questions about how a licencing scheme could work, if it isn’t possible prove beyond reasonable doubt which estate is responsible and should have their licence revoked. It seems that gamekeepers are a pretty savvy bunch and would stop killing raptors in the middle of their estate, but instead wait until they were close to the boundary or just off the moors. Therefore I think a total ban on driven grouse shooting is the only way to stop illegal killing, however in reality it is likely that licencing will have to be shown to fail before a ban is considered.

    1. If it was decided in the Scottish parliament that licensing were an option, there could be conditions which can be proved but which are not necessarily criminal. One such could be permission to site night vision cameras in the vicinity of bird of prey nest sites, thus removing the defence that images from cameras are inadmissible in court. Another possibility is to set a limit on the number of grouse per square kilometre, removing the need for massive predator control, legal and illegal. These are options which I am hoping the Scottish Grouse Moor management group will consider. For those who think that grouse moors bring in large sums to the Scottish economy, remember that wildlife tourism brings in £1.5 billion a year, compared with a few million by driven grouse shooting. Accessible moorland, managed for wildlife could become a great asset.

    2. Hi Matthew,

      Given the ambiguity of the location, a licensing system could simply follow the Spanish model of zero tolerance – this includes a hunting ban within a 25km radius of the scene, no matter on whose land the alleged offence took place.

      When someone’s criminal activities start impacting on their neighbour’s ability to hunt, this does seem to have focused minds.

      1. Hadn’t thought of that option. Peer pressure from law abiding estates could have more influence than anything else on deterring criminal activity.

    3. Matthew

      I’m with you on this one.
      Keepers cross onto neighbouring land ,as we have seen so many times before hiding their identities with masks or balaclava s. Kill raptors and slink back onto their own land. Noth9ng more than common criminals.

      What about the new concept ‘ tacktical contact” as is being by Met Police to deal with thugs on scooters.

      Sorry I’m dreaming we have inplimented Special Constables in the CNP. Which is like sending in Dads army………this is an insult to the public and a disservice to wildlife and a gift to gamekeepers! Scottish Goverment and Police Scotland you are fooling no one.

  8. Is this mysterious secrecy on the part of SNH and others anything to do with not wanting to upset the Royal Family, among others? Several years ago I had the “pleasure” of being personally presented to a senior member of the Windsors as a Hen Harrier researcher for a certain Regional Park in Scotland, and with a glint in their eye, that particular Royal family member distinctly told me “Oh, I’m afraid We don’t approve of Hen Harriers.” The following two minutes of conversation were intriguing and surprisingly honest, but probably best kept to myself. However it left me with little doubt as to their attitude towards harriers.

    1. I was told of an incident in the early nineteen eighties which would suggest their attitude to Golden Eagles is of a similar ilk. Small wonder that they speak up about ivory poaching and the loss of biodiversity elsewhere but are notably silent on game industry criminality towards our native raptors. What price biodiversity at home compared to hypocrisy, one of the reasons I am a life long republican!

  9. A very clear pattern?

    As someone who used to work on a Grouse Moor west of Ballatar this comes as no surprise. Until Estates are penalised financially things will not change. This is the key. Owners and factors of these estates will not change unless they have to and therefore neither will Stalkers. Mar Lodge has been fighting for conservation for over 20 years in this area. They need help from somewhere if birds of prey are going to survive.

  10. I saw my first hen harrier last winter. Such a beautiful bird to see in flight. Another illegal persecution and another one gone. God knows else. Pure murderers! it’s a disgrace.

    1. I used to see several hen harriers in Suffolk, overwintering and roosting near Minsmere. My peak count was 11, 4 males 7 ring tails. Two years ago I had just 1 ring tail. Desperate times need desperate measures.

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