Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘River’ disappears on grouse moor in Nidderdale AONB, North Yorkshire

RSPB press release (21 January 2019):

Hen harrier ‘River’ disappears in suspicious circumstances

The police and the RSPB are investigating the sudden disappearance of yet another satellite tagged hen harrier in North Yorkshire, the county with the worst reputation for bird of prey persecution.

The bird, named River, was one of several hen harrier chicks in England fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project last summer (2018). These lightweight tags allow the RSPB to monitor the birds after they fledge.

[Photo of hen harrier ‘River’, by RSPB]

Her tag’s last known transmission came from a driven grouse moor between Colsterdale and Nidderdale – an area with a history of bird of prey persecution – on 14 November. She was known to have been hunting and roosting in the area for several weeks. RSPB Investigations staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area, but there was no sign of the bird or the tag. She has not been heard from since.

[Google map showing location of Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in North Yorkshire]

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. North Yorkshire Police investigated the disappearance, but no information has been forthcoming.

Hen harriers are rare birds which nest in moorland, especially in the uplands of Northern England and Scotland. However just nine nests were recorded in England last year, despite enough prey and habitat to support over 300 pairs. They have not successfully bred in North Yorkshire since 2007.

Over 30 hen harriers were tagged last summer in the UK. Between August and November 2018, nine of these, including a 10th bird tagged in 2017, disappeared at different locations in the UK.

Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said: “Again we have news of a disappeared harrier, again in North Yorkshire, and again last known to be on a grouse moor. Hen harriers are barely clinging on as a breeding species in England. They should be a common and joyful sight over the moorlands of North Yorkshire, however the reality is most people only know them as being rare and persecuted.

The idea that this bird may have been deliberately targeted is incredibly worrying, especially in the context of eight others which have vanished in similar circumstances. When a tagged hen harrier dies naturally, we expect the tag to continue transmitting, enabling us to find the body. This was not the case here. Instead, there was no trace of the tag or the bird, which is highly suspicious. When hen harriers disappear like this over an area with a history of raptor persecution, it’s hard not to draw conclusions.”

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. In 2012, hen harrier ‘Bowland Betty’ was found shot at nearby Colsterdale. A reward was offered but no culprit was identified.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101.

If you know about raptor persecution occurring in your area and wish to speak out in confidence, call the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form here.


So, yet another young sat-tagged hen harrier ‘disappears’ in suspicious circumstances on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire. It’s becoming quite the routine, isn’t it?

Here’s an RPUK map showing the approximate last known locations of at least ten satellite-tagged hen harriers that have all ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances inside the Nidderdale AONB (yellow boundary) or neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park in recent years. The red triangle represents River’s approximate last known location and the red star represents Bowland Betty, the hen harrier that was found shot here in 2012:

Interestingly, Bowland Betty’s shot corpse was found on a grouse moor on Swinton Estate and it appears that River’s last known tag transmission was from close by.

RPUK map showing approximate last known location of hen harrier River (red triangle) and the approximate location of Bowland Betty’s shot corpse (red star):

And as anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time will know, Nidderdale AONB is also known as being a hotspot for the illegal killing of red kites. Many of them have been found shot or poisoned on or close to grouse moors throughout Nidderdale (see map below) and those doing the killing are so brazen they don’t even bother to hide the corpses, safe in the knowledge they’ll never be prosecuted.

[RPUK map: Nidderdale AONB = yellow boundary. Illegally killed red kites = red circles; sat-tagged hen harriers that have vanished in suspicious circumstances = orange stars & red triangle; illegally shot hen harrier Bowland Betty = red star]

When you look at these maps, and especially the one that combines hen harriers and red kites, you understand the relentless criminality involved and the impact these crimes can have on local, regional and sometimes national populations of some species.

And yet still, the Westminster Government refuses to acknowledge there’s even a problem, let alone the scale of it.

This year we’re encouraging blog readers to write to/email your local MP every time one of these crimes is reported. If you live in the local area, even better, but even if you live hundreds of miles away, please still take action. These are birds that you will not have the opportunity to see in your area because they’ve been ruthlessly slaughtered, usually on or close to a driven grouse moor. This is a matter of national concern but politicians won’t take notice unless their constituents raise the issue with them.

Do it, it’s easy and will take up little of your time. Just a quick and simple email is enough.

If you don’t know who your MP is, use this website to find them via your postcode HERE


18 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘River’ disappears on grouse moor in Nidderdale AONB, North Yorkshire”

  1. My letter to my MP. I do not expect more some placatory waffle (his normal approach to letters from his constituents) in return but I will publish any answer from him.

    Damien Moore MP,

    I know that you support driven game bird shooting. But in so doing, I feel that you are also supporting the criminals that kill our protected birds of prey.

    Because you are a participant in this destructive activity perhaps you could use your parliamentary influence to clean up the criminal element.

    The National Gamekeepers Organisation have resigned from the group Raptor Persecution Priority Delivery Group and in their letter they claim a few petty reasons to abandon their effort to clean up their act. They are acting like a naughty child caught doing wrong. They do not like the failing of the game shooting industry be aired in public. Yet they must know the criminals within their midst but will not have them removed.

    The NGO may have resigned because they feel the noose or should that be snare, is tightening!

    Today, I received a RSPB press release that another tagged hen harrier called “River” has disappeared in suspicious circumstances.

    Her tag’s last known transmission came from a driven grouse moor between Colsterdale and Nidderdale – an area with a history of bird of prey persecution – on 14 November. She was known to have been hunting and roosting in the area for several weeks. RSPB Investigations staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area, but there was no sign of the bird or the tag. She has not been heard from since.

    On the map that I have seen of the area, the known record of killed and missing raptors amounts 20 red kites, 10 hen harriers, these are the ones known about. Nobody except the criminals involved knows how many others have been killed.


    [RPUK map: Nidderdale AONB = yellow boundary. Illegally killed red kites = red circles; sat-tagged hen harriers that have vanished in suspicious circumstances = orange stars & red triangle; illegally shot hen harrier Bowland Betty = red star]


  2. River was a 2018 Bowland bird, one of as many as 13 which hatched there this year, but an unknown number were satellite tagged. Thor vanished in Lancashire in October, and Nyx from undetermined causes with a puncture wound to the chest in October.
    A strange day to be discussing this with the National Gamekeepers’ Organisation, the Moorland Association, BASC and Countryside Alliance all missing in action last week, but not as permanently as the Hen Harriers which have vanished. Clearly, It’s possible that Amanda is still not letting them in.

  3. Your third map of Nidderdale AONB is truly shocking.

    With that level of crime being carried our in such a relatively small area you would have thought that the police, with their increased focus, would have caught somebody by now. Wildlife crime is supposed to be a priority.

    In order to narrow the search down it would be s good idea to look for a bloke, or blokes, with a shotgun who in all probability have a licence issued by the police,

    This latest crime happened in November, why wait a full 2 months before asking for help and information?

  4. The UCI Road (Cycling) World Championships are being held in Yorkshire in Sept. 2019. Also there is the very successful Tour de Yorkshire, held every year. A big part of staging these sorts of events is to showcase the area and increase tourism.
    It would seem to me to be an ideal opportunity to use these occasions to inform the world about the disgusting reputation that Yorkshire now has with regard to raptor persecution and the way in which it is caring for its natural environment.

  5. The police probably have a good idea who the culprit or culprits are, they certainly know who’s land it’s happening on, we need vicarious liability or better still an outright ban. If there were a cluster of burglaries in an area like this they would have had them banged up by now. Perhaps they are too busy catching speeding motorists.

  6. I have no doubt that the Police are as frustrated as the rest of us by the failure to discover who is responsible for these criminal acts. It is all very well being critical when the reality is that a hell of a lot of good luck is needed to determine who is responsible. Think of the Cowin case where he was witnessed shooting two SEOs by members of the staff of RSPB Investigations, who just happened to be present at that time. That probably used up several year’s worth of good luck in one go! Anyone not knowing these vast areas should realise that these people have the whip-hand at all times. They can choose their place and time, no doubt in full knowledge of the regular habits of the birds – regularity of behaviour no doubt frequently bringing about their downfall. If they see anyone else around they will simply bide their time until a further opportunity arises – in the knowledge that it probably will. And then there is the question of evidence. In the Cowin case there were several witnesses as well as video. However, it is more than likely that, if a possible offence is witnessed at all, it will be by a single person, watching from a distance – unable to get closer to the perpetrator who would undoubtedly have a vehicle close at hand to make a quick getaway. Extensive estate roads, driven across these vast moorland areas, are not there solely for the conveyance of shooters on shoot days!

    And then there are the untagged harriers. None of the several birds I have monitored this winter were tagged. There’s no way that I can tell whether their current absence is due to them having been shot or to them having simply moved on – I having no doubt that gamekeepers were aware of their presence.

  7. It is only Tuesday and already this week we have had four comprehensive and hard-hitting blogs from RPUK. There is a risk that this high quality work might be taken for granted, the high standard of output being something to which we have become accustomed. A word or two of praise, then, to Ruth and her backers for keeping us so well informed. It’s a phenomenal effort and is highly appreciated.

      1. Couldn’t agree more Dylanben. But this is utterly sickening and like an endless tape. Until the landowners are locked up, and more of their guilty keepers are in the next cell, we will get no changes. And if that ever happens I would hazard a guess that their mates will just shoot our birds of prey out of spite. Just think Elephants and Rhino dehorning in Africa. I would also echo Mike Whitehouses’s query – why ask for help after two months have elapsed? I do however, appreciate that the police are now chronically under-staffed and unable to go for walks on the moors in the hope of seeing something. The people who could help are the ‘locals’, especially those who like a pint and are ‘regulars’ in the local pubs when tongues tend to loosen around 10 pm! This worked like a gem here in Cumbria when we had problems with Badger baiting with terriers. We just went into the pub used by the terrier men for their nefarious ‘meetings’ and watched and listened. So come on you Yorkshire locals. Don’t tell me none of you know who the culprits are. Or are you too scared to name them?

  8. Ruth, much thanks for all the hard work. Including asterisks for naughty comments. I’ll try to behave.


  9. You behave? No chance Doug !!! Good to hear you are still ticking and fighting the good fight. Have you noticed the fells are getting steeper?

    1. That’s why I go canoeing! Water is flat and when it’s not I go down river or with the wind.

      I will do my bit whenever I can. My MP is useless and a p(h)easant shooter and maybe grouse too.

      Happy new year Tony.


  10. Another bird down in what is truly a raptor black spot. Yes the police will know which estate but not which keeper unless they happen to listen to a keeper or two in his cups! try the White Bear in Masham! I was up there this last week I wonder what chance of survival the three or four Buzzards, the Short-eared Owl and the Barn Owl I saw on the moors between Colsterdale and Nidderdale have, not much I would suggest.
    I also had a look from a keeper that would have shrivelled a lesser being, bastards the lot of them for either being criminals or knowing who is doing the deeds and not shopping them.
    I see the “local nature partnership” includes Amanda Anderson and they are to discuss a “raptor plan” FFS! Perhaps the “plan” should just be obey the law.

  11. I shared this with Yorkshire Birds and Birders facebook site where it received a number of comments, Last night I got a notification from an admin to say that the thread had been locked for legal reasons and a number of posts were removed and that this was a sensitive issue.
    The posts were discussing the location of the disappearance but not naming any of them from what I couod see.

    I’d also like to add my thanks to Ruth for the amount of work she does for the cause.

    1. When one considers the things that get posted on FB, it is hard to conceive why this sensitive issue should be suppressed?

      Who’s hiding what or in fear of the game killer thugs?


      1. Perhaps they are worried about legal reprisals from one of the six estates in the area should one of them be falsely accused. Without suggesting who is or is not responsible the estates are Jervaulx, Caldbergh, Summerstone, Middlesmoor, Fountains Earth and Longside Moors and Swinton. One of these has a much larger landholding in the area than the others. However rather than speculate as to which estate this bird disappeared on we should perhaps wait until more information is made public.

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