Young hen harrier suffers horrific death in illegal trap on Strathbraan grouse moor

RSPB press release (27 June 2019)


A satellite tagged hen harrier has been illegally killed on a Perthshire grouse moor. The remains of the young female, named Rannoch, were found by RSPB Scotland in May caught in a spring trap which had been set in the open, not permitted by law.

The post mortem report from SRUC veterinary laboratory said: “The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering.”

[Hen harrier Rannoch’s remains in an illegal trap on a Strathbraan grouse moor. Photos by RSPB Scotland]

Rannoch was satellite tagged by RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project in July 2017. Her tag data movements were followed closely by RSPB Scotland until 10th November 2018 when she stopped moving in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff. The solar powered tag battery drained before accurate location data could be gathered allowing her to be found, but after coming online again in May 2019 enough information was provided to locate her remains. A recent study showed that 72% of tagged British hen harriers are confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “We are absolutely devastated that Rannoch has been a victim of crime; the life of this beautiful bird was cut short in the most horrific way due to human actions. Satellite tagging has revealed the amazing journeys made by hen harriers but also uncovers how their journeys end.

Often the birds disappear with their tags suddenly ceasing to function as perpetrators go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their crimes; Rannoch’s death in a spring trap is evidence of one way in which these birds are being killed. In terms of their population size, hen harriers are the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK, and their population is now perilously low, so every loss we suffer impacts the continued survival of the species.”

Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations Scotland, said: “This latest killing of a hen harrier is truly appalling. The actions of the individual who set this trap were both reckless and indiscriminate, and showed a complete disregard for both the law and the welfare of local wildlife. Sadly, the catalogue of criminal killing of tagged hen harriers and other birds of prey continues unabated; we know many others are illegally killed and going undetected, so her death is part of the tip of the iceberg of the true level of criminality.

At a time when our hen harrier population is in sharp decline, we repeat our call on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to regulate driven grouse shooting through a licensing scheme, with sanctions to remove licences to shoot on land where the public authorities are satisfied that illegal activities are occurring”.

Rannoch was one of two chicks who fledged from a Perthshire nest in an area owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland in July 2017. Her tag was fitted in partnership with local members of the Tayside Raptor Study Group and Forestry and Land Scotland, who monitored the nest together.

[Hen harrier ‘Rannoch’ being fitted with her satellite tag in 2017. Photo by Brian Etheridge]

The tag data showed Rannoch spent most of her time in Perthshire before she stopped moving on 10th November 2018. As the tag had continued to function after she stopped moving, rather than coming to an abrupt halt, it was assumed that she had died of natural causes. The tag briefly transmitted more data in January this year, and again in May for longer, as the battery recharged in the spring sunlight. The second time more accurate location data was transmitted, allowing RSPB Scotland to finally recover Rannoch’s remains. When RSPB Scotland found Rannoch her leg was caught in a spring trap. Her body was recovered and delivered to the SRUC veterinary laboratory for a post mortem, and Police Scotland were notified.

Logan Steele, a member of the Tayside Raptor Study Group, which monitors hen harriers in the area said: “Rannoch and her sibling were the first birds to fledge from this site in ten years so I was very angry to hear she had died caught in an illegal trap. With so few hen harriers left in this part of Perthshire it is particularly worrying that this bird will not return to breed.”

Anyone with information about this crime or other bird of prey illegal persecution is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.


The RSPB press release does not name the grouse moor where Rannoch’s remains were found but just says it was ‘in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff’.

This is clearly within the boundary of the Strathbraan raven cull area, where in 2018 SNH issued a licence to local gamekeepers permitting them to kill 69 ravens ‘just to see what happened’. A legal challenge to that licensing decision was successfully made by the Scottish Raptor Study Group and one of their concerns had been that the Strathbraan raven cull area was a known raptor persecution hotspot with a long history of poisonings, illegally-trapped birds and the suspicious disappearances of at least six satellite-tagged eagles.

[RPUK map showing boundary of Strathbraan raven cull area (yellow line) and significant areas of moorland managed for driven grouse shooting (outlined in white). Hen Harrier Rannoch’s corpse was found on one of these moorlands]

Hen Harrier Rannoch’s name will now be added to the ever-increasing list of persecuted satellite tagged hen harriers on British grouse moors, although unusually this time we’re not dealing with a missing corpse and a missing tag that has suddenly and inexplicably stopped working.

No, this time there is no escaping the brutal, barbaric reality of her miserable death. The criminality is writ large, for all to see.

How will the authorities respond this time? Complete silence, as we’ve come to expect every time a raptor persecution crime is reported in the press? We won’t let the Scottish Government off the hook so easily this time.

Wilful blindness will no longer be tolerated.

This weekend, the Scottish Parliament will be celebrating its 20 year anniversary. Twenty years ago, the then Secretary of State Donald Dewar famously described illegal raptor persecution as “a national disgrace” and committed the Scottish Parliament to take “all possible steps to eliminate [raptor] persecution“.

It’s time for the Scottish Government to honour that commitment.

Please send an email of protest to Cabinet Secretary Roseanna Cunningham: Your email needs to be firm but polite. There can be no more prevarication on dealing with these crimes and the Scottish Government needs to understand the strength of feeling about its continued failure to bring the criminals to justice and end these vile actions.

Thank you.

UPDATE 26th January 2022: Lochan Estate penalised after discovery of illegally-killed hen harrier on grouse moor (here)

68 thoughts on “Young hen harrier suffers horrific death in illegal trap on Strathbraan grouse moor”

  1. Strathbraan, What a car-crash. Clearly the estate must lose its general licence and its agri-environment support. And SNH? How can they ever consider trusting this alleged community group again?

    1. Hmmmm………..where to start with this?
      Satellite tag reliability? RSPB attitude that if the bird doesn’t show movement but still transmits, then it’s assumed dead through natural causes, without recovery?
      A trap going 6 months without being checked?
      The timing of this and in Perthshire, not a million miles from where Hen Harrier Day is being held in August? The coincidence that this is within the area the Tingay, Avery and Packham were spotted within the last 14 days or so.
      Of all the birds or mammals that’s couldve ended up in the ‘so-called’ illegal trap, it had to be a tagged hen harrier?
      The list could go on and on.

        1. Another cracking response you come to expect from a subjective viewpoint on this site.
          And for the record, I’m not condoning raptor persecution which I know does go on before anybody starts to post another pathetic response.

      1. “Of all the birds or mammals that’s couldve ended up in the ‘so-called’ illegal trap, it had to be a tagged hen harrier?”

        Surely it’s blatantly obvious that a tagged hen harrier is simply far more likely to be discovered? If these traps have been set in that area then there can be no doubt that other non-tagged birds would have been caught in them as well, with only the satellite tagged one proving the trap was ever there. With previous pole trap cases, DNA found on recovered traps has provided evidence of previous captures that were not known about. Like the Mossdale case where I think kestrel DNA was found on it, but no body to go with it.

        And there’s nothing “so called” about it, it is an illegal trap. No legally set fenn trap would catch a hen harrier.

      2. Ah, I’ve been wondering something and you seem just the person to ask: How do you avoid chafing from the edges of your tinfoil hat? Do you wear a smaller hat under it or is there some way of folding the foil to stop it scratching?

      3. Let’s run with the conspiracy theory, shall we? You seek to suggest that it was a ‘set-up’ and, as you further imply, one that involved “Tingay, Avery and Packham”. Do you really imagine that if anyone wanted to ‘set-up’ an estate then they’d involve such highly recognisable agents and do it in broad daylight? Really? And why would they feel the need to set anyone up when there’s ample evidence of illegal activity in the area? A simpler explanation is that the three were there because the area is a known ‘hot spot’ for raptor persecution (as evidenced by multiple instances over the years which, I trust, you’re not going to claim were all set up by this esteemed trio). Accordingly, their presence and that of the illicitly killed bird are both explained far more simply and without recourse to fanciful conspiracies by the same fact – persistent illegal persecution of raptors. In the meantime remind me what % of illegal raptor killers turned out to be gamekeepers in Scotland and how many conservationists have been caught ‘setting up’ an estate in a manner you suggest.

  2. No one should be in the least surprised about this. It is to be expected.
    No one should be surprised that those in Holyrood are ineffective at dealing with the endless persecution. That too, is to be expected.
    Perhaps one day worthwhile people will be in a position to bring the criminals to book.

    1. You’d have to ask the RSPB but it’s quite likely the decision has been made so as to avoid a load of grief from the estate’s lawyers.

      And to be honest, at this stage the estate name is no longer important (unless court proceedings are due to follow but there’s no hope of that happening).

      What is important is that here we have yet another clear example of blatant criminality from the grouse shooting industry, as if there wasn’t already sufficient evidence that it continues, and this needs to be used to apply further pressure on the Scottish Government to finally take effective action. Please send an email to the Cabinet Secretary and ask her why we’re still waiting for Government action.

      1. The facts are surely unequivocal. The location of the trap cannot be disputed so I would like the RSPB to come out and clearly state the name of the estate. Let the estate’s lawyers growl and threaten, if it is a matter of fact where the bird was found and the RSPB does not seek to say who actually set the trap, what can they do? On the other hand if the location is publicised, the estate would then need to explain how come traps are being set illegally on its land.

        Whilst the RSPB does not have bottomless reserves of cash it is nevertheless a wealthy organisation and can surely afford to take some risks of this kind.

        1. Well said, Jonathan.
          Who cares if the Estate’s lawyers threaten? This seems to be the Nasty Brigade’s response now so that the Estate cannot be named and shamed. We saw it when Marcie “disappeared” – no naming of the Estate.

          The Estate needs to be named and shamed.

          If the lawyers threaten legal action against the RSPB, I’m sure all of us would crowd fund a defence! And the RSPB can call upon a lot of supporters!

          1. Well said Loki. About time the RSPB executives got behind the investigation teams with private prosecutions. I’m sure most members would agree.

          2. Exactly so Loki. The RSPB have now good evidence that crowd funding a court case works. Why don’t they give it a go?

    2. I’d hazard a guess that the police have requested that the precise location is kept confidential to allow for the possibility of a special knowledge/self corroborating confession.

      Hardly likely to happen, but I suppose they have guidelines they have to follow.

  3. I have just written my email to R Cunningham, for whatever good it will do, but hopefully at least add to a long list of other messages to her inbox so she can see the wealth of feeling regarding this atrocity, which as previously said, no-one is surprised about, but no less outraged.

    1. Personally I’d prefer the idea of a crowd fund to buy land rather than lawyers’ time, and to see members encouraged to mail MPs, MEPs, and Ministers.

  4. I’m sure the wilfully blind and malicious apologists for illegal persecution of raptors are already tapping away at their keyboards claiming that this body was ‘planted’ by the RSPB/animal rights ‘activists/etc. It would be amusing to read their cant were it not so profoundly annoying to do so knowing that they have so many ‘friends in high places’ willing to support them and their nonsense. Enough is enough.

  5. Surely, with vicarious liability, the landowner is guilty of allowing a crime to be committed on his land? At the very least this landowner should be named and shamed. I cannot understand why the RSPB are being so coy: they found the trap, they know where it was found, they have the precise satellite location, they can name the estate on which it was found. Presumably what they cannot do is accuse the estate of being responsible – but they don’t have to. People can make their own minds up.

    I would think the only reasons not to name the estate will be if either the police are investigating with a view to prosecution or if the RSPB are planning a private prosecution. If they are, they should say so as an explanation for not naming the killing fields.

  6. Shouldn’t identifying / registration marks be compulsory on traps with a tag showing individual responsible for the setting of it – if not then any found by public or whoever should / could be legally removed and reported.

    1. I totally agree, if all fire arms must carry serial numbers that can be identified, then the same must be of any legal traps which identify owner and estate (the upsetting photos appear to show a Fenn trap) as essentially they carry out the same thing which is to (cause suffering) kill animals & birds. I would rather see all inhumane traps made illegal but sadly there is a long way to go in terms of ‘human evolution’. where entitlement & money are concerned.

  7. Is it not time to consider another approach?
    How about a mass walk by groups of concerned people onto the moor.
    Disrupt activities on the moor & estate.
    All within legal boundaries, of course, but I think the current way of doing things is not suffient.
    These estates need to know that they are not custodians/guardians of Scotland’s land and wildlife.
    They need to understand that we, the public, have the right to take an interest and also to take measures when we feel that the landowner is abusing trust.
    If the estate’s activities were disrupted by protest then they would take notice.
    Force them to the table on our terms.

    1. I contacted an organisation about it taking the lead on this a while ago, somebody has to and I’m just not qualified, but they never got back to me. You need to look at the logistics of getting people there and back, first aid provision would be a good idea, what activities would and wouldn’t be legal, a recce of the intended site beforehand and advance information on the day so you don’t turn up blind not knowing exactly where shooting parties are, and also organising media coverage to take the issue to the wider public. Biggish undertaking, but it needs to be done. Legal, safe protest on the moors during the shooting season is a new tool we need to use to take this up a level. At the moment they’re just taking the piss and politicians are letting them. By displaying disgust at what’s happening it would make it harder for MSPs to keep ignoring this.

  8. This area in Perthshire is a hotbed of organised wildlife crime activity by those who know EXACTLY what they are doing … but have little fear of getting caught, less fear of being found guilty in a court of law and almost no chance of being imprisoned for it.
    Given the circumstances most men who kill for a living would take the opportunity of a big bonus and knowing they will be secure in their employment if no raptors are spotted overflying the estate for a few weeks after August 12th.
    What is needed is punishment that ensures no job for the culprit, be removing his firearm license and no driven grouse shooting for the owner for three years at the minimum.
    That’ll make them “smile out of the other side of their face”
    Let me also say that I’d bet a penny to a pound that the trap is beside a kjnown harrier nesting site and that’s why it was placed there .. and most probably baited too, the XXXXXXd’s!!

  9. Another act of gut wrenching barbarism from presumably those employed in grouse “sport” killing. The only cares these unpleasant folk have is being found out. They hate bad publicity so come on RSPB tell us where it was found. Perhaps it is too much to hope that SNH will impose a general licence restriction as well. reminds me of a quote from the Kiowa war chief Satank ” we have fought the white man many times but it brings us no honour because you the white man have no honour.” Just substituting Grouse shooting cabal for white man about sums it up.

      1. Christopher and Simon,

        Your comments are wholly unjustified in this case. There are some dedicated police officers involved in this case, and other ongoing cases, and your dismissive flippancy does them a great disservice.

        Sure, criticise when it’s justified but please don’t generalise like this, it doesn’t help.


          1. crypticmirror:

            Simple. Because we work with some of them directly so we have first-hand experience of the efforts they are making in this field, and also an appreciation of what limited resources they have available, so we know how unwarranted this generalised criticism can be.

            But as said above, in other circumstances the criticism is completely justified and in those cases those particular officers or Forces deserve to be called out.

            1. I don’t think the problem lies with the police as mentioned above some of then do great work but the courts let them down.

          2. That’s probably because you don’t actually know any? No less than two of the people who turned up at the impromptu hen harrier demo outside the Scottish Parliament a couple of years ago after yet another hen harrier was killed were ex policemen and they’d travelled a long way to be there. One of the people in the very front line of trying to stop the slaughter of our still tiny beaver population is an ex policeman who as he runs an eco tourism business with a focus on beaver viewing is well acquainted with how beavers are being persecuted. He certainly doesn’t keep his mouth shut about how ALL our wildlife is being persecuted and I wish there were a lot more like him. So even if my own brother wasn’t a policeman, one who has always hated wildlife crime and animal cruelty just like his big brother, your lazy comment would get my hackles up – I’ve met too many good ones.

            1. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting several police, and have the literal scars to attest to it. My trust in them is shaped by that experience of them, at the sharp end you might say. I’m not gonna comment on your family, other than that obviously shapes your opinion and that everybody should love their family, but I wouldn’t want to deal with them in any professional capacity ever again.

                1. Well you are 100% right about that in this thread.

                  I think you are too defensive about them because of your familial relationship.

                  There has been no apology from the police for the decades of institutional aggression they’ve shown to not just the animal welfare and green community, but to the activist community in general. Until that happens, I will never trust a copper. Even the alleged good ones work in a system that rewards hostility. Sorry you don’t like hearing that.

                  1. I’m not defensive about them because of familial relationships, it’s because I don’t have the mentality of a fifteen year old. I’ve encountered my fair share of bad policemen, including one who sadistically twisted the ear of a homeless man in Central Station, Glasgow when I was twenty, but I know they’re not all like that by any means – today I’d have no hesitancy in taking a pic with my phone and reporting him. A lot of us have been involved in activism of one form or another over the years without developing a martyr complex.

                    1. That is good. You should do that. Find a cop doing something dodgy, which shouldn’t take too long, and take a picture of them and demand their shoulder number. And when you’ve done that remember to protect your head and try and keep your stomach away from the boots.

                      Also, milk is good for cleaning your eyes from the pepper spray.

                      And, even if you do find one of the good ones who will not retaliate in the many and various ways that the cops can when they decide to ruin your life, it does not matter when it is the whole police-political structure that is institutionally biased against activism. Kettling, baton charges, mounted cops running people down with their horses, destruction of property, these things and more all happen on every protest literally to this day, not to mention false flag operations with the undercover cops who deliberately cause trouble to give their uniformed fellows a reason to do all the above, or the 4am wake up raids you can expect from them for the next couple of weeks; and that is on the peaceful protests. That is why the cops cannot be trusted, because even if you have a nice and polite and proper one, they are still part of the wider police structure which encourages and protects bad faith actors.

                      Because even those good and polite coppers look the other way for their mates. Because the only thing that the policing institutions hate more than activists and protestors is cops who side with them over their fellow cops.

                      If the police want to convince me they’ve changed, then they have to actually -as an institution- change. And, and this is crucial, spend a few decades rebuilding the trust that generations of cops have spent their careers stamping all over, which means suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune in a humble and contrite way and not getting their back up when things like Battle of the Beanfield or the kettling and mass arrests of the Extinction Rebellion protests (this very year) are brought up. I will believe in the change when I see the apologies for those acts of police violence, and when I see sustained evidence of change.

  10. Utterly disgusted by yet another mindless act by the gamekeeping mafia that infest these grouse moors. Only credilbe response to this by the powers that be is to shut down the offending operation

  11. I remain incredulous that in 21st century Scotland a business sector is allowed to continue breaking the law in full view and that the illegal killing remains an integral part of their business plans. By failing to tackle it the SG is effectively providing tacit approval and by default could be deemed to be complicit in the law breaking.

  12. There is a healthy population of Hen Harriers in Orkney…..where there are no gamekeepers. That says it all really.

  13. I drove through this area last week and it’s a desolation. Burnt grouse moors all the way down to the road. Horrific place. No raptors seen in the area at all. Absolutely sickened by Rannoch’s death – we need to do everything we can to shut this industry down once and for all.

  14. Email sent. Appalling. Why is it so difficult to have a law that’s enforceable and Authorities with a will to enforce.

  15. Oh, let’s go (to the grouse moors)

    The keeper walks warily down the track
    With his brim pulled way down low
    Ain’t no sound but the sound of his boots
    Clanging Fenn traps ready to go

    Are you ready (Harrier), hey, are you ready for this?
    Are you hanging by the claws on your feet?
    Out of the Hilux door the bullets rip
    To the sound of a thud on dead meat

    Another one bites the peat
    Another one bites the peat
    And another one gone, and another one gone
    Another one bites the peat
    “Hey, I’m going to get you, too”
    Another one bites the peat

    How do you think I’m (moorland) going to get along
    Without you (gamekeeper) when you’re gone?
    You took me for everything thing that I had
    And burnt me to the bone

    Are you (gamekeeper) happy, are you satisfied?
    How long can you stand the peat?
    Out of your Hilux and into handcuffs
    To the sound of the prison warders feet

  16. 6 months in the trap, either the setter was exceptionally arrogant in their belief that the trap and any victim would ever be found, quite likely to be the case if it had not been for the Sat tag.
    Or, they forgot about it, which is certainly possible as I find it hard to believe that they would make any physical notes as to it’s location, easier to deny all knowledge that way.

    OR I guess in all likelihood, both apply.

    1. Someone on twitter pointed out that the trap doesn’t seem to be secured to anything like they usually are. The bird could have flown off with the trap if it wasn’t secured properly, which might explain why it wasn’t checked.

      That said, this is only speculation and we can’t know for sure.

  17. The exact location where the bird was found should be named unless there is operational reasons not to.

    Given the passage of time I doubt there is now any operational reasons to prevent this.

    This is clearly a crime and the locations of all other crimes are made public. Why not this crime.

    As long as the information is factual there can be no issue of libel.

  18. Am I alone in begging the question as to what ‘rights and aspirations’ the setter of this trap might have?

  19. Re several of the comments about asking the RSPB to bring a private prosecution against the estate involved – in Scotland we dont have private prosecutions.[there were only two in the 20th century]..all prosecutions go through the Crown Office via the Procurators Fiscal…

  20. Judging by the tall heather surrounding the opening where the trap was set it looks as if this was a harrier roost
    and the trap was set in a spot where the person who set the trap knew a harrier was roosting. The hen harrier “couches” can be identified by droppings and cast up pellets lying on the ground.

    It may well have been a single bird roost and the criminal who set the trap may have thought that the trap was unlikely to be discovered by a member of the public unless they knew of the roost.

    I have heard of this method of trapping harriers being used in the past in my area. To my mind it is one of the most barbaric and cruel methods of catching an animal given the pain and suffering the animal has to endure before it succumbs.

    The fact that the trap was not checked for several months suggests to me that the trapper as well as being cruel was also bone idle and should be sacked by his employer on both counts if he is identified by the area in which the trap was found.

  21. People who are part of the so called “custodians of the countryside” mob do not get sacked for cruelty to animals and birds. It is frequently part of their modus operandi.

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