In January this year, the RSPB reported that a satellite-tagged hen harrier called ‘River’ had disappeared in suspicious circumstances in November 2018 on an unnamed grouse moor in the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) (see here).
This was an area where the day before River ‘disappeared’, the RSPB had filmed an unidentified gunman with two dogs at a known hen harrier roost (see here).
Nothing more was heard from River’s tag until the end of March 2019. What happened next is recounted in an RSPB blog published this afternoon:
SHOT HEN HARRIER FOUND ON NORTH YORKSHIRE GROUSE MOOR
By Mark Thomas, Head of Investigations, RSPB
Another satellite-tagged hen harrier, found dead on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire, has been confirmed as shot.
You may remember River, the young female hen harrier who suddenly disappeared in November 2018 in suspicious circumstances. We wrote about it here. Now, further information has emerged – and it’s not good news.
River was satellite tagged in Lancashire in 2018 as part of the RSPB EU Hen Harrier LIFE project. In November 2018 she sent out her last transmission from a roost location on a driven grouse moor in North Yorkshire, within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. My staff and North Yorkshire Police searched the area but found no trace of the bird or the tag.
Then surprisingly at the end of March 2019, River’s tag gave off another signal confirming that she was dead and giving a precise location. These satellite tags are solar powered, and it’s possible that the bird’s body was disturbed, allowing the tag to ‘wake up’ and get back in touch with us. The longer, brighter days might have had their effect too.
This latest ‘ping’ gave us an exact location of River’s body, and again my staff and the police officers set out to recover her. They found her dead on Ilton Moor on the Swinton Estate on 5 April 2019. She was just 3.7km away from where her last transmission in November had come from, both on the same estate.
[Hen harrier River’s corpse being retrieved from a grouse moor on Swinton Estate. Photo by RSPB]
River’s decomposed body was recovered and taken to be X-rayed by the Police. Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police.
We don’t know precisely when or where River was shot, or who did it, but clearly she has been the subject of illegal persecution.
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. However, hen harriers like River continue to suffer at the hands of people clearly breaking these laws, and clearly undeterred by the consequences.
River is the latest hen harrier to be shot, adding to the evidence that these birds are being routinely illegally killed, often on land being used for driven grouse shooting.
The RSPB is calling for the licensing of driven grouse moors. With just a handful of breeding hen harrier pairs left in England, this is a species with everything to lose if the status quo continues.
If you have any information which might help identify who shot River, or if you know anything about birds of prey being killed in your area, you can contact my team in confidence on our hotline: 0300 999 0101.
This news has a certain amount of inevitability about it. A hen harrier has been shot and her corpse has been found on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.
According to Mark’s blog, River’s corpse was retrieved from the Swinton Estate. Mark quite rightly states that it’s not possible to identify when, exactly, she was shot, or where or by whom. However, River’s demise mirrors that of so many other young satellite-tracked hen harriers – in fact 72% of them according to this recent scientific research.
The Swinton Estate may be a familiar name to some blog readers – it’s where the shot corpse of hen harrier Bowland Betty was discovered in 2012 (see here). Again, it was not possible to identify who had shot her, or where (she may have been shot elsewhere and managed to fly some distance before collapsing and dying on Swinton) and so nobody was charged or prosecuted for killing her.
The Swinton Estate may be a familiar name to other blog readers because we’ve previously reported on an estate gamekeeper who was convicted in 2014 for illegally setting a pole trap, twice, in 2013 (see here). He told the court the pole trap was nothing to do with targeting protected raptor species, but had been set with the intention of catching squirrels. No matter, he was still convicted because, quite rightly, barbaric pole traps have been illegal for decades.
The Swinton Estate name has cropped up in recent weeks as it’s rumoured to be hosting at least two hen harrier breeding attempts, and we believe one of those nests has since been ‘brood meddled’ by Natural England with either the hen harrier eggs or chicks removed and taken in to captivity (see here).
Please note: the location of this brood meddled nest is as yet unconfirmed because Natural England is refusing to publish further details, laughably ‘in the interest of the welfare of the harriers’.
We expect to learn these details later in the year so we’ll certainly be returning to this story. If the brood meddling has taken place on Swinton, we’ll be wanting to know whether Natural England knew about the discovery of River’s shot corpse before the decision to brood meddle was taken.
There’s something else that stood out in Mark’s blog. This statement:
‘River’s decomposed body was recovered and taken to be X-rayed by the Police. Yesterday I received confirmation from North Yorkshire Police that her body contained two pieces of shot, one of which had later been retrieved and confirmed as such by the Police‘.
Why did it take North Yorkshire Police over three months to notify the RSPB of the x-ray results?
Under what circumstances did North Yorkshire Police ‘later retrieve’ one of the two pieces of shot found in River’s body? WTF?!
There’s something very, very odd going on here.
UPDATE 12 July 2019: How to discuss an illegally shot hen harrier, without mentioning that it’s been illegally shot (here)