Hen harrier found shot & two others ‘disappear’, all on Scottish grouse moors

Press release from RSPB Scotland (9 December 2019)

Hen harrier found dead while two others disappear in suspicious circumstances

RSPB Scotland is appealing for information following the discovery of the body of a hen harrier found to have been shot and the sudden disappearances of two young satellite tagged hen harriers.

A member of the public found the dead female bird on a grouse moor on the Dumfries-shire/South Lanarkshire boundary near the village of Wanlockhead on 7 June 2019. A post mortem examination of the body by SRUC vets confirmed that the bird had died as a result of “penetrating trauma” injuries of unknown cause, with shooting a possibility. The examination also showed that the bird had previously been shot, with a shotgun pellet recovered from the left breast muscle. An investigation by Police Scotland has not identified a suspect for the bird’s shooting.

The birds who have disappeared in suspicious circumstances were fitted with satellite tags under licence by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project team this summer while they were still in the nest. Romario, a young male, fledged from a nest on National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate, while Thistle, a young female, was tagged on an estate in Easter Ross.

Romario was last recorded on 11 September on a grouse moor between Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey, while the last transmission from Thistle’s tag was received on 12 October, from another grouse moor, in east Sutherland. Satellite tags are highly reliable, so sudden stops in transmission give immediate cause for concern.

Since the birds fledged the tags had been tracking their movements as they set out on their own. Romario had made his way slowly north, spending time in western Aberdeenshire, before moving into Moray. Thistle, who had been named by the children of Sunnyside Primary School in Glasgow, headed west to into Strathoykel for almost a month before journeys to the east and north of here. She then returned to Strathoykel, before again heading east prior to her disappearance.

This appeal for information follows the suspicious disappearance of another Scottish harrier tagged by the project being investigated by Northumbria Police – Ada hatched and was tagged in the Scottish Borders this summer and was last recorded in the North Pennines in England, an area known for bird of prey persecution. When she first fledged she had spent some time in lowland East Lothian before heading south; her tag’s last transmission was on 10 October in a grouse moor area near Allendale in Northumberland. RSPB England issued an appeal for information about her last month.

Despite laws to protect them, hen harriers remain one of the UK’s rarest and most persecuted birds of prey. From satellite tagging data they are known to be ten times more likely to be illegally killed over grouse moors where the land is managed specifically to raise artificially high numbers of red grouse, which are then shot, than any other land use.

Studies suggest there are only around 575 pairs of hen harrier remaining in the whole of the UK and Isle of Man. The vast majority of these pairs – 460 – are in Scotland, making the population here crucial to the future of this species in the UK.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager said: “We’re devastated to have lost more young birds in suspicious circumstances. The UK’s hen harrier population is in such a precarious position it means that every bird really does count and to have these ones disappear at such a young age is really concerning. Sadly, incidents such as this have become common place for our project with tagged hen harriers disappearing at alarming regularity every year, and it’s really worrying that a young female bird has been shot.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, Head of Species and Land Management at RSPB Scotland said: “The project satellite tags don’t stop transmitting if a bird dies of natural causes. To have them go offline suddenly and without warning strongly suggests the hen harriers have been the victims of crime, as in the case of the shot bird. Scotland is leading the way in the UK in terms of legislation to tackle bird of prey persecution, but continuing incidents such as this show that existing measures are not enough. There needs to be robust regulation of driven grouse shooting if crimes against some of this country’s incredible wildlife are to be brought to an end.”

If anyone can provide information about these incidents or any illegal persecution of birds of prey, please contact Police Scotland on 101, or call the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.


24 thoughts on “Hen harrier found shot & two others ‘disappear’, all on Scottish grouse moors”

    1. Related to the failure to have an adequately functioning means of law enforcement, crime and criminal detection, prosecution and punishment. Without these factors in place there is no deterrent.
      As long as the fundamental weaknesses remain the situation will not improve. The criminals will become increasingly confident that they can commit crime with impunity.

  1. I agree entirely with Dougie. The well-being and protection of Hen Harriers is only as strong as the weakest link and that is the lack of covert surveillance of the perpetrators and the catching of them in the act.
    Watched a police programme last night of how the police pursued drug gangs in south west England. Months of surveillance, monitoring of mobile phones and eventually a catch of the gang who were caught red handed.
    If we can do it for drug gangs surely it can be done for our countryside criminals.

  2. It’s a well known fact that keepers are to blame but prosecutions are rare as they are hard to catch actually killing birds as the areas are so remote. It’s been happening since before the war. Raptor persecution needs to be stopped

  3. Why can’t sat tag data go live to the public? At least then the caring people would have the chance of preventing the tagged bird being persecuted by regularly visiting the known areas and watching out for illegal activity. The current situation is obviously not working, and imagining that any government will change the current stance on driven grouse shooting is a waste of time.

  4. The problem with the the suggestion by AndyH is that harriers are wanderers and after hatching they fly in all directions and end up on grouse moors as that is where they are designed to hunt and breed. It is then that they come face to face with our guardians of the countryside who blast them out of the sky.

    Perhaps some drone surveillance of a gamekeeper at work on his patch might produce some interesting footage although at present it would not be admissible in court to prosecute. That is another problem to be solved.

  5. If 2 birds are found shot or suddenly their trackers stop working at any grouse moor site, their license to shoot on a grouse moor should be removed. It’s the only way these thugs can be stopped.

  6. I honestly believe that “robust regulation” will do very little to reduce the current persecution of hen Harriers. I have great respect for Duncan Orr-Ewing, whom I know is an excellent RSPB Officer, but as a spokesperson for that organisation I find it hard to believe that he believes wholly in this RSPB policy compromise. Okay, there are other bodies and individuals who are actively promoting that “driven” grouse shooting should be banned outright, but that doesn’t stop walk-up grouse shooting, and a continuing covert campaign of harrier persecution. I have known quite a few gamekeepers in my time, and their poisonous hatred of harriers has to be heard to believe. Many of them are obsessed with wiping out harriers, even more so than they hate foxes and other so-called pests. Personally I would rather see all grouse shooting banned, and the Red Grouse protected and appreciated in its own right as a valued component of a potentially rich habitat for the land’s biodiversity. We have many national and regional parks which should manage the land appropriately and provide a safe home for healthy populations of Hen Harriers. Sadly I don’t see that happening in my lifetime.

    1. Thank you Iain. I love reading your observations and comments. Your knowledge is astounding and your follow up proposals are always common sense, kind and practical. Wonderful.

      Keep up the great work!

  7. As stated, actually catching an offender committing the offence in such remote areas is as rare as rocking horse s**t.
    What is easy, is the disruption of shoot days by utilising the right to roam.
    Effective, when you walk across the beaters line.
    People pay to shoot, not have their day ruined by un-shot drives.
    Start hitting the estates where it hurts, in their pockets.

    1. Yes – its crystal clear that the industry will never reform itself and cast out the filth who commit these crimes. |Time to end the whole show

      1. I agree and wonder where the criminals will go. Criminals tend to remain criminals. Remove the opportunity for one type of crime and they are likely become involved in another. Pure as the driven slush.

    2. I see your point about protest, but I fear the shooters would lobby for a new law, and get it, quickly. Something along the lines of wilfull trespass interrupting traditional agricultural working, like they’d want to have against GM crop protest, convenently applicable to grouse- and pheasant-shoots.

      1. My understanding (a legal expert can correct me if I’m mistaken), is that the right to roam is only secure in Scotland, so these types of protest would be legitimate, but only if breach of the peace doesn’t take place. I’d imagine that the grouse shooters would immediately phone 999 and the police, if they have evidence, they would turn up and arrest only protesters. The protesters should remain silent, walk well in front of the beaters, and use phones or video cameras to record any acts of violence against them.

        1. I do not believe that the Scottish Access legislation gives carte blanche. Everyone exercising access rights is required to respect the right of others to pursue lawful activities. Like it or not, shooting in it’s various forms is still a lawful pursuit.
          If people turn up with the purpose of disrupting a shoot then they could well be in trouble.

          “Aggravated Criminal Justice. A person commits this offence if, in relation to trespass Public Order Act any lawful activity people are engaged in or 1994 (Section 68) about to undertake, the person does anything that is intended to intimidate and deter those people or to obstruct or disrupt the activity”.

          That quotation is from Annex 1 to the Scottish Outdoor Access code.

          Apart from the legal aspect do we really want those good people who abhor wildlife crime to be associated with groups who likely to be viewed by the generality of the public as hooligans.

          It is wise to not only keep on the right side of the law, but be seen to be undeniably on the right side of the law.

          1. The above comment in relation to access legislation cam from me ………. Dougie.
            Something went awry when I attempted to enter my name and my item was sent prematurely.

            1. Dougie, it’s a sad day when peaceful protest is regarded as law-breaking. In my experience the side creating a breach of the peace would be the grouse shooters and possibly even the beaters. I’ve seen it happening in days gone by, with the only violence coming from the grouse killers.

    3. Hmm…the thought of a couple of thousand climate change protesters rolling up at a few grouse shoots appeals to me very much. These are the people to get on board…

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