Two more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors in Cairngorms National Park

Press release from RSPB Scotland (25 June 2020)

Two rare hen harriers disappear in suspicious circumstances

RSPB Scotland is calling on the Scottish Government to move quickly to introduce the licensing of grouse shooting, following the disappearance of two more satellite-tagged hen harriers on moors in the Cairngorms National Park revealed on BBC Scotland’s Landward this evening. 

As detailed in the programme, Marlin, a young male, fledged from a nest at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire in 2018, while Hoolie, another male, came from a nest in Easter Ross in the same year.  

Before they left their nests, both birds were fitted with a satellite tags as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project which have allowed experts to track their movements ever since. Marlin flew south after fledging and spent the last two winters in North Yorkshire. Hoolie crossed the sea to Ireland, returning there for the last two winters, where his movements have been closely followed by Irish ornithologists. 

In March 2020 Hoolie returned to Scotland, most likely with a view to finding a mate and raising chicks of his own. However, a month later his tag suddenly stopped transmitting. His last transmitted location was on 5 April and showed he was over an area of moorland intensively managed for grouse shooting near Newtonmore, in the Cairngorms National Park. He disappeared close to where another tagged hen harrier Lad was found dead, with injuries consistent with being shot, in 2015. 

[Hen harrier Hoolie, photo by RSPB Scotland]

Just three days later, on 8 April, Marlin’s tag also stopped suddenly. He too had returned to Scotland, and his last transmitted position was over a driven grouse moor near Strathdon, West Aberdeenshire, in the Cairngorms National Park. Last April, another Mar Lodge hen harrier, Marci, also disappeared suspiciously, less than a kilometre away, on the same grouse moor.  

[Hen harrier Marlin, photo by Shaila Rao]

When a tagged hen harrier dies of natural causes the tag continues to transmit its location allowing for the body to be recovered. Police Scotland carried out searches for the birds but neither the tags or the bodies were found, and neither tag has transmitted further data.  

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said:

 “Scotland had only just been put into lockdown in early April and yet protected birds of prey equipped with highly reliable technology have disappeared on land managed for driven grouse moors. The fact that these two birds have disappeared very close to where other similar incidents have occurred only heightens suspicions that these birds can be added to the very long list of protected birds of prey killed on grouse moors. 

The Scottish Government’s independent review of grouse moor management, published at the end of last year accepted the need for regulation of grouse shooting but proposed a five year probationary period to allow populations of hen harriers and other birds of prey on or near grouse shooting estates to recover to a ‘favourable’ conservation status. We believe that this approach is unworkable in practice and urge the introduction of a licensing scheme as soon as possible.” 


More on this news tomorrow.

26 thoughts on “Two more satellite-tagged hen harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors in Cairngorms National Park”

  1. License grouse moors, rubbish it needs banning the activity is riddled in crime, come on Scottish and English governments stop pandering to these thugs, people are sick of them. I love Scotland for its wildlife but I will not set foot in that country again until these disgusting excuses for humans are stopped

  2. Bit of an irony that Marlin survived two winters in North Yorkshire and then cops it on return to Scotland. What a set of prize bastards these people are.

  3. Sadly, Birdguides have banned the reporting of this latest atrocity because a supporter of ‘managed grouse moors’ continues to refute all reports of raptor persecution and even casts aspersions on the integrity of Inspector Matt Hagan.

    Birdguides’ response is “Ladies and gentlemen. Be civil. Opinions are welcome. Evidence-based arguments are welcome. This may be an emotive issue, but that doesn’t entail aggression. No need for personal attacks, or we will have to shut down comments on here.” rather than simply ban the blood sports supporter.

    That is a clear victory for the shooting establishment: closing down publicity of wildlife crimes by making anger about it a ‘crime’ in the eyes of Birdguides.

    1. Well said, Keith. This is a tried and tested strategy of theirs to keep problematic legislation at bay and drive the issue into the long grass at best, or a licencing regime filled with preordained loopholes at worst.
      I notice the same strategy being used on other online conservationist sites which are working along similar lines.
      Hegemony is like the wind, one can’t see it but it’s power bends the corn.

      1. Birdguides have written to me to say: “I also do not appreciate your suggestion that BirdGuides is somehow facilitating or even encouraging the spread of pro-shooting propaganda. You will notice that we try our best to remain as neutral as possible (for birders and conservationists, which is what our team is made up of!) in the way we cover such content.”

        Birdguides! Neutral! On Hen Harrier persecution!

        So, now we know:-(

  4. Why aren’t these criminals prosecuted like all others.
    Get a proper hobby like golf or football like normal people 🤷‍♂️.
    Leave poor defenceless animals alone

  5. im a local wildlife photographer in aberdeenshire and used to always find at least 3 pairs of red kites to watch on one local estate with a bad reputation but this year i cant find one red kite on the estate all 3 nest sites are empty..

  6. Disgusted. So much for Scotland’s image which is being destroyed by gamekeepers working under instruction…..or is it just plain ignorance? We need courts to apply the full force of the law……vicarious liability springs to mind.

    1. Not plain ignorance, but simply plain criminality by people who know that they can act with impunity.
      The criminal justice system is not fit for purpose.
      VL has been a categorical failure.
      Responsibility for allowing these failures to exist lies with Holyrood.

  7. There have, as usual, been many comments about prosecuting the culprits, and pursuing vicarious liability, but the situation will never be resolved until the judiciary is sorted out one way or another.
    If a case does get to court, the people judging are invariably the very same people who indulge in the blood “sport”, or at least are in the pocket of the lairds or estate owners, and sad to say our national royalty.
    I have always been under the impression that judges had to declare vested interests, but it doesn’t seem to be the case when it involves wildlife crime.

  8. Sad,sad news yet again.
    I go hillwalking in these areas and did so 2 days after the Golden Eagles went missing near the Aberfoyle area.
    There was a lot of outcry and contempt on social media regarding this from around the country.
    I passed through the main town,Aberfoyle, where the incidents happened.I was hoping to see or wishing to see posters etc in shop windows or lamp posts bringing it to the attention of the public and requesting information on who committed such a gross perverted act, after all they were Golden Eagles, but did I see anything,no.
    Has there been ” posters ” put up condemning other such incidents in local communities where wild life crime takes place.Are the locals unaware as to who is responsible? I don’t think so.
    Wouldn’t it be good if the local businesses in the areas of these so called sporting estates felt the contempt that we do and stopped doing business with the owners/ management teams and gamekeepers until they stop killing off our wildlife (which is one of the reasons some of us go walking,to see wildlife) would that be to much to ask.
    Or are they just like the owners of these independent estates of Scotland and focus on the money.
    At least there are some decent people trying their best to make a change,but they can’t do it without some meaningful help from the ” locals “

    1. Hi ‘Me’,

      I’m afraid it’s not as easy as that. There are too many examples of locals trying to stand up to these criminals and suffering the consequences for daring to speak out. One of them was interviewed on Channel 4 News a few weeks ago – a sweet shop owner in Nidderdale whose shop has since come under attack and he’s received death threats. There are locals in Perthshire who have given witness statements to the police and subsequently seen their pet dogs and cats deliberately poisoned with banned pesticides. Having said that, the Revive Coalition is working on this topic – watch this space.

      1. Am very saddened to hear of this.My heart goes out to the people you have mentioned they don’t deserve to be treated this way for doing right in trying to protect wildlife from these criminals.They are heroes in my eyes and should be treated as such and not be the subject of torment from the low life cowards who are carrying out these disgusting acts.I hope they are getting the support they deserve from other decent people in their community.The problem I find decent people don’t allow themselves to sink to the level of these cowards because they are decent respectful humans.The cowardly criminal needs locked up in a mental hospital cause that’s what they are mentally deranged.
        I just wish as a society and a much better justice system good will prevail over these evil gits.

        1. Bugger the mental hospital. Why should good people with mental issues have to mix with scum like that? Twenty years hard labour’s too good for the bastards.

  9. There needs to be a radical rethink of the future direction of all the Scottish countryside. This can’t be allowed to continue in a forward thinking, environmentally friendly Scotland and has no place in our country moving forward.

    Land ownership and rewilding needs to be looked at seriously. For all our wildlife and future generations…

    1. “What bollocks you print foxes have destroyed the nests chicks and the hen harriers”

      What bollocks you write. Did the foxes also eat the tags and batteries?

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