Another satellite-tagged red kite ‘vanishes’ in North Pennines AONB

RSPB press release (4 August 2020)

Another red kite vanishes in suspicious circumstances in problem area

Two red kites and one hen harrier – one of England’s rarest breeding birds – have vanished suddenly and unexpectedly in the same area of the North Pennines AONB since last October.

The birds, all of which are protected by law, were wearing satellite tags to help experts understand more about their lives after leaving the nest.

The most recent of these, a young red kite named ‘BB’, vanished in the Derwent Gorge in June 2020, triggering a police appeal for information.

BB was fitted with a satellite tag near Gateshead in June 2019 by Friends of Red Kites (FoRK) with NERF support. It has been monitored since by the RSPB.

[Red kite ‘BB’ in the centre. Photo via RSPB]

BB’s tag had been functioning reliably and as expected when it suddenly stopped on 7 June 2020. Police have been conducting enquiries including a search of the area of the bird’s last fix, between Muggleswick and Castleside, where the bird had been present for the previous month, but found no trace of the bird or the tag. BB has not been heard from since.

Two further birds have suffered similar fates. In April 2020, another red kite, KK, which hatched last summer also near Gateshead, suddenly stopped transmitting on a grouse moor near Derwent Reservoir. And in October 2019, a rare hen harrier named Ada vanished after similarly sending her last transmission from a grouse moor, east of Allendale in Northumberland, also within the AONB.

All of these birds were tagged in the summer of 2019 and were under a year old when they disappeared. It is believed the birds may have been illegally killed.

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “There is a distinct pattern emerging of satellite-tagged birds of prey vanishing without a trace on or near land managed for driven grouse shooting in this area.

“BB, KK and Ada’s disappearances are categorised as a ‘sudden stop’. These are reliable tags which continue transmitting even after a bird has died. To cut out suddenly like this strongly suggests human interference.”

Birds of prey are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which makes it an offence to deliberately kill or injure one. Those found to have done so could be given an unlimited fine and/or a prison sentence.

The persecution of raptors including red kites is a national police wildlife crime priority. Red kites, which are mainly scavengers, went extinct in England in the early 1900s largely down to persecution and egg collecting. Reintroduction programmes in recent decades have been a huge success in the UK, yet red kites remain listed as globally-threatened by the IUCN/BirdLife International.

Harold Dobson, spokesman for the Friends of the Red Kites, said: “It is with a combination of sadness, frustration and anger that we have learned of yet another red kite disappearing under suspicious circumstances. Red kites were re-introduced in the Lower Derwent Valley between 2004-2006. They continue to fare well in the valley itself but evidence such as this strongly suggests they are being prevented from naturally expanding their range, at least in part, due to human persecution. Since 2010, seven red kites have been found poisoned or shot near the Derwent Gorge and surrounding Durham moorland. We fear that this may be the tip of the iceberg and that many more persecuted kites are never found.”

Inspector Ed Turner, from Durham Constabulary said: “It is sad that, within a matter of months, I am appealing to the public for information again regarding another red kite that has disappeared without explanation in the same area of the North Pennines. The fate of this bird is not yet clear. Until we can rule out the possibility that a crime has been committed, we will continue to take this matter very seriously.”

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “I’m immensely disappointed that we’re back here again having to ask for information on missing birds of prey in this part of the AONB. We never jump to conclusions about single satellite-tagged birds going off-line – there could be several reasons for that and we always want to get to the bottom of why it’s happened, where possible – but there’s a pattern here, and this part of the North Pennines has been a problem location for ten years or so now with shot, poisoned and missing birds. Please come forward if you can help locate this bird or know what happened to it.”



6 thoughts on “Another satellite-tagged red kite ‘vanishes’ in North Pennines AONB”

  1. Open Letter to Harold Dobson, Friend of the Red Kites

    Dear Harold Dobson,

    We all know what is happening – the law is being broken with impunity in this part of the North Pennines and those responsible know that they can continue with their illegal actions because the evidence necessary for a conviction is lacking.
    Both material evidence and witness evidence. Killed raptors can be disposed of easily enough and their tags too, and filmed footage of crimes is extremely difficult to produce, but what about witnesses and others who know of such crimes being committed? Naturally co-conspirators aren’t going to come forward voluntarily and declare Person X guilty – it just isn’t going to happen. The shooting fraternity would never grass on one of their own and the day when a gamekeeper confesses to a raptor killing outright will be the day the BASC declares love for Greenpeace and all game birds.

    As a Red Kite lover – we’ve a pair nesting near us just outside Huddersfield, and a beautiful bird they are too – graceful, agile, with those cream and rufus feathers and forked tail quivering. Stunning. Yes, they’re a success story but they’re being slaughtered in certain parts of the country and nowts changing or going to change in the near to medium term future.

    I’m convinced that with a little pushing and probing, enough interest can be roused to form a group of people willing to publicly and legally make their presence known to these folk who run the shoots, landowners and all, and with peaceful protest start to turn the tide. Public protest brings a different kind of pressure to bear.

    I wonder if your group has ever tried public protest against those who shoot in this area of the North Pennines? What do you think needs to be done to help stop this illegal killing of our beautiful raptors, red kites in particular?

    1. Andrew. Having been both the Project Officer for the release of Red Kites in Yorkshire and involved in the project to release them near Gateshead, I’m all too familiar with the carnage which you describe. In Yorkshire, this applies particularly in the Nidderdale AONB, but also in other locations scattered around the county. It has been my experience that the presence of these birds in our skies, and what has happened to some of them, has alerted many people to the perils which they, and other wildlife, face from those people who persist in defying the law by destroying them. Goodness knows how many were killed during the recent period of Covid lockdown.

      The lockdown also affected our breeding monitoring efforts, resulting in a significant shortfall in our figures. I note that you refer to a pair breeding near to you. It would be appreciated if you would please report the details to our website at The details will be held confidentially. Thanks.

  2. I’m just curious about the AONB boss’s statement. The way i read “I’m immensely dissapointed, etc…” implies that subsequent to the previous lost kite(s)
    he had formed the reasonable expectation that it wouldn’t happen again, which in turn suggests he had likely been given an assurance (perhaps through back-channels) that it wouldn’t be repeated. But this shows that the influence that bodies like AONB and NP’s seem to have moderating the zeal of their landowning “partners” is pretty much zero. I guess that is his underlying “immense dissappointment”, and I’m not suprised he feels that way.

  3. As a Spirit of the Earth, I find it extremely depressing to see what other sapiens are doing to precious creatures that we share this planet with. Live and let live… take only what you need.
    These creatures are not there for humans to kill for fun, lust or greed.

  4. I recently had a very interesting conversation regarding how the current legal framework within the UK severely hampers the investigation tactics the police can use to investigate wildlife crimes. Frequently the police will have suspects in minds when it comes particular wildlife crimes in certain locations. However the current legislation simply means the police can not use certain investigative methods which would often provide that vital piece of evidence and enable a suspect to be charged, and hopefully convicted.

    Due to the frequency and volume of raptor persecution, parliament really does need to have an “adult conversion” regarding the legal processes available to the police to properly investigate these crimes.

    As all parties, including politicians who represent the landed interests, and the various shooting and grouse moor organisations, have all openly stated their condemnation of illegal raptor persecution – then surely there would be no objection to giving the police the proper powers and investigative tools to effectively deal with raptor persecution??

    What would be very revealing is if parliament had this debate, and then we could all see just who objected, and on what grounds. It would clearly expose those who say the right words, but in truth don’t want raptors properly protected and the wildlife criminals brought to justice.
    It would help publicly expose the deceit that lurks within grouse moor and game shooting, which might be a “game changer” in public perception of the whole shooting industry?

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