Satellite-tagged hen harrier Dryad ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park

RSPB press release (15 Sept 2020)

Another hen harrier disappears, last reported on Yorkshire grouse moor

The RSPB is once again urging the Government to step in and support licensing of grouse shooting to address the illegal persecution of birds of prey following the suspicious disappearance of yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier.

Dryad, a female hen harrier, hatched at a nest in the Forest of Bowland this summer. She was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag so that scientists could trace her movements once she fledged. But Dryad barely had time to spread her wings before her tag, which had been transmitting normally, stopped suddenly and unexpectedly on 7 September 2020.

The tag’s last transmission showed the bird had been roosting on a grouse moor between Kirkby Stephen and Ravenseat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. RSPB staff searched the area but found no trace of Dryad or her tag. Dryad has not been heard from since.

[RPUK map showing approximate location of Dryad’s last known transmission]

Hen harriers, a red-listed species, are legally protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Yet they remain one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK and continue to be illegally killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for shooting. Scientific research published in 2019, based on the UK Government’s own data, showed that 72% of satellite-tagged hen harriers in their study were killed or likely killed on British grouse moors, and that hen harriers were 10 times more likely to die or disappear over grouse moor.

The most significant threat to the English hen harrier population – which is now perilously low – is persecution by humans. 24 hen harrier nests were recorded this summer, of which 19 successfully produced chicks, yet there is enough habitat and prey to support 12 times that number.

Dryad is the 44th hen harrier known to have been illegally killed or gone missing in suspicious circumstances since 2018.

This wider area, which is dominated by driven grouse moors, has become a ‘hotspot’ for suspicious hen harrier disappearances, as revealed by satellite tagging.

In July this year a hen harrier named Harriet, tagged by Natural England, sent her last transmission near Outhgill, just over the border in Cumbria. A further two disappeared, last transmitting near Bowes, County Durham and Askrigg, North Yorkshire respectively in September 2019. And in 2016, the hen harrier Rowan was found shot in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria.

Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, in 2019 the body of another satellite tagged hen harrier known as River was found shot on the Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:

Illegal killing is the number one factor stalling hen harrier conservation in the UK. Despite all the positive news around 60 juveniles fledging in England this clearly shows the fate of many of these birds once they disperse. Sadly we expect further suspicious disappearances in the next few months following the well-established pattern of previous years. If Dryad had died naturally, we would expect her tag to continue transmitting, allowing us to find and recover both body and tag. The sudden stop of satellite tags, particularly considering the history of persecution in this area, strongly points to human interference.

Mark continues: “It is blatantly clear that current legislation is failing to protect our birds of prey and that criminality continues unchecked on grouse moors. The Government must act urgently and commit to licensing of grouse shooting with sanctions to withdraw licenses to shoot where criminal behaviours are proven to the satisfaction of the public authorities. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from this approach.”

During August, over 120,000 emails were sent to local MPs by concerned members of the public urging them to take action to end bird of prey persecution, prompted by an e-action by Wild Justice, the RSPB and Hen Harrier Action.


26 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier Dryad ‘disappears’ on grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales National Park”

  1. No doubt the first of many of this year’s crop of young harriers. Why are we/you RSPB being so coy about naming estates? It is surely a simple statement of fact the bird last transmitted from this place which is on/part of X estate.

  2. Another sickener! The only positive note to come out of this is that it highlights the fact that this is an ongoing problem and, whatever the MA et al would have us believe, is not just a thing of the past.

  3. Yet again, North Yorkshire. Sadly, not a surprise.

    Speaking to an ex-shooter just yesterday about raptor persecution, he expressed the widely held view of many, ‘Well I think it’s young lads with guns, don’t you?’ Considering that it was, allegedly, [Ed: sentence part-deleted as this is a live investigation] and 8 people were interviewed about 5 dead buzzards in Bransdale, North Yorks, this view may well be correct. So, who buys a ‘first gun’ for a child? Who takes a child shooting? Parents usually. That child becomes a teenager. That ‘first gun’ is replaced with a shotgun. That teenager becomes a young adult. That shotgun is used criminally, either to keep up with or to impress the peer group. Parents know what’s going on. Keepers & shoot syndicates know what’s going on? They know who is responsible for these crimes. Every young criminal learns at his (or her) father’s (or mother’s) knee. Sadly, their parents also ‘learned the trade’ from their ancestors and so the problem continues and the raptors, aka ‘unprofitable’ birds, die alongside the game birds, again and again and again! North Yorkshire MPs would do well to put their own guns away, stop taking advice only from those involved in shooting, speak out against wildlife crime & speak up for what is right!

  4. “The government must act” what a fucking joke that’s all they do act because they are useless an absolute bunch of actors, they will do nothing about this because they are in the pockets of the landed gentry, get them out that’s the best thing we can do

    1. Totally agree, I despise those in power sponsoring all this slaughter much more than I dislike the keepers, who are just trigger-men at the end of the day. But I am not sure that a centre ground Labour government (i.e. one currently capable of winning an election) would be able to press strong legislation through. The obstacle remains the wider English political Establishment in general, and it’s proven ability to hold back progress.

  5. Another Poor beautiful victim from Yorkshire, and it seems almost as if indeed the town and country has an invisible line – guns freely available here .. (oh yes -..knives this side ) Some humans need to ( Apparently) Be taught humanity.. to hurt another living creature is a crime ( say the true Buddhist) and to derive enjoyment / pleasures from that Cruel action is neither one I forgive or understand . I’ve lived in the countryside over 52 years and concluded most people with guns should be sectioned!

  6. Damien Moore MP didn’t answer my email question. He did send a letter but all it said was that he does not do EDM, petitions and a few other irrelevant things.

    He is a shooter, accidentally declared in an earlier communication. He avoids mentioning shooting since then.

    He is a waste of time and space, he doesn’t do much locally unless it is something prestigious he can attach his name too and get photos in the local press. He does not live locally

  7. It’s time the landowners where these crimes take place were held responsible for what happens on their land. This should be regardless of whether they actually run the shoot or hire it out to somebody else. If they don’t know what is happening on the land then they damned well should do, because if they were held responsible and prosecuted they’d be pretty quick to find out. The estates where these crimes are committed should also be named.

  8. We are from the Bowes area and regularly walk on Bowes Moor with our two labradors. Whilst walking, we have come across two separate pigeon pens, which we though strange. However, on further investigation on Google, we read that pigeons are used as bait for raptors. These huts seem to be ‘guarded’ by men on quad bikes and one of our fellow walkers obviously got too close and was challenged as to their presence.

    1. I think Bowes changed hands a couple of years ago and has big ambitions, so that type of thing is what you will get from now on. Yes, it is a curious thing how many keepers have a passion for keeping white Fantail Doves and/or noisy conspicuous pigeon varieties like Tumblers.

    2. Have you reported your observations to Durham Constabulary or to the RSPB Investigations team?
      Much of the moorland in that area is CRoW land, and as such there is freedom of access- but this will probably be restricted to rights of way if you are accompanied by your dogs.
      If your friend was challenged in a threatening or hostile way then that is unacceptable, and may be an indication of unlawful activity taking place?
      Suggest you take some photos of the pigeon pens and let the authorities know.

  9. You can’t beat a really good assumption can you Professional honest and good game keepers don’t stand a bloody chance.

    1. … as a change from flying pigs

      You honest and good gamekeepers must feel like an endangered species, when you see so many reports of shooting and poisoning by the others.

    2. Can I ask a genuine question for those more expert? As I understand it, the Langholm study suggests that grouse moor management requires the removal of Hen Harriers to be economically efficient. Given that it is literally the job of gamekeepers on these estates to encourage and protect the grouse population, is it unreasonable to suggest that an ‘honest’ and ‘good’ gamekeeper working at a driven grouse moor might not even be a possibility?

      1. The grouse keepers on these Estates that are in our minds in NY Dales and North Pennines are good gamekeepers (probably the best there is) and they are honest. Unfortunately “honest” in that world just means they don’t rob the Estate or abuse their position with petty money-making schemes or fiddles, and “good” just means they produce the maximum number grouse. It’s as simple as that.

  10. The Swinton Estate was featured on Countryfile a couple of weeks ago,why wasn’t the unlawful killing of these wonderful birds (HEN HARRIERS) raised during the program,is it possibly too diplomatic,or were the producers of the program warned off the subject? Awaiting your reply, Tony Paul (RSPB & NORFOLK WILDLIFE MEMBER)….

  11. Please take action on this.
    It is not right to murder these beautiful birds and destroy their nests.
    This must be stopped and needs to be taken seriously.

  12. The article from Nature Communications regarding patterns of disappearance in satellite Hen Harriers is fairly robust evidence to support the accusation that there is something very wrong with the way many grouse moors are being managed.

    If we were to then overlay these grouse moors where Harriers are disappearing onto a map of Nationals Parks, AONB, or land with SSSI status, it would then raise the question of whether all the public money being spent on maintaining these designated areas was in fact being well spent in providing a safe natural habitat for wildlife, and protecting and conserving the special status of the land.

    It shouldn’t take the direct prosecution of individuals responsible for managing these areas, for wildlife crimes to provide sufficient proof to the government to take proper action in resolving what is clearly a problem.

    It can never be right to remove eggs or chicks from the nests of birds whose natural habitat is on these moors and within these designated areas, simply because of a failure to implement existing raptor persecution legislation or a failure to provide additional legislation and regulation to ensure the safety and well being of the birds which live there.

    I agree with many other contributors to this blog, that it is time that those who own these moors where Harriers are disappearing are required to provide a public explanation of just what is happening on their moors; and to justify the spending of all the public funding they receive to help manage and maintain these designated areas.

    If it transpires that the public funding is in fact only contributing to providing a surplus of grouse to be then be shot. Then it is clearly time that the public funding was stopped, as it would be totally wrong for public money to be spent on funding what many people see as a very unethical pastime. Especially when those who engage in this pastime have the wealth to fund it themselves.

    Time for some proper public accountability.
    So maybe its time these landowners and estates became known to the public.
    Especially since they are receiving public funding and have been trusted to spend that money wisely.
    Spending which now appears questionable.

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