Satellite-tagged hen harrier Fingal ‘disappears’ on Scottish grouse moor

Press release from RSPB Scotland (17 September 2020)

Another hen harrier disappears 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 another satellite-tagged hen harrier – the fourth to vanish on a Scottish grouse moor since the beginning of April.

Fingal, a young male hen harrier, hatched from a nest in the Scottish Borders in summer 2019, and was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project which has allowed scientists to track his movements.

[Hen harrier Fingal. Photo by RSPB Scotland]

He remained in this area for the first few months before spreading his wings and making a tour of northern England, stopping at sites in Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Cumbria. After returning to Scotland he settled in Dumfries and Galloway for the rest of the winter.

In mid-March 2020 Fingal moved a short distance into the southern Lowther Hills. The last location transmitted from his tag, which was funded by Lothian and Borders Raptor Study Group, came on 19 May 2020 from an area moorland managed for gamebird shooting to the east of Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway.

Police Scotland carried out a search of the area but found no trace of Fingal or his tag. It has not transmitted since. When a satellite tagged bird dies of natural causes the tag continues to transmit allowing the body to be recovered. Independent peer-reviewed studies have shown these tags to be highly reliable, so having four fail, in very similar circumstances, all on grouse moors, strongly suggests human interference.

Fingal is the 45th known hen harrier to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances or been confirmed to have been illegally killed in the UK since 2018.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “This has become a depressingly familiar story. Yet again a satellite-tagged bird of prey has disappeared suddenly and inexplicably on a grouse moor and is presumed killed. These birds will continue to disappear until grouse shooting estates are licensed. Self-regulation by the industry has demonstrably failed, and it’s long overdue that the Scottish Government addressed this by introducing robust regulation where a right to shoot is dependent on legal management of the land.”


42 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier Fingal ‘disappears’ on Scottish grouse moor”

  1. Yet more and predictable depressing news.

    However – the much and deservedly respected – Ian Thomson trots out the RSPB party line in response to this tragedy: “These birds will continue to disappear until grouse shooting estates are licensed.” This comment/policy is wishful thinking at its worst and almost as depressing as the news of another slaughtered hen harrier. DGS is predicated/underpinned/facilitated by criminal raptor slaughter and any amount of regulation will not stop these bastards.

    1. “and any amount of regulation will not stop these bastards.”

      In which case nothing at all will stop it.

      Legislation is obviously the way forward…

      1. How about a ban, Keith? Legislation is absolutely not the way forward. We already have legislation that makes killing raptors illegal. How’s that working out?

            1. I asked ‘How are you going to get a ban without legislation?” and your answer appears to be “Campaign”, which is irrational because without enforcing legislation any ban would have to be voluntary, and nobody I know thinks that will happen, let alone work.

              And all this appears to be justified by the fact that the Wildlife and Countryside Act has failed to halt the illegal killing of raptors by criminals. How will ‘voluntary’ work any better?

              1. Oh lordy I’m sure at this point I’m sure Ruth will have her head in her hands – apologies, from me at any rate…

                Nobody likes a pedant Keith, but do let me explain as you’re obviously a little slow on the uptake: yes Keith, campaign for a ban rather like the successful fox hunting campaign for a ban. I never said anything about a ‘voluntary ban’. That would be a nonsense.

                So you at last admit (and wonders never cease you have actually more or less answered one of my points) that the Wildlife and Countryside Act has failed to halt illegal killing of raptors due to woeful enforcement – which is my point entirely. Once again, I put it to you why would licensing be enforced and therefore work any better than the current unenforced law? Of course it would not. That is why a ban is the only answer.

                1. Stephen Lewis writes: “any amount of regulation will not stop these bastards.” and “Legislation is absolutely not the way forward” yet wants a ban.

                  I asked how is it possible to get a ban without legislation, and the answer was “Campaign”.

                  That position is blatantly contradictory.

                  Stephen Lewis claims “the Wildlife and Countryside Act has failed to halt illegal killing of raptors due to woeful enforcement” and then asks “why would licensing be enforced and therefore work any better than the current unenforced law”

                  The answer is because the legislation is aimed at the illegal *act* of killing raptors – which we all know is almost impossible to prove on vast areas of private land when certain types of evidence are not accepted (because, as I understand it, the crime is not deemed sufficiently serious.)

                  In the first instance, the legislation could be changed to permit the admission of surveillance evidence in court, one way or another (for example, by increasing the seriousness with which the crime is viewed) The legislation could additionally be changed to extend the statutory powers of certain environmental/welfare bodies and also to register individual liability for the deployment of certain types of trap.

                  In the second instance, new legislation could be passed to add to the current focus of the law by making the overall ‘eco-system health’ of shooting activities subject to licensing.

                  In the third instance, legislation could be passed to make all forms of live target shooting illegal.

                  All these approaches require changes to legislation, so to claim that “legislation is absolutely not the way forward” is clearly perverse.

                  The first two instances are broadly supported by conservation bodies, by bodies set up to report to Government on the issue and by some political parties.

                  The third instance is supported by (some of?) us – e-petitioners – who are highly motivated on the issue. But that does not mean that a combination of the right changes to current legislation – short of an outright ban – will not work. It does mean that we have to be concerned with exactly which changes are being proposed.

                  So when Ian Thompson says that we must “address this by introducing robust regulation where a right to shoot is dependent on legal management of the land.” I support him, even though I hate the idea of live target shooting. “Legal management of the land” could be very wide-ranging, from water quality, run-off and retention, to bio-diversity (flora and fauna) and to greenhouse gas emissions. If it did, it would work.

                  1. Like I said Keith nobody likes a pedant. I’ve explained how to get a ban giving the example of the fox hunting ban and that is not at all contradictory as anyone who read English will see. I’m sure readers will see that.

                    Your wishlist of ‘coulds’ is fanciful pie-in-the-sky nonsense Keith. It is you whot is being contradictory by admitting that the current legislation has failed so, er, let’s have some more regulation (that will be circumvented/ignored). Eh?

                    Even if you got all your ‘coulds’ do you seriously believe that the DGS mob would change their behaviour? If you do then you’ve deluding yourself. Besides, in case you hadn’t noticed the DGS lobby has just got itself exempted from Covid regulations. That is an example of REAL power and these people are used to getting their own way. They cannot be negotiated with and as I’ve said before licensing DGS will be worse that what we have now as it will totally legitimise this abhorrent pastime.

                    I urge to to man-up, grow a pair, be brave a la Packham/Avery and campaign for a ban instead of pussy-footing around in cloud cuckoo licensing land.

                    1. Like I suggested right at the beginning – all this legal and legislature stuff is fine, but nobody really takes any notice these days….. social media is what matters ….. so even if we don’t actually come out and say the Queen murdered the birds …… if we publish a social media page that simply states which estates the birds have disappeared on …. and yes those sneaky foxes may have disabled the tags (right!) and yes we have no evidence….to state 100% ,… but if your estate has had 9 “disappearances” in the past 5 years and your name is Bob … then lets just share that on social media and let folks draw their own conclusions ….. these days no ones really cares if its true …. or not … but they will start to become sensitive to the bad press etc …. its the way to go …. whether the guys at the top know or not …. and like so many CEO’s they no doubt have deniability …. but they get very sensitive when their names start showing up in newspapers ….. and then they fire the wee scabs doing this shit …. so aim for the top …. top 10 worst offenders list ….

                    2. Stephen Lewis writes: “Legislation is absolutely not the way forward” and then writes “I’ve explained how to get a ban giving the example of the fox hunting ban and that is not at all contradictory as anyone who read (sic) English will see.” and thinks the two are not contradictory. Perhaps Stephen thinks the fox hunting ban – which is controlled by licensing, by the way – didn’t involve legislation!

                      Also, is it wise to quote the so-called ‘example’ of the fox hunting ban?

                      Stephen Lewis also writes: “in case you hadn’t noticed the DGS lobby has just got itself exempted from Covid regulations.” So has angling and THIRTY EIGHT other outdoor pursuits, and the legislation (something Stephen says is absolutely NOT the way forward) also continues: “Other sports or licensed outdoor physical activities may also be permitted if this is formally organised by a sports club or similar organisation and following sports-governing body guidance.”

                      Is this because they are all ‘examples of Real power and these people are used to getting their own way” as you claim?

                      “Even if you got all your ‘coulds’ do you seriously believe that the DGS mob would change their behaviour?” Yes, I do, because they would be easily enforceable, whereas proving who illegally killed a raptor on vast areas of private land is almost impossible.

                      “If you do then you’ve (sic) deluding yourself” You do not know that because it has never been tried. You just want that to be true.

                      “licensing DGS will be worse that what we have now as it will totally legitimise this abhorrent pastime.” Since licensing based on land management (water quality, water run-off and retention, bio-diversity/bioabundance, greenhouse gas emissions) CANNOT be worse than what we have now (no control whatsoever) then it is obvious that such land management is NOT your main concern, but the mere existence of an abhorrent pasttime.

                      Although I hate live target shooting, I place the ecological damage it does as much more important than its mere existence. And since that is the only policy being put forward by organisations with any influence, then that is a policy I will support.

                      If such bodies moved toward a total ban, I would support that. But that still seems a long way off…

  2. The area where he has vanished appears to be part of the Buccleuch Estate. It is possible he flew as far as the Leadhills area. Either way, it is grim and in all probability, another murder of a beautiful raptor.

  3. If the Scottish government is unwilling to take this on – how about we start a top ten worst offenders list …. publish a webpage with the worst estates on them and who the owner of the estate is .. ?? transparency always helps to deter … so name some names and places ??? you guys have all the data …. just a thought

      1. You have to remember that these are in the main disappeared harriers and whilst I think that the disappearing bird sites should be published we must publish them as that– this is the last known site for bird X accusing estates of killing them is not possible it is libel unfortunately.
        If one looks at Twitter and Facebook the key board warriors (more like pathetic little boys but still) of the other side malign, libel and suggest more against many involved on our side especially the main writer of this blog, Mark Avery and of course Chris Packham whilst of course suggesting tags are failing or that RSPB and the taggers are lying. Still heads in sand then boys if you are reading this, it seems no amount of evidence will convince you of the truth. we can ignore them it is politicians and the general public we need to get on board the luddites, conspiracy theorists and apologists for crime we can probably treat with the ignore they merit.

        1. If a list of the estates and estate owners where raptors have “disappeared” were to be made available it would possibly shame (most unlikely) or at least embarrass these people and would at least indicate where extra surveillance might be useful.

  4. The Scottish Government accepts the continued killing of wildlife associated with Driven Grouse Shooting and still decides to delay any action on known wildlife crime too. How wrong is that ?

  5. With the decline of any species there is always more then one cause yes some harriers are being illegally killed by gamekeepers but the main killer of both young & adult harriers is actually the fox but of course saying that will not get the media attention the RSPB desires so much. But until we face facts that the massively overpopulated fox is the main reason for both the decline in hen harriers & also lots of other ground nesting/living species of birds we will continue to see the decline & extinction. Yes there was no trace of this male hen harrier not because some person has killed it but because a fox has killed it & eaten it!! Oh but we can’t say that as it won’t bring more funding for RSPB!!!

    1. Every laughably ignorant and brazenly dishonest comment like this simply exposes the DGS shower for what they are. Despite the fact that Foxes are slaughtered on an industrial scale by grouse keepers, there are always enough survivors to catch fledged harriers, and conveniently disable the tags prior to concealing them! These idiots must think we’re as dozy as them!

      1. No matter how many foxes are killed in an area yes there is an endless number to move in & it only takes one fox to kill a hen harrier which incidentally roosts on the ground which makes it easy for the fox!! Usually you will find the worst time for the hen harrier to be killed by the fox is a wet windy night when the bird does not hear the approaching fox as easily & has poorer flight due to sodden feathers. As for the fox disabling the tracker I’m sure once it’s been swallowed by the fox I’m certain it will no longer work maybe when they are looking for missing harriers they should be checking fox muck!!! I know everyone just wants to blame gamekeepers for the hen harrier demise but such a blinkered view will make the hen harrier extinct not the gamekeepers

          1. The article has no evidence only the fact that the hen harriers are going missing on grouse moors but considering this is there habitat where would you expect them to go missing? They are hardly likely to go missing in the middle of a town!!! Where I live two young tagged hen harriers arrived & stayed after a bit one of the harriers went missing & the tag stopped transmitting. The moor where the last recorded location was, searched & eventually the dead harrier was located it had been killed by a fox & the fox had damaged the transmitter on this occasion the fox had not eaten the bird only killed it but had it have been a vixen with cubs it would have been taken down a fox earth never to be seen again & the hen harrier would have been put down as being illegally killed you see my point. Incerdently this Harrier was killed by a fox on a grouse moor which was no longer used & had no gamekeeper on but fox control was done on the land for the protection of ground nesting birds. The RSPB guy who came up searching for the missing hen harrier admitted that 70% of all hen harriers in this country are killed by foxes so why is no one told this & why is none of these groups doing something about it? This is true fact & you can say it’s bollocks I don’t care I have nothing to do with shooting but I a fedup with everyone using the media for there own motives which with regards the poor hen harrier it has nothing to do with savings them from extinction.

            1. Al,

              You say “The article has no evidence”.

              I don’t know familiar you are with scientific publishing but research generally doesn’t get published in a high quality journal such as Nature Communications without the evidence having been rigorously tested. In fact it’s one of the hardest scientific journals in which to get a paper accepted for publication, which speaks volumes about the quality of the evidence.

              Click to access widespread-illegal-killing-of-hh-on-british-grouse-moors.pdf

              1. Yes hen harriers are being illegally killed by some people I said that right at the start but at most it will be 10% yet foxes are killing 70% I don’t know how good your maths is but I know where I would be putting the main resources!! A country wide reduction in the fox population would see a dramatic increase in alot of the red & Amber listed bird species. The scientific report states that Hen harriers are going missing on grouse moors again they are not going to go missing at the seaside!!! Yes more hen harriers go missing in the north of England compared to Scotland but again the fox numbers are lower in Scotland & easier to control compared with the North of England. Again the biggest threat to the Hen harrier is the 4 legged fox rather then the two legged fox! But we can’t say that as foxes are cute fluffy creatures!!!

                1. Al,

                  If you’re not prepared to read (or perhaps aren’t able to comprehend) the scientific evidence then this ‘discussion’ is pointless. Sure, you can express your opinion here, but if you’re unable to back up your claims with supportive evidence then don’t think for one minute that you’re going to be given a platform to spam this blog with a continuous flow of unsubstantiated nonsense. You’ve got a choice here – put up or shut up.

                  1. What scientific evidence it’s all assumptions a tagged hen harrier goes missing on a grouse more a gamekeeper must have killed it well that’s no scientific evidence!!! Guilty until proven not seems to be the attitude these days!! I have backed up my views regarding the RSPB guy saying that 70% of the harriers are being killed by foxes & he should know. Maybe it is time that you opened your eyes to the real world!!!

                    1. I’m not sure whether I should dignify Al’s drivel with a reply but hey ho.

                      I would just like to point out that foxes (and all other predators) are exterminated on an industrial scale by gamekeepers on and around grouse moors. In fact one of the main bullshit arguments used by the DGS lobby is that because of this ‘predator control’ grouse moors are a wonderful haven for ground nesting birds and yet hen harriers are massively under represented on grouse moors So, Al, perhaps you could explain that one, preferably with some objective evidence rather than your trademark opinionated claptrap.

                    2. I would love to know what experience you have regarding foxes because you clearly don’t know anything about them infact you seem only to know what crap you read which counts for very little!! I have worked on different nature reserves & we have to get people in to shoot the foxes at night as they where killing everything, you would find beheaded birds or birds just full of round tooth holes which to the layperson would look like they had been shot with a shotgun! The foxes also didn’t obey the law that certain species where specially protected such as barn owls marsh harriers, hen harriers & Merlin’s all have been found killed by the fox maybe we should start prosecuting foxes!! You could easily have four foxes shot of a reserve one night & the following night it would snow & you would go around the reserve & it would be a moterway of fox prints covering every part of the reserve because no matter be how many foxes you remove there is an endless supply to move in & the more edge to the land the more foxes that will move in & the problem with hen harriers is that they use the same roost site & every morning they bring a pellet up so it doesn’t take long before there roost site becomes smelly which draws in every fox in the area & often results in yet another dead hen harrier but of course you won’t believe it as you haven’t read it written by some so called scientists who uses fancy words to sound clever but probably doesn’t even know hen harriers sleep on the ground & not in trees .

        1. So all the Harriers that have disappeared under suspicious circumstances (as a complete coincidence on land “managed” for DGS) have done so on “wet and windy” nights. And in every case, the Fox responsible has happened to swallow the tag!
          How much deeper into the realms of fantasy are these people prepared to go in their utter desperation to defend their pastime? Once more, they’re fooling nobody.

          1. Considering that the demise of 70% of UK Hen harriers is down to foxes then yes I can imagine alot of the missing hen harriers are actually killed by foxes rather then people alot of the tags will be swallowed but also alot will be destroy by the fox mauling & eating the birds but will be left somewhere on the moor & finding it would be like looking for a needle in a haystack. Foxes kill daily & not only do they kill to eat but also for the fun of it very much & they find it significantly easier to kill on wet windy nights but no they kill every night regardless of the weather & species which roost on the ground are extremely valuable to being killed by foxes. You only have to look at islands which have no foxes on the birds including hen harriers do really well on them!!! As I said I don’t shoot & have no interest in anything to do with all that but think it wrong to use gamekeepers as a scapegoat for the loss of harriers when the biggest killer is foxes & that the RSPB just want to have control over all moors & once they get that control suddenly they will change there tune & start saying that scientific research now shows that the red fox is the reason for the harriers decline & suddenly gamekeepers will go from villains to heroes as they get them to control the fox numbers but by that stage the Hen harrier will probably be beyond savings.

            1. Here we go! The pathetic old wives’ tale that Foxes kill for “the fun of it”. Either Al (is that short for Alec?) is completely unaware of the concept of surplus killing (for which here’s a nice simplified explanation, with no big words)…


              …or he’s just attempting to mislead the reader with one of the oldest, most worn out lies to ever come from the self-styled plastic countryside lobby. Not to mention the bizarre claim that tooth marks are mistaken for shotgun wounds!
              Not only does this ignorant/dishonest individual insult our intelligence with his continual baseless claims and made-up stories (for which he’s failed to provide a shred of evidence), it’s all too apparent that he’s not bothered to read Green & Etheridge, 2001, so I’ll post the link once more…


      2. And of course after they have consumed the Harrier they disable the tracker because we know foxes are very smart ….lol

        1. Perhaps all investigating Officers need to do is visit the local stink-pit and they’ll be stuffed full of missing hen harrier trackers?

  6. The shooting estates & syndicates do not like negative publicity, for sure … but they continue to hide behind a smokescreen of respectability and they certainly court positive press. In the case of shooting – someone has to sign off on local licence applications – doctors, teachers, magistrates, ‘upstanding members of the community’ – so why are ‘rogue guns’ on the loose? Complicity? Lack of accountability? Lack of understanding? Signing off ‘on the nod’? Maintaining the status quo? Local knowledge is the key to policing wildlife crime and local people, unafraid to stand up and be counted, are essential in stamping it out. You have really got to feel for the Investigations Teams … they have more than just time invested in their jobs. ‘ Ghost Hedgehog’ signs are appearing at roadsides to highlight the plight of our disappearing hedgehogs, perhaps ‘Ghost Raptors’ need to be erected near sites where raptors have ‘disappeared’ or have suffered persecution. This may remind locals and visitors that AONB / National Park status does not guarantee that wildlife is either respected or protected!

  7. This is so very sad but of course the lowlife that MURDER our precious beings think they are above the law! XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX XXXXX

  8. Just for once could you not provide evidence instead of propaganda fed hearsay. We all know the score, so many have then turned up all alive & well. You just have to have something to moan about. Persecution is evil. Think on

    1. I suggest that you yourself provide evidence to support your claim that…

      “so many have then turned up all alive & well”

      before making baseless accusations in a pathetic attemp to divert attention from criminal activity.

    2. “so many have then turned up all alive & well”

      I don’t believe you.

      “We all know the score”

      We certainly do: shooters are born mythomaniacs.

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