Another brood meddled hen harrier ‘disappears’ next to Yorkshire grouse moor

One of last year’s brood meddled hen harriers has ‘disappeared’ next to a Yorkshire grouse moor.

For new blog readers, hen harrier brood meddling is a conservation sham sanctioned by DEFRA as part of its ludicrous ‘Hen Harrier Action Plan‘ and carried out by Natural England (NE), in cahoots with the very industry responsible for the species’ catastrophic decline in England. For more background see here.

[Cartoon by Dr Gerard Hobley]

As you’ll recall, despite all five of the 2019 brood meddling cohort being ‘missing’ presumed dead, four of them in suspicious circumstances (see here), Natural England decided in 2020 that another load of chicks should be brood meddled to appease the grouse shooting lobby (see here). Those chicks, along with other, non-brood meddled chicks, were fitted with satellite tags.

In September we learned that four of the 2020 tagged cohort were already gone – one dead (likely predated) and three ‘missing’ (here), but none of these had been brood meddled.

Since then, Natural England hasn’t provided any updates and, since the autumn is peak hen harrier-killing season on grouse moors, I submitted an FoI to Natural England in December to find out what was going on, especially as there’d been rumours from fieldworkers that at least one tagged harrier had vanished in a notorious grouse shooting area in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Natural England has now responded and the news isn’t good, although it’ll come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever.

According to the information released by Natural England under FoI regs, a number of satellite tagged hen harriers have gone ‘missing’ since September 2020 – further blogs on these will follow shortly.

One of those missing is a brood-meddled hen harrier (Tag #55152) originally removed from a nest (BMR1) in North Yorkshire. He was tagged on 11 July 2020 and his tag’s last known fix was on 20th September 2020, right next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire, grid reference SE103956.

[The last known fix of Tag #55152 on 20th September 2020]

There’s no further information available and I haven’t seen any appeal for information from North Yorkshire Police or Natural England.

The disappearance of this bird means that there are now 46 hen harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed since 2018 (see here). I won’t update the victim list just yet because as mentioned above, there are others to add.


As for the rest of the nine hen harriers brood meddled in 2020, according to Natural England six are still transmitting (as of December 2020), one died in captivity before release and one died of natural causes in October 2020 (Tag #55154).

The legal basis of hen harrier brood meddling has been challenged in the courts by both Mark Avery and the RSPB. An appeals hearing is due later this month (see here for details).

19 thoughts on “Another brood meddled hen harrier ‘disappears’ next to Yorkshire grouse moor”

  1. The location shown would appear to be on the MOD training area. One would question why a large tract of publicly owned land, part of which is within the national park, was allowed to be used for grouse shooting (as shown by the heather burning) rather than for natural regeneration and wildlife habitat.

    1. Probably leased to a tenant and managed under HLS agreement with NE like most other upland areas in England, in which case the landowner has little or no say about how the land is managed

  2. My Love, You should read this from Raptor Persecution. It doesn’t make for pretty reading, but it’s important for you to know what’s going on. Love you my adorable woman. Jimxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx💝💟

  3. There are a couple of points here that you seem to be completely missing out on. Firstly, hen harriers themselves show very strong habitat preferences, and even when given a choice between several different habitats that look superficially identical to humans, do show preferences even then.

    This difference in habitats can clearly be seen when looking at breeding success of hen harriers on managed grouse moors versus RSPB reserves; the former show quite reasonable reproductive rates whereas the latter are parlously poor. Quite clearly the two habitats differ, and the key differences are going to be in heather rotational burning and in predator control.

    Hen harriers are not stupid birds. They are perfectly well aware that they are not at the top of the food chain, and an area which has been denuded of mesopredators such as foxes, stoats, mink and the like is clearly going to be preferable to one teeming with such predators. Given food, safety and a relative lack of human disturbance hen harriers are going to spend much more of their time in the nice areas to live on.

    The second point follow on from the first. Hen harrier mortality is high in the first year of life; it is with most animals. Quite clearly quite a lot of newly tagged hen harriers are going to be dropping down dead in their first year.

    Now, where is a hen harrier most likely be found dead?

    Easy: where it spends most of its time.

    So, there you have it, an easy explanation for your observed phenomena. It doesn’t fit your assumption of endless persecution of raptors, but such is life.

    1. Dan,

      It’s not ‘my observed phenomena’. It’s based on years, no decades, of peer-reviewed research. You might have missed the most recent paper, published in one of the world’s most prestigious scientific journals and based on data collected by Natural England. Here’s the abstract:


      Murgatroyd et al (2019) Nature Communications

      ‘Identifying patterns of wildlife crime is a major conservation challenge. Here, we test whether deaths or disappearances of a protected species, the hen harrier, are associated with grouse moors, which are areas managed for the production of red grouse for recreational shooting. Using data from 58 satellite tracked hen harriers, we show high rates of unexpected tag failure and low first year survival compared to other harrier populations. The likelihood of harriers dying or disappearing increased as their use of grouse moors increased. Similarly, at the landscape scale, satellite fixes from the last week of life were distributed disproportionately on grouse moors in comparison to the overall use of such areas. This pattern was also apparent in protected areas in northern England. We conclude that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing’.

      Here’s the link to the full paper. I recommend you read it.

      1. Let us try a thought experiment, then. Let us completely ban grouse shooting, using the data from RSPB reserves as a guide as to what happens.

        We can expect that the grouse moor management will cease, and the moors will slowly move from heather moor to heath, scrub and eventually oak wildwood, as was the case in the Mesolithic period. This scenario would reduce the habitat for hen harriers to near-zero in a timescale as short as one human lifetime.

        The question then is how long before hen harriers go extinct from lack of suitable habitat?

        1. Hi Dr Dan,
          It might be worth considering that Hen Harriers are not confined to the British mainland; consider looking beyond the mainland at the situation relating to Hen Harriers on Orkney or in Scandinavia where there is no grouse shooting, grouse moor and plenty of predators. It’s also worth reading Donald Watson’s “Hen Harrier” monograph for a broader view of Harrier biology.

        2. Dr Dan’s smug, patronising manner does little to mask his ignorance of, and completely unscientific approach to the issue…

          “Now, where is a hen harrier most likely be found dead?

          Easy: where it spends most of its time.”

          Only they’re not found, are they?

    2. Hi Dan, You must spend time in the same pubs that I (used to) do! That is the bog-standard line of patter used by the die-hard shooting clique whenever the point about HH meeting their end on grouse moors enters a conversation. It has been trotted out for years. To be fair, you did try and gild the turd a bit, but were you saying it with a wry smile the way the blokes in the pub do? With those skills of critical thinking, I dearly hope you are not a Doctor of medicine or something else very important just now.

    3. “Quite clearly quite a lot of newly tagged hen harriers are going to be dropping down dead in their first year”.
      This tends to happen when full of lead.

    4. Your comparison between RSPB reserves and grouse moors spectacularly fails when you look at harrier breeding on reserves such as Loch Gruinart on Islay or a number of Orkney and far North Scotland reserves. Why are they so successful? – theres no grouse shooting anywhere near them – sadly when they move south and east to the grouse moor killing fields, they die.

    5. Hi Dr Dan, Most HHs prefer life on predator-free grouse moors so, alas, dead youngsters are also to be found there most often, but in fact so many youngsters must be dropping dead that insufficient sturdier siblings survive to bring populations back up … whilst, wisely, their species shuns predator-rich habitat? I’m profoundly puzzled – pretty soon we won’t have any at all?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s