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

Following yesterday’s news that one of the brood meddled hen harrier chicks had ‘vanished’ next to a grouse moor just beyond the boundary of the Yorkshire Dales National Park (see here), today I bring you news that another satellite-tagged hen harrier has vanished, this time on a grouse moor inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

This information has also come from a Freedom of Information request to Natural England.

Hen harrier ‘Harold’ was tagged (#57272) in the Yorkshire Dales on 4th June 2020. His tag’s last known fix came from a grouse moor at NY830036 on 19th September 2020.

Funnily enough, another young hen harrier called Dryad, tagged by the RSPB, was also reported ‘missing’ from the same place on 7th September 2020. Imagine that! (See here).

[Grouse moors rise above small villages and hamlets inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo by Ruth Tingay]

[The last known fix from Harold’s satellite tag at grid ref NY830036, surrounded by the burnt strips of the grouse moors]

There is a caveat with Harold’s disappearance. The tag that Natural England fitted was one of the tags that has previously been identified as being unreliable due to its limited functionality (see here for a discussion) and has since been removed from the brood meddling trial at the insistence of the scientific advisory group. So why the hell is Natural England still using this tag on other hen harriers?

You’ll have to draw your own conclusions about the fate of Harold. And why Natural England hasn’t deemed it worthy of any publicity, despite me asking about it in December (here) and despite its own extensive research that demonstrates how often these young hen harriers are suspected to be illegally killed on or close to grouse moors (see here).

Harold’s disappearance will be added to the ever-increasing list of missing or confirmed dead hen harriers since 2018 (currently standing at 46 after yesterday’s news). But it won’t be added just yet because there’s more bad news about satellite-tagged hen harriers still to come.


UPDATE 14 January 2021: This blog has been picked up by the Yorkshire Post (here)

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

  1. Not suprised in the slightest by these reports. While those responsible will without doubt be chuckling away amongst themselves, regarding it as a difficult job done & gotten clean away with. They haven’t, far from it. The evidence base for future debates e.g. in parliament, is swelling all the time and in the court of public opinion DGS is going down like the Titanic. This really is the last moment for the moderates within the shooting world and the well known personalities, columnists and editors within the shooting media to take a centre-stage vocal stand – and yes, to start grassing up the Estates and keepers that we all know are responsible – and to establish this as the right thing for everyone to do – to save shooting. I doubt they will, and therefore they fully deserve to lose the lot.

  2. It’s laughable that the Westminster government continues to insist that wildlife crime is a priority for it and that change is not needed because “There are strong penalties in place for offences committed against birds of prey and other wildlife, with significant sanctions available to judges to hand down to those convicted of wildlife crimes.”

    If those strong penalties had any effect as a deterrent to raptor persecution we would not keep on seeing hen harriers disappearing on grouse moors. The penalties might be a deterrent if people were arrested and successfully prosecuted but the people committing these crimes know that they are extremely unlikely to get caught let alone prosecuted. It’s time for Defra to acknowledge that its approach is not working a change is required.

  3. Oh that estate! Not at all surprised by both the disappearances and that they are on this estate. One wonders what thought processes by NE allow unreliable tags to be used in any circumstances. One also notes the silence of those supposed supporters of both Hen Harriers and the DEFRA scheme Amanda Anderson, Mark Cunliffe Lister and Tom Orde-Powlett , all of the Moorland Association have to say on the subject. Perhaps we should ask them why this estate and others where birds have disappeared under such circumstances are still members. The silence from that quarter speaks volumes and the word that comes to mind is hypocrisy. Quite why this information has to be wheedled out of NE by FOI is also extremely concerning for all involved in genuine concern for Hen Harriers, as it gives the impression of collusion with the dark side. Or is it a DEFRA decision?

  4. I note that NE take a bashing from time to time. I can only say that my daughter is an NE team leader and totally dedicated to wildlife as are her colleagues. Out on field visits not frightened to make comments having been through Sandhurst. So the problem must be at the top.

    1. I believe many people realise that John, it’s regularly been noted here and similar sites that it’s the top tier of often politically appointed ‘management’ in NE and indeed other bodies that’s at fault not the staff members especially field orientated ones. I’m pleased for the sake of conservation that your daughter sounds pretty formidable!

  5. No surprise!
    Anyone who is familiar with that part of the Yorkshire Dales will be aware of just how devoid it is of anything other than grouse!
    It’s only about 7 miles from where pole traps were found and a gamekeeper cautioned. (Mossdale Estate)
    It’s in an area which features heavily in the RSPB raptor persecution interactive map.
    It’s an area intensively managed for grouse shooting.
    It’s an area where the voluntary ban on heather burning has been ignored by some shooting estates.
    Certain parts within these grouse moors are very remote and get very few members of the public accessing them. As such there are very few witnesses to what is actually taking place.
    If there ever was an area in England which demonstrates the need for better legislation to protect raptors this part of the world would feature near the top of that list.

    My strong suspicion is that some shooting estates will participate in the NE brood management program to garner the publicity participation brings. Then once the media interest and publicity dies down, the birds are “removed” from the grouse moors so that their presence doesn’t detract from the business of raising abnormally large numbers of grouse for the shooting clientele.

    It should be part of the brood management program that estates should be accountable for all satellite tagged birds released on them throughout the entire lifetime of that bird, where there is evidence the bird has settled on that estate, and where the last satellite data indicates the last known location of the bird was on that estate.
    Where death appears premature, then the estate would be required to provide evidence that it was not the actions of the estate which contributed to that death.
    On an estate where the total number of premature deaths appear unnaturally high, and beyond what could reasonably be expected by natural causes, then there should be an assumption that the estate is culpable in the death of the birds, unless the estate can prove otherwise (the burden of proof resting on the estate) . This would result in action by NE, the police and other NGO’s to openly place the estate under surveillance, so all activities on that estate where monitored, transparent and accountable.
    It should also be a legal requirement for there to be a licence to shoot grouse. Licensing would only be given to those estates which participate in a Hen Harrier monitoring and release program.

    **This would effectively mean that every grouse shooting estate would have to actively participate in the recovery of Hen Harrier numbers, if the estate wished to continue operating as a grouse moor, with a licence to shoot game birds.- it would be a criminal offence to shoot game birds on an estate which didn’t have a licence.**

    If this sounds radical and draconian?
    Then that’s what we probably need if we are really going to ensure Hen Harriers don’t continually face extinction. Those estates which do put conservation at the heart of their activities will by definition have an interest in ensuring that released birds go on to become active nesting pairs. Therefore the above proposals should only serve to support the estates own monitoring and care program for the birds they release, and ensure they aren’t put at a disadvantage to estates which didn’t participate in the program.

    The same could be applied to the Golden Eagle in Scotland.

    At the moment the situation appears nothing short of a charade to trick the politicians and public.
    Any fool realises it’s not the number of chicks which fledge the nest which is important but the number of mating pairs. Are we seeing any evidence that the number of pairs of Hen Harriers are increasing in both number and range through brood management?

    Please comment on these ideas, am I way of the mark, are the proposals fundamentally flawed?

    I am of the belief, we need a conservation solution that is enforceable through legislation, so that endangered birds are given proper protection and able to increase both their numbers and range. Otherwise how will they ever move permanently off the endangered species list?

    Do we need some out the box thinking??

    1. Hi John, As you say some Estates appear to work with NE, and to be honest I can’t comment about these as I don’t know them.
      But I am intrigued by what the relationships on the ground must be really like between the various parties. What I do know a bit about is Estates that are big and rich enough to not bother engaging at all with anybody. They have powerful Owners, very savvy Agents and fanatical mini-armies of dedicated Keepers. They all feel secure enough to not give a monkeys what is thought, said or written about them, and are only ever amused by the efforts of government agencies and the RSPB as part of a Boys Own style cat-and-mouse game. Perhaps the Estate that is in your mind could be one like that?

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