Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappears’ next to grouse moor in Northumberland

Further to yesterday’s blog about a pathetically vague ‘appeal’ for information from Northumberland Police (here), the RSPB has now confirmed that yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier has disappeared in suspicious circumstances, next to a grouse moor.

According to the RSPB blog (here), this bird was called ‘Tarras’ and was tagged on Langholm Moor in 2020 (not be confused with a previously tagged hen harrier also called Tarras, also tagged on Langholm Moor but in 2016, and who vanished in the Peak District National Park the same year here). So much for hen harriers not being able to breed on Langholm once the gamekeepers had left, eh? Another rural myth busted.

Tarras had explored the North Pennines AONB before settling in south Northumberland in the late autumn.

[Hen harrier Tarras. Photo by RSPB]

From the RSPB blog:

For the 90 days prior to disappearing, we could see that Tarras had settled into a routine of hunting on grouse moor and roosting either on it or just off of it. However, after getting regular transmissions each day, since 24 February 2021 we have had nothing at all. The tag’s last fix showed that Tarras was roosting with other birds just off a grouse moor near Haltwhistle, just outside the North Pennines AONB boundary.

RSPB Investigations Officers searched the area but found no sign of tag or body. The matter was passed on to Northumbria Police, who have recently issued an appeal for information.

So, here we are, careering towards yet another year of insane hen harrier brood meddling where we’ll be told by the grouse-shooting industry that they love hen harriers to bits (there’ll be no mention of the harriers being shot to bits once the industry has pushed its propaganda around the newsrooms) and the country’s statutory conservation agency will clap its hands, pat the grouse moor owners on the back for their ‘conservation’ efforts and try to convince the rest of us, with prominent press coverage, that this is the way forward for the UK’s declining population of hen harriers.

Will the same media prominence be given to the ongoing never-bloody-ending illegal killing? I’ve discussed this before (here) but judging by Northumberland Police’s crap PR yesterday about this latest missing harrier, it looks like we’re set for another year of the same.

Well done to the RSPB for getting detailed information out.

31 thoughts on “Hen harrier Tarras ‘disappears’ next to grouse moor in Northumberland”

  1. In my opinion, conservationists need to get more aggressive. At the very least sites must be named, ownership exposed and, if possible, gamekeepers on the estates identified. It they aren’t responsible, they know who is. They have had it far too easy for far too long. It is time to stop playing nice!

    1. I agree 100%. If this was any other industry, it would have been shut down long ago or at the very least had wide sweeping reforms. As it is, they are pampered and protected by statutory bodies who propagandise the tiny amount of ‘success’, whilst failing to acknowledge the huge net loss that takes place when juvenile/mature hen harriers are inevitably killed in those areas. Far from being a problem for driven grouse shooting, Tony Juniper has been a gift to them.

        1. I am sorry Simon, I have to disagree. “Aggressive” behaviour could endanger any future prosecution. Evidence could be tainted and jurors unduly influenced if the people alleged to be involved are made public. The objective should be to ensure that a successful prosecution follows, hence why the details of many offences are not published in this blog.

          The change in the law in Scotland, increasing the maximum penalty, has the beneficial side effect that covert surveillance is allowed (but only with police permission as I understand it) and the evidence admissible court. We are promised that Grouse Moor licencing will be introduced soon after the election. Neither of these will happen in England.

          1. Tell me how effective the legal system has been at both convicting perpetrators and acting as a deterrent? What Simon is suggesting isn’t aggressive; it should be the bare minimum. As an example, what happened to the gamekeepers who were ‘let go’ at the royal estate where the goshawk was killed? They’ll be doing exactly the same somewhere else, under different management. You only have to look at this pitiful effort from Northumberland police to realise that the system is rigged towards landowners and ultimately the people who commit these crimes. Expecting the law to just take its course is not sufficient, quite evidently.

          2. I agree that during an investigation it would be wrong to publish the names of suspects, or expose potentially innocent individuals to public anger.
            We must never end up in a situation of “trial by social media”.
            Or the position where a suspect can not have a fair trial due to previous media coverage.
            However, at the conclusion of an investigation (whether a prosecution has been brought or not) – the exact location of each wildlife crime should be published, and the landowner or organisation responsible for managing that land invited to comment on why a crime had occurred on their land, and what steps they intended to take to ensure such crimes were never repeated.
            This would enable the public to know where the wildlife crimes were occurring, be vigilant in those areas, and report any suspicious activity to the police.
            Shouldn’t this be a strategic part of Operation Owl- the initiative by the police to raise public awareness to raptor crime?

    2. So true Simon – the land owners and estate managers/gamekeepers are the ones to be put in the spotlight

  2. Im afraid all this is a stain on the shooting sport, its a stain that cannot be erased, tarnished, blemished, dinted, dented, damaged, beyond belief.
    Sad people that are getting all keepers a bad name, if they had not got one already, I suppose we are in a better state than in the past, at least many species have now recovered lost ground, its the Harrier that takes the brunt of it,
    I suppose though thats just because some are tagged, a similar fate could be with Common Buzzards, no one is tagging them. look at : “guns on pegs” website.
    local shoot have had problems getting their Pheasants given away, Syndicate have been trying to give them away to Pubs, no one wants them, its a crazy situation to be in, going round Pubs saying can you have some more Pheasants,. You just get sick of eating them.
    People are willing to pay big money for shooting, I can see a lot of benefits that are promoted by the keepering side, but ive just rather gone off it.

      1. It is legal to shoot quarry and is, of itself, not immoral or irresponsible. It is sometimes necessary to eliminate animals which endanger our crops. Would you ban the use of insecticides? We already have some rules which aim to protect wildlife which are weak and unenforceable, such as the hunting with hounds laws, and yes, we need to change the law and oppose abuses, but by opposing all such legitimate activities you risk compromising the work done to ensure that our wildlife is properly protected.

        First attack shooting, then fishing, then butterfly collecting, then breeding chickens and cattle. Morality is a two sided coin and by protecting the rights of animals you must also try not to abuse the rights of people.

        1. Well said, fight for fairness, certain animals need killing, loads of foxes = no ground nesters, mink no water voles, loads of moles, soil heaps everywhere, soil in the haylage = listeria in your stock = death, been there .

  3. And the silence from the “zero tolerance” brigade is deafening. Ye t these apologists and ostrich imitators sit at many of the tables controlling our NPs, AONBs and also sit on RPPDG . Why do we tolerate it?

  4. Oh god. Every time a sat-tagged Hen Harrier is killed at a roost site, we know what is happening to the other roosting birds. And then the lack of Hen Harriers is blamed on foxes.

  5. I think the sad thing here is the fact that the bird in question came from Langholm. Having them breed there is good ,but to lose them elsewhere points out how futile it is for the species. Breeding success is great, but until we can rid the living areas of persecution more of the same will continue.

  6. The continuing stark reality is that these people destroy Raptors because they can.This will continue to be a tail -chasing exercise until Grouse shooting is licenced and meaningful custodial sentences are available ,directly and vicariously.The owners are just as guilty as their lackeys.

  7. This is a part of the world that I bet even had some very clued up readers of this blog googling after the location. This is the land where keepers thank their lucky stars that they don’t get the scrutiny of say, Peak District or Nidderdale. They do their forty odd years doing exactly what they want, and rarely do any of them have a brush with any controversy. IF the two HH lost ‘in an undisclosed roost location’ in N’land last year were also around here then NE should say so. Then, IF that is the case – more local people can become vigilant as to what to look out for & report.

    1. I suspect this is xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx. When we first discovered the area in the 1990’s, it was commonplace to witness Hen Harriers and Short-eared Owls within minutes of starting a trek. In recent years we’ve given up on visiting the area and the irony is we live much closer to it now.

  8. My wife and I painted a mural for HH day last year, on the gable end of our barn, which faces a grouse moor. Next to it is a board, which looks very much like a grave headstone. It lists all the HHs, which have either gone missing or have been found dead in suspicious circumstances, between 2018 and 2020. It makes grim reading. Many people have seen the mural, & have told us that they had, ‘no idea that it was so many’. When told just how few pairs of HHs breed successfully in the UK each year, they have been genuinely shocked. The number of HHs ‘removed’ from the UK population equates to a huge %age! Our original headstone is full and we will have to start a new one, in order to list all the HHs which have gone missing or been found dead since last HH Day. The on-going persecution of raptors in the UK is criminal, it is a National disgrace and it is a tragedy for all species … especially HHs. It’s difficult for some people to admit that the perpetrators of such crimes walk amongst us, living & working within our communities. How long can our communities continue to turn a blind eye?

  9. Yet again law abiding shooters are in the firing line the hen harriers are near grouse Moors because that is their natural environment .I think you you need to find proof and if there is the shooting fraternity will back any sentence passed .Also I would ask why they keep quiet all the hard work that gamekeepers do (rspb)instead of villifying them .Rspb cull animals on their ground that’s ok .And it is a pleasure to go and shoot birds and animals for my own private consumption knowing tha t they have lived a better life than any piece of meat found in a supermarket that most of the people on here. Eat Criticizing people like me .My final point is that the likes of the rspb use birds of prey because it stirs up the public more they don’t seem to worry about the house sparrow which is in severe decline and several other species and that’s because it doesn’t raise their profile or the money that they need

    1. I agree Paul Hargreaves, im afraid the persecution is tainting the whole shooting set up.
      Really if everything was well run with no laws broken ,then the game meat should be well used, I know it can contain lead, theres still a lot of good been done because of shooting, habitat creation ponds made, trees planted , for shooting and a lot of other thing benefit from that. RSPB recognise the need for predator control, they do it, although its kept rather quiet.
      The problems come with big bags, excess far too many birds to be consumed. It is a very contentious subject, with many views firmly on one side or the other.
      I do feel sorry for all animals or birds that we kill, poor sheep standing all day in an auction, then going maybe 4 hours on a lorry to a halhal slaughterhouse, its a sad carry on, 900000 chickens killed at 7 weeks old every day at my local factory, I feel for them as well, but theres 60 millionbn people in this country to be fed 3 times a day, and food needs to come from somewhere.
      We need more room for birds more wilding, more steep hillsides re wilding, less mink, less foxes and bring back the Curlew, only by good keepering will the Curlew be saved, read Mary Colwell a Curlew Moon, everything needs doing to help them,

      1. Ye your right I also think I am right loads of curlews on the land I shoot also lapwings also you will always get bad apples where ever you go but one thing for sure if the landowner sold his grouse moor it would turn into a desolate space or a shopping centre with a load of industrial units at its side

        1. What a load of grouse shit, Paul Hargreaves. Do you honestly believe that crap you wrote?

          If the curlew is doing so well on grouse moors how come the national population remains on a downward trend?

          And if the curlew developed a taste for grouse grouse, it would be faring as badly as the hen harrier.

      2. Most animals whose meat is sold as halhal are stunned before sticking as in ‘traditional’ slaughterhouses. The statistics for animal welfare breaches and failures in slaughter processes in slaughterhouses as a whole are disturbing. A single breach can involve hundreds of animals. Prosecutions are rare. Don’t feel sorry for the animals – become vegetarian, reduce your meat consumption or, at the very least, if you can’t stop eating meat apply pressure to make the process as humane as possible.

      3. Are you a spokesperson for Save our Songbirds…’Keen Birder'(?) Kill everything else cos we need the room, (not too many of us are there!). What is it, bins in one hand, gun in the other in case something threatens the rare lost migrant passing through that you have travelled 100miles to glimpse.

    2. This comment is ill-informed in a variety of ways. Hen Harriers do not solely occur on grouse moors but analysis of the disappearances of satellite tagged birds shows that they are far more likely to disappear over grouse moors than anywhere else after controlling for the relative amount of time spent on moors and in other places. Just recently we saw footage of a gamekeeper actually in the act of shooting buzzards on a grouse moor in Yorkshire. There is NO doubt that grouse moors are highly dangerous p[laces for birds of prey.

      You say that shooters will back any sentence passed but actually this claimed zero tolerance for the ‘bad apples’ in your midst is never really very obvious. Most of the shooting organisations have failed to express any condemnation at all for the Yorkshire Dales incident. They certainly know the moor on which it occurred but their ‘zero tolerance’ apparently does not extend to kicking the bad apple from their membership. In reality they circle the wagons and try to pretend nothing has happened.

      Finally, you claim that the RSPB only cares about birds of prey and doesn’t worry about other declining species . This is utter nonsense. Look at the RSPB web-site and you will find it is involved in all manner of conservation work in support of birds of all kinds including songbirds, sea birds, birds of woodland, farmland, wetland etc, etc. Birds of prey are correctly an important focus of its work not least because persecution by gamekeepers has made several species much rarer than they should be but there is no sense in which work on this problem is at the expense of or detrimental to other birds.

      1. Spot on, Jonathan. Yet again, the RSPB and it’s work is deliberately misrepresented by the plastic conservationists.

  10. Why aren’t roost sites monitored round the clock outside of the breeding season since we know that they are vulnerable to persecution? Is it a lack of resources? I’m sure there would be plenty of volunteers.

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