Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Yarrow’ disappears in suspicious circumstances

Press release from RSPB (29th April 2021)

Another hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances

Yet another satellite-tagged hen harrier has disappeared in suspicious circumstances at a crucial time in the breeding season.

Yarrow, a female hen harrier, hatched in the Scottish Borders in summer 2020. She was fitted with a satellite tag, which provided scientists with regular updates on her whereabouts. But transmissions from her tag stopped suddenly and unexpectedly on 12 April 2021. Data showed her to be flying south-east that morning, from the North Pennines in the direction of the North York Moors. The tag’s final transmission came from Stockton-on-Tees, and Yarrow has not been heard from since. The matter has been reported to Cleveland Police.

[Hen harrier Yarrow being fitted with a satellite tag prior to fledging. Photo by RSPB]

Hen harriers are a red-listed species and their population in England is dangerously low. They are legally protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, yet these majestic birds remain one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK and continue to be illegally killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly in connection with land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Illegal killing is the most significant threat to the English hen harrier population. Twenty-four hen harrier nests were recorded in summer 2020, of which 19 successfully produced chicks. Yet there is enough habitat and prey to support 12 times that number.

The news comes only seven weeks after another harrier, Tarras, disappeared in similarly suspicious circumstances. Tarras was another Scottish bird from 2020 who moved south to the North Pennines AONB. Her tag’s last fix showed her to be roosting just off a grouse moor near Haltwhistle.

And in September 2020, a hen harrier named Dryad also vanished. Dryad’s last transmission also came from a grouse moor in North Yorkshire. All birds were searched for, but no bodies or tags were found.

Mark Thomas, RSPB Head of Investigations UK, said:

April is a crucial time for hen harriers as they pair up ready to nest and raise the next generation, and we had hoped for the same for Yarrow.

After her tag ‘checked in’ over Stockton-on-Tees, which turned out to be the last known location we received, we expected a further transmission the next day showing that Yarrow had reached the North Yorkshire Moors but that never came. Sadly, it is highly likely that Yarrow was killed and the tag destroyed in a matter of hours after its last fix was recorded, based on our extensive knowledge of these tags and the patterns of disappearance of hen harriers.

We are acutely aware of how difficult it is to come forward with information about a crime, especially in rural communities. If you know anything that may shed light on the disappearance of his young harrier, or know of anyone killing raptors in your area, you can call us in complete confidence on our Raptor Crime Hotline: 0300 999 0101. You are in control. And your call could help prevent more birds being illegally killed.”

To contact Cleveland Police about this crime, please call 101 and quote crime reference CVP-21-061647.


26 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Yarrow’ disappears in suspicious circumstances”

  1. The circle is pretty much closed in the NYM to HH. I can’t think of any Estate in the NYM that would tolerate a HH potentially nesting on it’s ground. And unlike some of the bigger grouse regions I can’t bring to mind any suitably large areas of upland habitat in NYM not owned by shooting interests, except a bit of Forestry Commission* and some MoD
    *which no doubt some keeper(s) will sneak about in at 4am for “vermin that needs to be killed” – after all they do that at most other FC sites in the north of England.

    1. Very true if a story I was told a few years ago holds water and I believe it does because of who told it ( no clues!). When a keeper in the NYM sees a harrier he contacts all the neighbouring keepers until virtually every keeper on the moors knows there is one around. Then they visit all the known roost sites on their moor over the next few nights. Such visits of course are not for the harriers benefit quite the reverse, that is why HH do not and probably will not nest on the NYM successfully. Its called organised crime and it should be treated as such by the authorities. The NYM themselves are clearly almost raptor free except for the forests and Merlins, it so obvious why this is and it is way beyond time the criminality stopped and the only way to do that is to stop the grouse shooting. Harriers can of course fly some way between fixes as I understand it so this bird may well have died on a grouse moor.

    2. Can you prove it’s suspicious as the last known transmission is no where near the NYM and your remark about game keepers at 4am in the morning killing birds of prey is absolute nonsense , mortality in BOP in their first year is well documented, do your research instead of jumping on the ‘ it’s got to be a keepers fault’

      1. Utter nonsense if a bird dies naturally the tag continues to transmit and the corpse/tag found. Of course the pro game numpties like yourself use the mortality figure for HH that these very tags demonstrate and that is quite clearly not anything like the natural mortality, nobody in the UK knows what natural HH mortality is because of persecution but given the size of bird and its breeding strategy it should be expected to be about 50% in the first year. These tags do not transmit all the time and it is quite possible for a bird that transmitted near Stockton to make the NYMs before it was due to transmit again. As to keepers killing raptors at 4 AM its what they have night vision stuff for. It is you who should do your research!

      2. Hi Liz. You say research. Where have you started at with yours? Perhaps not even at the GWCT’s own “What the Science Says: Fact Checker” summary of this topic. The 4am sit-out tactic is maybe not fashionable these days. Why bother setting the alarm when you can scent and mark HH and SEO roosts at last light with the dogs, then simply walk over with the thermal imager cam and blast ’em an hour later once it’s dark.

      3. Hello Liz,
        Your grasp of geography seems somewhat lacking. Stockton on Tees is 10 km from the edge of the NYM NP. Less if you measure from the SE corner of the conurbation. The flight speed of a migrating harrier is around 40 kph. By my reckoning that means it could have reached the park in 15 minutes from its last fix.
        Just saying.

      4. Liz, if it isn’t keepers (which we all know it is), please would you like to explain your theory as to why we don’t have any hen Harriers on the North York Moors?

  2. How is this anything to do with DGS? Stockton is quite some way from the North York Moors and the Pennines, it definitely doesn’t have any gamekeepers or grouse!

    1. It could depend upon the technology available/used as to whether the tag transmits continuously or intermittently.

    2. If your knowledge of geography is as good as your knowledge of raptor persecution, then it would explain your very misinformed comment. Its about 11 miles from the centre of Stockton on Tees to the “killing fields” of the North Yorkshire Moors.

      This is a very short flying time for a Hen Harrier, which will have been assisted by the northerly airflow the country was experiencing in April.

      The North Yorkshire Moors are a hell hole of DGM’s.

      It was on the North Yorks Moors that 5 illegally killed buzzards were found near Bransdale last year. Then we had the incident with the illegally killed Goshawk near Goatland.

      I would describe the North Yorks Moors as a dark, secretive area where the activities of game keepers goes unchecked, and where wildlife criminality flourishes- how else do we explain the high number of reported raptor persecution incidents in this area??

      The fact that the plumes of smoke from the burning taking place on the grouse moors of the North York Moors this spring could be seen from over 40 miles away reminded me of scenes from Vietnam war films like Apocalypse Now; and shows how some of those who manage these moors believe themselves untouchable in a society which wishes to see the end of heather burning in order to help tackle the climate change emergency. I suspect that sense of untouchability leads some to engage in wildlife crimes.

      Had this bird died naturally, then its satellite tag would have continued to transmit and the authorities would have recovered the body. The fact the satellite tag has also stopped working suggests foul play.

      It is too much of a coincidence that this Hen Harriers satellite tags last transmission was near Stockton on Tees and on a trajectory which would have taken it onto the grouse moors of the North Yorkshire Moors to discount that this birds disappearance has nothing to do with gamekeepers or grouse.
      The evidence from so many other raptor crimes tells us that it is highly likely this birds disappearance is very much to do with gamekeepers and grouse!
      (One would hope, all those keepers and estates which act responsibly and lawfully would also be sickened by the activities of the criminals in the shooting industry??- please speak out and help the police catch and prosecute the wildlife criminals- it’s your profession these criminals are damaging!)

      It is probably fair to say hundreds of thousands of pounds have been spent on Hen Harrier conservation, and yet it takes one criminal only a matter of seconds to kill one of these birds.

      It is high time that the illegal persecution of birds of prey on our near grouse moors resulted in a minimum 10 year ban on shooting on those adjacent moors. Anyone found guilty of breaching such a ban should be prosecuted for a criminal offence and banned from possessing firearms for life.

      If the government took away the incentives for the committing these wildlife crimes, then we might actually see a reduction in the number of crimes being committed.

      In response to the post by Liz,-
      Most keepers do not work 9 to 5.
      They will work the hours they need to, and that includes going out at night with night vision, scopes, lamps etc to kill foxes, hares and other predator species they consider a detriment to grouse numbers.
      This is a time when the public are not about, and provides the ideal opportunity for those criminally minded to also kill species they shouldn’t. Any trace of the criminal activity will be removed before normal daytime public activity commences.
      It is very difficult to gather evidence from a particular crime when it has been deliberately removed.
      When satellite Hen Harrier disappearance is viewed nationally and at scale, there are some facts which stand out, and help point the finger of suspicion directly at the driven grouse shooting industry.
      These are facts which can’t so easily be dismissed.
      Perhaps you would like to review your position in light of this evidence and the other comments to your post????
      Rather than deny that there is criminal activity associated with DGM’s -why not speak out against it and help eradicate it??

  3. Why exactly was the disappearance suspicious? Could someone explain? Birds do just disappear, especially young ones who have a high mortality rate. Again, exactly why was it suspicious???

    1. Because in natural mortality the tag continues to operate and thus the tag and the remains of the bird can be found. It is suspicious because the tag suddenly stops and they very very rarely fail.

    2. Birds can disappear but working satellite tags do not! You need to ask yourself why is it birds and their transmitters are so very rarely recovered?

    1. Perhaps if they stopped illegally killing birds of prey, they wouldn’t get the blame. The statistics on convictions are very clear; the vast majority are gamekeepers. Stop apologising for wildlife crime and develop some empathy, for the sake of everyone around you.

  4. Why is it so difficult for keepers & ‘shooting types’ to say:

    1. We were really disappointed, angry and saddened to hear about the loss of yet another 2020 tagged hen harrier, Yarrow.
    2. We appreciate that the disappearance is suspicious, because an otherwise reliable tag has not continued to transmit, as would be expected had the bird died of natural causes.
    3. Potentially this bird was on the northern reaches of the NYMoorsNP when it disappeared and, if a keeper is indeed responsible, then that is an absolute disgrace … again.
    4. Keepers and shooters can no longer be trusted to be (self-proclaimed) ‘guardians of the countryside’ whilst some among us continue to demonstrate the, ‘It wants shutting!’ mentality & raptor persecution still persists!
    5. We are ashamed of some of our colleagues, who might well be responsible for this & other offences, and of our own attitudes in failing to deal with the issue ?

    Get a bloody grip!

    1. Hi C Johnson, totally agree, but I bet in reality even those one or two grouse keepers in NYM who don’t reach for the gun straight away when they spot a BoP will be saying (likely in these exact words), “at least that f—g rubbish (HH) didn’t end up on my ground”.
      p.s. I liked “It wants shutting”…it reminded me of an old boy who used to say that and also add on “for it’s own good” – whether referring to a Buzzard, an old Lab or the Prime Minister of the day.

  5. Who listens to this drivel and more importantly who believes it. Managed moors are abundant with all types of wildlife. Unmanaged and RSPB ones have little diversity at all. Raptor numbers have increased exponentially with game bird management and release. I have studied for 45 years Buzzards for example and they are most abundant around shoots. Further more the largest body of people providing true conservation work are country sports people. The true facts are we still don’t know why for example the Barn Owl has collapsed in numbers and the likes of the Buzzard has exploded. Likewise the Facts of the HH

    1. Hi Mike, “…the Facts of the HH” on English grouse moors are that they are being illegally killed, that’s official according to the shooting worlds’ big-brains on GWCT’s “What the Science Says: Fact Checker”. BTW I assume you are confusing Barn Owls with Short Eared Owls when talking about collapsing numbers? As it is Short Eared Owls that are going downhill fast throughout the north of england (go on YouTube and type in ‘gamekeeper short eared owls’, for a clue as to why). Drivel, eh?

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