Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Reiver’ disappears in suspicious circumstances in grouse moor area of Northumberland

Press release from RSPB

Another hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances

Another satellite tagged hen harrier has suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared, strengthening the RSPB’s call for the urgent licensing of grouse moors.

Reiver, a young female, fledged from a nest on Langholm Moor in the south of Scotland this summer. She was fitted with a satellite tag while still in her nest, as part of an RSPB project to help understand the journeys made by these red-listed birds of prey and the survival challenges they face after fledging.

[Hen harrier ‘Reiver’ just prior to fledging. Photo by Andrew Walton]

Reiver’s tag was transmitting regularly and as expected, with no sign of malfunction, until it stopped suddenly on 17 September 2021. Her tag’s last fix came from Ninebanks, an area dominated by driven grouse moors in Northumberland, within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Reiver is the third Scottish satellite-tagged hen harrier to vanish in identical, sudden and suspicious circumstances in England in 2021. In February this year, Tarras disappeared having been last recorded on a grouse moor near Haltwhistle, just outside the North Pennines AONB boundary. Another bird, Yarrow, from the Scottish Borders disappeared in April while heading for the North York Moors. And in 2019, Ada’s last transmission came from an area of grouse moor east of Allendale, Northumberland.

Fewer than 600 pairs of hen harriers breed in the UK. In England there were just 24 successful nests in 2021, despite enough habitat and food to support over 300 pairs. In 2019, the government’s own study found illegal killing to be the main factor limiting the recovery of the UK hen harrier population.

Jenny Barlow, Estate Manager at Langholm said:There is always such anticipation and excitement for our hen harriers to return each year to the Tarras Valley Nature Reserve here in Langholm. A huge community and volunteer effort goes into monitoring and safeguarding our harrier chicks to make sure they get the best possible start on our reserve. It is extremely sad news for us all that one of our chicks Reiver, won’t be making her way back home to us again.”

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said:It is almost certain that Reiver has been illegally killed. This is more than just a pattern, it is a known fact that hen harrier numbers are so low because of persistent persecution. Satellite tags are highly reliable and will continue to transmit even after the bird’s death. For a tag which has been functioning reliably to suddenly cut out like this strongly suggests foul play. This event is categorised as a ‘sudden stop no malfunction’ and is happening time and again on or near driven grouse moors.

Hen harriers disappearing on English grouse moors is having a devastating effect on both the English and Scottish hen harrier populations, and needs to be urgently addressed by UK governments. The need for licensing of grouse moors has been accepted in Scotland and this needs to be recognised in England too. This then must be implemented without delay in both countries.”

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To intentionally kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call Northumbria Police on 101 quoting incident reference NP-20210920-0837.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, please call 101 and fill in this online form HERE.

If you have sensitive information about the illegal killing of birds of prey, call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0300 999 0101.


How’s that so-called Hen Harrier Action Plan going, DEFRA & Natural England? Are you prepared to admit its a conservation sham, yet?

Still convinced that your ‘partners’ in the driven grouse shooting industry have stopped their filthy criminality?

Still prepared to pretend that hen harriers are welcomed with open arms on driven grouse moors? Welcomed with firearms, more like.

Still wondering why those of us in the conservation sector are so frustrated with your failure to stand up for hen harriers and all the other raptors that are still systematically killed on driven grouse moors while you get in to bed with the criminals and accept large financial bungs to keep your mouths shut?

[Cartoon by Gerard Hobley]

UPDATE 18th October 2021 13.00hrs: 57 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ on or close to UK grouse moors since 2018 (here).

11 thoughts on “Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Reiver’ disappears in suspicious circumstances in grouse moor area of Northumberland”

  1. Another one. This is shameful and demoralising , when will it ever end? Thank you for the work you do at RPUK – without you we wouldn’t even know about it.

  2. Same old, same old. When will this persecution be properly punished by the various UK governments?
    There is enough of a pattern to show who is causing the death of these beautiful raptors, as well as all the others that are killed illegally very close to or on grouse moors.
    And yes, thank you RPUK for all that you say and do. Hopefully it will come to the notice of those who must start to walk the walk and realise that talk is meaningless without serious action: more finance and wildlife policing would be a start to stop these hideous attacks on our wildlife.

  3. It will only end when DGS ends. Outlawing this so-called sport should be the priority for all conservation organisations.

    1. “Outlawing this so-called sport should be the priority for all conservation organisations.”

      Should be, but it certainly isn’t by the WWF, who claimed in their Summer 2021 edition of Impact that “Prince Philip was a tireless conservationist, and to honour his commitment to WWF, set up the WWF president’s Fund for Nature”

      I contacted them with photographs of the late Duke recently shooting across moorland… and asked them what were their policies on the systematic draining and burning of our upland moors, of the widespread use of snares, of the use of lead shot, of the legal and illegal persecution of predators, including the illegal killing of raptors on Royal Estates, of the widespread prophylactic use of medicated grit, and the annual importation of 60+ million non-native birds to be used as live targets?

      I wrote as a member of the WWF on June 24th 2021. I have received neither acknowledgement nor a reply.

      Of course, there are also plenty of photographs of Charlie Boy, William and Katie ‘enjoying’ a shoot… Yet they continue to be ‘greenwashed’ by the media, by various ‘celebrities’, by the WWF… and by David Attenborough.

  4. This doesn’t surprise me.
    I was recently on a grouse moor in the North Pennines, an area designated a SSSI, an area claiming to be a national nature reserve.
    It was an area which should have provided perfect habitat for birds of prey.
    Weather conditions were perfect.
    It was like being in a desert
    No sound, just silence.
    Nothing in the sky.
    Nothing to see in the binoculars, other than:-
    a few grouse poking about in the heather.
    a few sheep.
    grit trays.
    and the presence of game keepers.

    Probably no coincidence this Harrier has disappeared over a grouse moor.

    As the disappearance of this satellite tagged birds proves, if we can’t protect birds once they fledge, what is the point of the hen Harrier brood management program?
    It has to be one of the biggest conservation deceptions conceived.

    Any reports of the disappearance of this bird by the various shooting or moorland organisations?
    Are they demanding a full investigation and police action to establish what has happened to this bird, and ensure any criminal activity is exposed and perpetrators brought to justice?
    Or are they like that grouse moor I was on?
    Nothing but the sound of silence !!!!!!

  5. The Hartoft Mural has a large ‘gravestone’ plaque attached to it, displaying the names or identification numbers / details of all HHs known to have been either poisoned, shot or trapped or to have disappeared in suspicious circumstances (Police description) from 2018 to date. The plaque is full. It’s not got room for Reiver’s name on it, so another ‘gravestone’ will be needed. If this disappearance is confirmed to be suspicious, this is far, far more than depressing, it’s appalling, & England’s record on raptor persecution is already an absolute disgrace.

  6. Maybe the Duke of Cambridge should lead the way seeing he’s supposed to be standing up for the environment.
    One of the reasons the hooray Henry’s dress up in tweed and go shooting is because they think they’re pursuing a royal activity.

  7. Nevermind just the countryside alliance, all organisations representing bloodsports should be kicked off the RPPDG. Having them involved is like letting xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx xxxxx

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