Three more satellite-tagged hen harriers have gone missing in suspicious circumstances, according to the most recent data published by Natural England just before Xmas.
One went missing in July 2021, one in August and one in September. Neither the police or Natural England have issued any media press releases or made any public appeals for information about any of them. Instead, the grouse-shooting industry was given free-rein to publish propaganda all summer and autumn about ‘how hen harriers are thriving in the English uplands’, without any of the regulatory authorities challenging this rhetoric with any vigour.
[A young hen harrier. Photographer unknown]
Periodically Natural England publishes a table showing the fates of hen harriers it has satellite-tagged. These updates are infrequent and typically occur two to three times a year. In the latest (December) update, the following three hen harriers are listed as ‘missing, fate unknown’:
Hen Harrier Asta (female), tagged on 10th July 2020 at ‘Northumberland 3’ site. The date of last contact is given as 24th July 2021 in the North Pennines. The site location is given as ‘Site confidential’.
Hen Harrier Josephine (female), tagged on 30th June 2021 at ‘Northumberland 2’ site. The date of last contact is given as 14th August 2021 in Northumberland. The site location is given as ‘Site confidential – ongoing’.
Hen Harrier R2-F-1-21 (female), a brood meddled chick tagged on 20th July 2021 from site location ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given as 24th September 2021 in Northumberland. No specific site information is given and the comments section states ‘searches ongoing’.
These disappearances were mentioned in a Natural England blog which was published at the same time as the December data update. The blog is attributed to Dave Slater, Director for Wildlife Licensing and Enforcement Cases at NE, although I don’t think he wrote it – it’s quite a different style when compared with his previous missives. Anyway, these three missing hen harriers are mentioned in the blog, although they’re not exactly given headline prominence – this paragraph appears towards the end of the blog:
You’ll also note that the tags on three of this year’s seven brood meddled hen harrier chicks have stopped transmitting. One of these (Hen Harrier R2-F-1-21) is one of the three ‘missing fate unknown’ harriers I mentioned at the top of this blog. The other two brood meddled chicks have been found dead and their corpses retrieved and sent for post mortem. Those two are:
Brood meddled male Hen Harrier R2-M2-21, tagged on 20th July 2021 from nest site ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given in NE’s data table as 27th October 2021 and the location is given as ‘Cumbria, site confidential, hen harrier roost site’. The notes section says, ‘Recovered dead 28th October 2021, awaiting PM results’.
Brood meddled male Hen Harrier R2-M3-21, tagged on 20th July 2021 from nest site ‘BM R2 Cumbria’. The date of last contact is given as 27th October 2021 and the location is given as ‘County Durham’. The notes section says, ‘Recovered dead 28th October 2021, awaiting PM results’.
These two dead brood-meddled hen harriers are also mentioned in Natural England’s blog as follows:
It seems strange that the post-mortem results were not yet available by the time the Natural England blog was published on 15th December, given that both corpses were retrieved some seven weeks earlier.
I was also surprised to see the statement, ‘The finding circumstances did not suggest that the birds were illegally killed‘. Yeah, I think the same was said about Bowland Betty, the hen harrier found dead on a grouse moor at Swinton Estate, where the cause of death was only revealed after a pioneering forensic examination by scientists at the University College London Institute of Orthopaedics and Musculoskeletal Science, which found a tiny fragment of lead at the site of a leg fracture, confirming that she had been shot (see this scientific peer reviewed paper published in the journal Veterinary Record in 2015: hopkins-et-al-2015_bowlandbetty_vetrecord and see here for a good laugh at the Countryside Alliance’s ‘expert’ opinion).
I might be wrong of course, but this latest statement from Natural England looks suspiciously like yet another damage-limitation exercise. I’ll be following up on those two mortem results.
In the meantime, it just leaves me to update the very long list of hen harriers that have been confirmed as illegally killed or suspected to have been killed since 2018, mostly on or close to driven grouse moors. A pattern of criminality that has been obvious to many of us for years – and has been demonstrated scientifically with Natural England’s own data – see here.
I’ll add the link here when I’ve written that blog.
UPDATE 2nd January 2022: 60 hen harriers confirmed illegally killed or ‘missing’ since 2018, most of them on or close to UK grouse moors (here)