Hen harrier goes ‘missing’ from a Peak District grouse moor – police confirm his satellite tag had been deliberately cut off

Press release from RSPB (16th March 2023)


*Anu, a satellite tagged Hen Harrier, vanished after roosting near Upper Midhope in the Peak District National Park – on land managed for driven grouse shooting.

*RSPB Investigations Officers located the bird’s tag three days later and police forensics found it had been deliberately cut off the bird. Investigators fear the bird was illegally killed and his tag removed to hide the evidence.

*Anu joins a long list of birds of prey which have suspiciously disappeared or been killed in relation to land managed for driven grouse shooting. Licensing of grouse shooting as a meaningful deterrent to wildlife crime is needed in England, replicating current proposals in Scotland.

Anu being satellite-tagged before fledging in Bowland in 2021. Photo: RSPB

Yet another mysterious disappearance involving a rare Hen Harrier has been identified by the RSPB and South Yorkshire Police.

Anu, a young male, tagged in Bowland in 2021, was one of several young Hen Harriers fitted with a satellite tag by the RSPB: a small, unobtrusive device which enables scientists to monitor the movements of individual birds and gain greater understanding of this rare and criminally persecuted species.

Anu’s tag indicated that he was roosting on a grouse moor near Upper Midhope on 10 February 2022. However, the tag data showed unusual movement from the bird after 10.25pm that night, when Anu would normally have been stationary.

The tag’s next signal on 11 February was more surprising still, indicating the bird was dead. After an intensive search, the tag was found, some 9km away to the east, on 14 February at Wharncliffe Chase. But suspiciously there was no sign of the body.

This was reported to South Yorkshire Police and forensic analysis confirmed the tag harness had been cut by a human rather than bitten or pulled off. The RSPB suspects that Anu was killed, and the body and tag separated to remove evidence from the crime scene, with the tag then dumped. Anu’s body remains missing, and further enquiries have been unsuccessful.

Tom Grose, RSPB Investigations Officer, said: “To find Anu’s tag detached from his body, having been deliberately cut off, categorically shows human involvement. It is highly suspicious that he roosted on a grouse moor the night before, was unexpectedly active in the hours of darkness and hasn’t been seen since.

We suspect that Anu was killed that night, his tag cut off and then the body dumped away from the grouse moor by someone trying to cover their tracks. The deliberate killing of a wild bird is illegal, yet sadly criminal persecution has been identified is the main reason driving Hen Harrier declines.”

A 2019 study of satellite-tagged Hen Harriers by Natural England revealed that 72% of 58 satellite-tagged Hen Harriers were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed. Furthermore, it found that Hen Harriers were ten times more likely to vanish mysteriously or die on a grouse moor than anywhere else.

Tom added: “When only a small percentage of Hen Harriers in the UK are tagged, you can’t help wonder what is happening to the other non-tagged birds. This is a species in trouble, and the UK population remains far below what it should be. As the nature crisis tightens its grip, illegal persecution of raptors must be stopped and that will only happen through the licensing of driven grouse moors – as is happening in Scotland – to bring accountability to this form of land management.

The RSPB would like to thank South Yorkshire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit (NWCU) for their work on this case.

If you have any information about this incident, or know of anyone killing birds of prey, please call South Yorkshire Police on 101. The RSPB also has a dedicated confidential Raptor Hotline: 0300 999 0101. This is for information relating to crimes involving birds of prey only.


The news of this latest ‘missing’ hen harrier coincides with the publication of some (more) propaganda from Natural England yesterday about how they’re planning to extend their dodgy hen harrier brood meddling trial. I’ll comment on that over the weekend, because that coincides with a recent FoI response I received about NE’s plans for brood meddling, but I won’t have time to write it before the weekend.

Meanwhile, I’ll just update the VERY long list of hen harriers that have been confirmed illegally killed or that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances, mostly on or close to grouse moors, since the start of NE’s hen harrier brood meddling trial in 2018. We’re up to 77 and counting… I don’t see Natural England promoting those awkward but damning data.

Anu was already on the list of 77 – his suspicious disappearance was reported in February 2022 (here).

20 thoughts on “Hen harrier goes ‘missing’ from a Peak District grouse moor – police confirm his satellite tag had been deliberately cut off”

  1. Natural England are an open disgrace. I don’t know how they are subsidised, or who by, but its nothing but sinister.

    1. The tax payer they are part of DEFRA with these days no independent voice of their own, due to Tory instruction.

      1. And yet Natural England is run by ex-Green Parliamentary candidate and Friends of the Earth Executive, Tony Juniper.

  2. Just hopeless, licencing and custodial sentences are essential to stop this. Brood meddling gives licence to kill on grouse moors it seems to me. Insane!

  3. “However, it has not been possible, to date, to test attitudes in the wider community beyond those participating in the trial.” They have no baseline and no means of collecting data. How is this an experiment?

    1. Its a lie from NE and a very transparent one. The argument they put forward for BM was that it would give grouse moor managers the safety net they craved and remove the main motivation for persecution. So if they persecution rate is still high, and it certainly is the experiment has failed. Actually quite spectacularly because many estates still think it easier to manage harriers by illegally killing them. Yes licencing may offer a partial solution in combination with vicarious liability but any licence would need pretty tough conditions, sanctions and a vigorous policing system. Who will pay for it you ask, the estates should but in all probability you and I so it’ll probably be none of those things, the best answer by far is to ban DGS.
      Yes NE are a disgrace despite having decent folk working for it, the top echelons however are totally compromised and should go.

      1. Vicarious liability is a waste of time. All the landowners have to do to avoid prosecution is have their paperwork in order. Which they will have. And of course you have to have the perp convicted first before a VL prosecution can even be considered.

      2. This is a bit confused. Brood Meddling, and Natural England – as the name indicates – is restricted to England. The proposed ‘licensing’ is restricted to Scotland.

  4. Another sad tale of a Hen Harrier being killed and evidence taken away. Quite different from the tag responding from off the Forth Estuary but similar in many ways. Same mo in police investigation terms.
    The crimes against Harriers just keep building up. What a sadistic bunch that roam the moors taking out easy birds to kill.

    1. Time enough for the police to have investigated and concluded there’s no realistic chance of gathering enough evidence to charge anyone. Which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. It’s just too easy to commit these crimes and get away with them.

      Which is why a different approach is needed. Either an outright ban on intensive DGS or a strict and rigorously enforced licensing system. Won’t happen under the Tories, might be a chance of it under Labour.

  5. Just weeks after this, 2 Hen Harrier nesting attempts failed due to the disappearance of the male birds. Not very far away from where ANU was roosting.

  6. It’s quite obvious that Natural England’s cosying up in bed with the grouse shooting industry is encouraging persecution of hen harriers on grouse moors, not to mention the slaughter of other raptors.Tony Juniper must know only too well this is the case.

  7. How much evidence do Natural England, DEFRA and the government need to realise that the current policy on Hen Harrier conservation is being undermined by criminals? It doesn’t take a genius to work out which section of society would have the knowledge of where Hen Harriers were roosting, and then the means and motivation to attend that location in the dark on a February night at 10.25 pm and commit a crime.
    There really does need to be a complete shift in the way these crimes are dealt with, because what is happening at the moment is clearly not working.
    There was an interesting discussion on Radio 4 regarding farming and livestock management in National Parks, as it has been identified that the current land management practices are not delivering the outcomes to regenerate nature and wildlife on some sensitive sites.
    So if DEFRA /NE can insist on changes to farm practices to meet outcomes on common land, why can’t the same principle be applied to land used for shooting which is in receipt of public money through the various environmental schemes, and on sensitive sites or in National Parks or other designated areas?
    Surely, if there is evidence of criminal behaviour associated with a moor used for shooting which is in a National Park or other designated area, why aren’t DEFRA /NE looking at ways to better use that land for nature and bio diversity recovery?
    If the government is to achieve its environmental targets, then I would suggest that moors currently used for shooting and where there is evidence of criminal activity should be required to cease all forms of shooting, and where the land is deemed suitable (such as where the peat depth is less than 40 cm and the land suffers rotational burning, etc etc) be turned over to mixed woodland or scrub land which could form a habitat for a much greater diversity of nature and wildlife. (and before we get the usual nonsense about fire risk, wouldn’t a woodland canopy help prevent moisture loss from the soil, which should help reduce fire risk from dried out peatland?- I haven’t heard many reports in the UK of woodland fires!!). This would have the potential of creating a mosaic of different habitats in the uplands, and from what I have recently been reading regarding huge swathes of monoculture being breeding grounds for all manner of pests which nature could tackle by natural means if the habitat was more diverse, could be beneficial in tackling problems such as heather beetle.
    This could potentially also have a beneficial effect for those shooting estates not involved in criminality, as a reduction in the amount of land used for shooting could increase the value of the remaining grouse moors, and since shooting would be a much scarcer commodity, the cost of shooting would also increase, which could help these estates recover any financial loss as a result of there being fewer game birds to shoot due an increased risk of predation by other wildlife. This could be a win – win for nature and a win- win for well managed game shooting estates.
    The current position is not acceptable, and I would suggest it will take some out of the box thinking and some radical changes to the law to end this ceaseless criminal persecution of Hen Harriers and other birds of prey.

    1. Hi John, thinking of your comment, “because what is happening at the moment is clearly not working”…
      But it is working! It just depends on who you consider it is designed to work for. i.e. Numbers of harriers are seen to be creeping (painfully slow) upwards, only four or five estates are having to tolerate nesting harriers (or ‘take one for the team’, and this itself is greatly mitigated by brood meddling / diversionary feeding), govt PR dept can make a great fuss and as yet no keepers have been successfully prosecuted – as they inevitably will if harrier numbers ever break-out from current suppression, and they have to kill them as often as they currently have to kill buzzards. My eyes are on what the next government may or may not do regards whether they ditch brood meddling and put their resources into simple enforcement of the law. In other words leave the harriers to thrive by themselves (which they will) and incur the wrath of landowners and some powerful people when values of grouse moors drop.

      1. A very good point- the current policy works in favour of the grouse shooting industry- as it provides them and the government with a PR story to mislead the public into thinking something effective is actually being done to promote Hen Harrier recovery and eradicate persecution- when the reality is very different.

        In a post put out by the UK government last year on climate adaptation for nature the government stated -“The UK Government has committed to halt the decline in species abundance and protect 30% of land and sea by 2030 (30×30). Devolved nature conservation policies include ambition for nature recovery across the UK to restore and create wildlife-rich habitats and improve existing protected areas (PAs). To achieve this nature recovery, conservation strategies have to consider the impacts of climate change.”

        The challenge for government is how to achieve this, at a time when pressure is being put on UK agriculture to make the UK less reliant on food imports. It will be a challenge for UK farmers to increase environmental standards and at the same time increase food production and provide the food industry with agricultural produce which meets the food industries requirements (I didn’t realise that animals have to be a certain size and weight for abattoirs and if a farmer doesn’t supply animals which meet this standard they aren’t accepted!)

        I would suggest one of the most logical steps would be to identify uplands where criminal activity is taking place and then require that this land forms part of that 30% of land which the government has identified will be required to halt the decline in nature.
        Land owners should have no choice in this matter- either end the criminal activity which is occurring or lose control of the right to use that land for recreational activities like shooting.

        Under the Misuse of Drugs Act Sect 8 it is an offence for a property owner to allow their premises to be used certain drug related activities.
        It is therefore not impossible to introduce legislation which would make it an offence for a land owner, or someone concerned with the management of the land to allow certain types of wildlife crimes, crimes which are associated with the use of the land, to be committed. With the onus on the land owner or land manager to provide evidence that they have taken all reasonable steps to ensure that criminal activity doesn’t take place.

        Wildlife crimes are such a challenge to investigate and prosecute, so there needs to be a change in the law to tackle the problem in another way.
        If that upsets certain people – so be it.
        Hopefully the current BBC program Wild Isles will get the general public thinking about what must be done to protect nature in the UK.

  8. A very recent press report is ominous in that it said, “A former Tory minister who wanted to privatise 258,000 hectares (637,000 acres) of England’s state owned woodland has been appointed to the board of Natural England. Dame Caroline Spelman has a new role with the government’s nature watchdog. She will set its policy and oversee the use of public money. The former environment secretary’s 2011 plans were dropped. She said at the time, “the public and many honourable members are not happy with the proposals we set out”. I think watchdog is a misnoma as it is toothless (at best) clearly. This will be disastrous for raptors no doubt.

    1. “I think watchdog is a misnoma as it is toothless (at best) clearly”

      No, Natural England has extensive statutory powers. It ‘chooses’ whether or not to be ‘toothless’.

      Tony Juniper said “I very much look forward to working with Mel, Lynn and Dame Caroline, who each bring a range of skills and experience that will help us deliver on these ambitious plans.”

      ‘Mel’ being Professor Mel Austen of the University of Plymouth, Department of Ocean and Society, and ‘Lyn’ being Lynn Dicks, Animal Ecology at the Department Zoology, University of Cambridge.

      Spelman, meanwhile, brings her ‘expertise’ as Board Member of the British Horse Society, and Chair of the Diocese Commission of the Church of England. I kid you not.

      The ‘ambitious plans’ of which Juniper speaks refer to the roll-out of the Environment Land Management Schemes and the Nature Recovery Network.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s