Above: hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. A slightly larger population can be found in Scotland. Pictured is a male hen harrier perched on heather at the Loch Gruinart RSPB reserve, Islay, Scotland Photo: Andy Hay/rspb-images.com
THREE HEN HARRIERS that vanished in similar suspicious circumstances have triggered a police investigation.
The protected, satellite-tagged birds of prey disappeared in Scotland and Cumbria, and no tags or bodies have been found.
The first hen harrier, Saorsa, suddenly ceased sending transmissions in February 2018 in the Angus Glens, Scotland. Conservationists had been monitoring her progress since she fledged in June 2017.
Blue, a male hen harrier, raised further concerns in March this year when his tag inexplicably cut out near Longsleddale, South Lanarkshire. In the same month, Finn – tagged as a chick in 2016 from a nest in Northumberland – disappeared near Moffat, Scotland. Finn was from one of only three hen harrier nests to fledge young in the whole of England in 2016.
Where tagged hen harriers have died of natural causes in the past, the tags and bodies have been recovered. But following a search by RSPB investigations staff, no tags or bodies have been found of the three birds. This has led to an investigation involving Cumbria Police and Police Scotland.
Despite legal protection, studies show that hen harriers’ declining population is largely associated with human persecution.
As part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project, several birds have been fitted with a lightweight satellite tag to help build a better understanding of hen harriers, their movements and the threats they face. However, since the project began in 2014, a number of tagged hen harriers have disappeared in similarly inexplicable circumstances.
Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project manager, said: “The UK population of hen harriers is really hanging in the balance and the disappearance of these three birds is extremely troubling. These tags are more than 90 per cent reliable and capable of transmitting long after a bird has died.
“If these birds had died of natural causes we would expect to recover both the tag and the body. But this has not been the case.”
● Anyone with information relating to any of these incidents is asked to call police on 101 or speak to RSPB investigations via the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.
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