Concerns were raised in March this year when male hen harrier Blue’s tag, which had been functioning perfectly, suddenly and inexplicably cut out near Longsleddale, Cumbria. RSPB Investigations staff conducted a search, but no tag or body was found, and his disappearance was reported to Cumbria Police as suspicious, due to the sudden stop of transmissions.
Blue and his two siblings fledged from a nest in South Lanarkshire in 2017 and his satellite tag was fitted in early July. After fledging, Blue remained in south west Scotland until October before settling in Cumbria. In January, Blue headed north again, back to Dumfries and Galloway where he remained until March and his final journey saw him head back down to Cumbria. His tag was functioning perfectly, until 31 March 2018, when transmissions suddenly and unexpectedly stopped near Longsleddale in Cumbria.
After the sudden disappearances of satellite tagged brothers Marc and Manu in similarly unsettling circumstances just a few months earlier, parts of the north of England continue to be ‘black holes’ where hen harriers simply disappear.
Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. But, despite full legal protection, studies show that their declining population is largely associated with human persecution, in particular grouse shooting interests. It is perhaps unsurprising therefore that Blue’s last known position was in the vicinity of one of the few areas in the National Park where management continues for grouse shooting.
Neil Harnott, Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Senior Conservation Officer, said: “The English population of hen harriers is on the verge of extinction. Cumbria should have far more of these magnificent birds breeding in our uplands but the evidence would suggest that continued illegal persecution by grouse shooting interests means that the whole of England only had three breeding pairs last year, with none of them in Cumbria. It is heart breaking that with the loss of Blue, all three siblings raised in the Scottish Borders in 2017 have now disappeared. Not one managed to survive to breed.”
If you have any information relating to any of these incidents, call police on 101. Or to speak to RSPB investigations in confidence, call the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.