Podcast: Dr Cathleen Thomas | RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE Report

The RSPB’s Dr Cathleen Thomas, is Senior Project Manager of the EU-backed Hen Harrier Life Project. Launched in 2014 the project is nearing completion now, and Cathleen has been a remarkably dedicated spokesperson for Hen Harriers, a declining bird of prey that in the UK at least now breeds almost entirely on a handful of mainly upland moorland sites.

A new report produced by the Life project team was released this month. It details both the highs and lows of Hen Harrier conservation.

Wordcloud produced by children to describe Hen Harriers

On the one hand, the Hen Harrier LIFE project has been a resounding success.

It has protected over 100 nests and 150 winter roosts, satellite-tagged over 100 birds, shown how moorlands can be managed sustainably, talked about the issues facing Hen Harriers with nearly 13,000 people (from students at gamekeeping colleges to landowners, the general public and schoolchildren), and raised the awareness of a beautiful bird that fewer and fewer of us actually get to see.

But it has also provided indisputable proof of the massive and widespread illegal persecution Hen Harriers face on grouse moor estates. As the report states, “ A growing body of scientific evidence shows illegal killing associated with management of moorlands to intensively rear high numbers of grouse for driven grouse shooting is the main factor limiting the recovery of hen harrier populations across the UK”.


“…we’ve recovered birds with shot in them…we’ve found birds with injuries consistent with shooting… and this year we found Rannoch with her foot in a trap which was just horrendous…”



Dr Cathleen Thomas | Hen Harrier Life Project
December 2019


Charlie Moores met up with Cathleen to discuss its findings, the very low failure rate of satellite tags (something shooting lobbyists have always claimed is behind the ‘suspicious disappearances’ of so many tagged birds), to ask what impact the deaths of so many harriers has on her and her team, and find out what comes next – but he began by asking whether the project had intentionally set out to uncover the scale of persecution that Hen Harriers are facing….


For more information on the project, tag data maps and short films on Hen Harriers please go to https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/our-work/conservation/henharrierlife/

Cathleen herself is on Twitter at DtrCathleen.

We’ve produced a number of other podcasts on hen Harriers, wildlife crime, and raptor persecution and these can all be found on this website using the menus at the top of the page