Northumberland | Hen Harrier ‘disappears’ next to grouse moor

Another week, and yet another Hen Harrier has ‘gone missing‘/’disappeared’/been killed near the now-traditional sinkhole for ‘lost’ Hen Harriers: a grouse moor. Grouse moors, those inhospitable, largely barren grouse farms where traps outnumber native predators and birds of prey (protected by law for decades) are routinely killed by the ‘professionals’ who insist we take them seriously when it comes to the future of the uplands. The same ‘professionals’ who seem willing to routinely sidestep the law on numerous occasions but will apparently be stopped in their routinely criminal tracks by licencing (see Grouse Moors | Licencing Slaughter).

This (according to Raptor Persecution UK) takes to fifty-two the number of Hen Harriers that have ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances (ie ‘we know you did it, we just can’t prove it’) since 2018. Let that sink in: 52 Hen Harriers have been put down in three years. The latest, Tarras, a young satellite-tagged female less than a year old, spent her short life “hunting on [a] grouse moor and roosting either on it or just off of it” when her tag was silenced less than month ago.

What does this say about the grouse shooting industry’s laughable ‘zero intolerance’ to wildlife crime, about the money being spent on the ludicrous brood meddling scheme so heartily endorsed by Tony Juniper and Natural England, about conservation’s support for a licencing scheme that will never allow grouse shooting to be shut down (once it’s been endorsed through licencing how can the pressure to halt the slaughter of so much native wildlife ever be effective)?

It says that Hen Harriers will keep ‘disappearing’ in ‘suspicious circumstances’ around grouse moors for as long as the industry wants…


Hen harrier Tarras disappears from area dominated by driven grouse shooting

Tarras was satellite-tagged as a chick in the nest on Langholm Moor in Scotland in 2020 as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE project. After fledging, thanks to data sent by her tiny tag, we followed Tarras as she explored the North Pennines Area of Outstanding National Beauty (AONB) before settling in South Northumberland.

For the 90 days prior to disappearing, we could see that Tarras had settled into a routine of hunting on grouse moor and roosting either on it or just off of it. However, after getting regular transmissions each day, since 24 February 2021 we have had nothing at all. The tag’s last fix showed that Tarras was roosting with other birds just off a grouse moor near Haltwhistle, just outside the North Pennines AONB boundary.

RSPB Investigations Officers searched the area but found no sign of tag or body. The matter was passed on to Northumbria Police, who have recently issued an appeal for information.

Satellite tags are highly reliable and continue to transmit even after the bird’s death. For a tag which has been functioning reliably to suddenly cut out, with no explanation or warning, strongly suggests foul play. This event is categorized as a ‘sudden stop no malfunction’, and is happening time and again on or near driven grouse moors.

Sadly, we believe that Tarras is most likely dead. The fact that she did not make it through her first year of life is heartbreaking. 

Hen harriers are a red-listed species, and legally protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Yet they remain one of the most persecuted birds of prey in the UK and continue to be illegally killed, or disappear in suspicious circumstances, particularly on or near land managed for shooting – as this paper confirmed. This has made their population in the UK perilously low, especially in England. No matter how many hen harrier chicks hatch this year, if they continue to be killed after leaving their nests, we continue to have a serious problem.

The fact that Tarras’ disappearance comes two years after this conclusive and significant paper was published, is a stark reminder of how little has changed. We are still in the same situation, despite irrefutable evidence of the problem.

Will Hayward, RSPB Investigations Officer, fitted the tag to Tarras when she was just a few weeks old. He said:

“It’s always a nervous time watching a hen harrier explore the world after leaving the nest. We were very impressed with Tarras as she managed to make it through the harsh winter weather in Northern England. For her to suddenly disappear in suspicious circumstances just before the spring and be denied the chance to add to the hen harrier breeding population in future years is devastating.”

Tarras was named after Tarras Valley, the nature reserve that the Langholm community are creating. Kevin Cumming, of the Langholm Initiative, added: “There is always excitement and anticipation for our hen harriers to return each year at Langholm. It is extremely sad news that Tarras won’t be making her way back home again.”

Any information in relation this matter should be reported to Northumbria police quoting reference 285 05032021. We also need whistle-blowers to come forward and call time on those in their community who are breaking the law in this way. Please call the confidential raptor crime hotline on: 0300 999 0101.

RSPB press-release, Hen harrier Tarras disappears from area dominated by driven grouse shooting, 15 March 2021