Another hen harrier has disappeared in suspicious circumstances in an area dominated by driven grouse shooting, this time a young female named Tarras.
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.
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