• A young Hen Harrier fitted with a satellite-tag to monitor its movements ‘suspiciously disappeared’ in Glen Esk, in the Angus Glens in late February 2024.
  • This is the fourth sat-tagged Hen Harrier to have suspiciously disappeared in the area since 2017.
  • Hen Harriers are being persecuted across the UK with many confirmed incidents associated with land managed for gamebird shooting.

RSPB Scotland are appealing for information following the sudden, suspicious disappearance of a satellite-tagged Hen Harrier in Glen Esk in Angus.

The tag fitted to ‘Shalimar’ a young female Hen Harrier, which fledged from a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire last summer, was functioning as expected before data transmissions unexpectedly and suddenly stopped on 15 February.

Officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police Scotland, supported by the RSPB Investigations staff, carried out a search of the area where the bird last transmitted, but failed to find its body or tag.

A large area of the Angus Glens is intensively managed for driven grouse shooting and is a notorious raptor persecution hotspot, with multiple confirmed incidents of poisoning, shooting and illegal trapping stretching back over the last 20 years. There have also been several previous incidents where satellite-tagged birds of prey have been killed or ‘suspiciously disappeared’ in the area. Since 2017, this has included four Hen Harriers, a Golden Eagle and a White-tailed Eagle.

Hen Harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey and, in terms of its population size, the most heavily persecuted species in the country. Several recent independent studies and evidence from historical and on-going criminal investigations have confirmed that the killing of this ‘Red Listed’ species is significantly linked to land managed for Red Grouse shooting and have revealed that the illegal killing of Hen Harriers associated with the grouse shooting industry is the primary constraint on their population.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said: “The Scottish Parliament has recognised the ongoing link between crimes against birds of prey and the management of some grouse moors by its of passing of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill earlier this week. In future, any landholding linked to wildlife crime faces a loss of its licence to shoot grouse. While these provisions have come just too late to prevent Shalimar becoming the latest Hen Harrier to likely disappear at the hands of criminals, we hope that the new legislation will help to consign raptor persecution to the history books in Scotland”.

The Mar Lodge Estate, near Braemar, is an important area for breeding Hen Harriers, largely as a result of effective habitat management and an overall commitment to conservation. Last year 32 Hen Harriers successfully fledged from nests on the estate, of which four were fitted with satellite-tags by RSPB. The data received from these sat-tags provides information which allows conservationists to study the movements of these birds, including identifying roost sites, foraging areas and any migration patterns, whilst also helping to detect suspected incidents of persecution. If a tagged bird dies of natural causes, in the vast majority of cases the bird’s tag and its body can be recovered and submitted for post-mortem analysis.

Although in some areas Hen Harriers breeding numbers are improving their survival rate remains low. A paper published in 2023 highlighted that Hen Harrier persecution accounted for 27-43% of mortality of first-year birds, with the lifespan of Hen Harriers after fledging averaging 121 days.

23 Hen Harriers have been tagged at Mar Lodge since 2016. Almost 40% of these satellite-tagged birds have ‘suspiciously disappeared’.

Staff at Mar Lodge are saddened by the apparent loss of Shalimar and the other tagged-harriers that have fledged from the estate. “We hope some of the other chicks fledged last year have a more favourable future. Despite these losses we will continue our vital conservation work at Mar Lodge and other NTS properties doing what we can to ensure the survival and recovery of hen harriers and other raptor species.”

If you have information about anyone killing birds of prey which you wish to report please call the police on 101 and fill in the RSPB’s online reporting form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/wild-bird-crime-report-form/ . If you would like to report anonymously, please call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101 or fill in our reporting form.

We would like to thank Mar Lodge Estate, the NWCU and Police Scotland for their support and positive partnership working.