RSPB Scotland are appealing for information following the sudden disappearance of a young hen harrier in an area notorious for bird of prey persecution.
The female harrier, named Marci, was satellite tagged as a chick in 2018 as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project. She fledged from a nest on National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, and the project had been tracking her movements until the tag stopped transmitting on 22nd April 2019.
In August 2018, another young satellite tagged hen harrier named Margot vanished on a grouse moor just a few miles from Marci’s last recorded position.
Like Margot, Marci’s tag was functioning normally until it suddenly stopped transmitting. Marci had been exploring a wide area of north east Scotland with her last recorded position in an area managed intensively for driven grouse shooting near Strathdon, west Aberdeenshire, in the Cairngorms National Park. Marci had been in this area for the previous three weeks with no indication of any technical issues with the tag. Follow-up searches by Police Scotland and RSPB Scotland uncovered no trace of the bird or her tag.
This comes just weeks after Skylar, another hen harrier tagged by the project, disappeared on 7th February 2019. Her last recorded position showed she was close to a South Lanarkshire grouse moor.
The most recent UK hen harrier population survey revealed a worrying decline of 13 percent between 2010 and 2016 to an estimated 545 pairs. While Scotland is the UK stronghold for the population with 460 of these, numbers here were down by 9 percent since 2010, and 29 percent since 2004.
Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager said:
“These sudden disappearances of our satellite tagged hen harriers are depressingly frequent; Marci didn’t even get to make it through her first year before vanishing. The satellite tags are highly reliable so a sudden stop in transmitting gives us immediate cause for concern. If Marci had died of natural causes the tag should have continued to transmit, allowing our team to find her.
“A recent published study indicates that 72% of hen harriers are being illegally killed on Britain’s grouse moors, while another study found 31% of tagged golden eagles in Scotland were illegally killed. Something has to change in the way our countryside is looked after, to help protect our iconic birds of prey in Scotland.”
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations said:
“This is the latest in a string of similar incidents in western Aberdeenshire, and is further strong evidence of the systematic targeting of protected birds of prey on Scotland’s driven grouse moors. In just the last few years, the illegal killing of a buzzard, three goshawks and a hen harrier have been witnessed within a few miles of where Marci vanished. There have also been several confirmed poisonings; the filming of the illegal setting of traps; and the suspicious disappearances of several satellite-tagged eagles and other hen harriers. It is abundantly clear that current legislation is completely failing to protect our birds of prey, and robust regulation of the driven grouse shooting industry is both vital and long overdue.”
If anyone can provide information about Marci or any illegal killing of birds of prey please contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.