RSPB Scotland has today announced that a young male hen harrier, fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the charity's part EU funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, has gone missing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath mountains, south-east of Inverness.
The bird, named Elwood, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire, which was being monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) "Heads-up for Harriers scheme."
The transmitter's data, being monitored by RSPB Scotland staff, indicated that the young bird fledged from its nest in the first week of July, but stayed close to the site in the hills above the River Spey until the 20th, when he began to travel more widely. By the 27th, he had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin.
The bird remained in this area, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on August 3rd. The bird's last recorded position was on an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9.
Last week, news emerged that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had also disappeared in the northern Monadhliaths in the last five years, with three of these birds, whose transmitters were also functioning normally, going "off the radar" this spring.
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations, said: "This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.
"This case is all the more depressing as the nest from which Elwood successfully fledged was monitored as part of a partnership project between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey - as soon as they move away from these areas they are being illegally killed.
"The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands (4). We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries."
The RSPB Hen Harrier LIFE project is a five year programme of hen harrier conservation, working cross-border to secure a future for one of the UK's most beautiful and threatened birds of prey. Running until 2019, the LIFE+ project combines satellite tagging, on-the-ground monitoring, nest protection, investigations work, awareness-raising and working with volunteer raptor field workers, landowners and local communities to protect hen harriers across northern England and southern and eastern Scotland. http://www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife
At the last count during the National Hen Harrier Survey in 2010 there were 662 breeding hen harrier pairs in the UK; 505 of those in Scotland. According to the same survey, between 2004 and 2010 there was a 20 per cent decline in hen harriers across Scotland. The next National Hen Harrier Survey is being carried out this year (2016).The Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project is part-funded by the European LIFE+ scheme and LUSH Cosmetics Ltd. LIFE is the EU's financial instrument for the environment. It funds conservation and other environmental projects right across Europe. In 2014, the year in which this hen harrier project was funded, LIFE awarded a total of €17 million to organisations in the UK