Second rare hen harrier goes missing in Wales

Thursday 13 September 2018

Female hen harrier

North Wales Police and the RSPB are appealing for information following the suspicious disappearance of a second satellite-tagged hen harrier near Wrexham within a six month period.

The harrier, named Heulwen, was tagged at a nest in Gwynedd as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project in June 2018. After she left her nest, Heulwen travelled through north Wales, across Snowdonia and eastwards towards Wrexham. Her satellite was transmitting regularly until it suddenly and inexplicably stopped. Her last known fix on 29 August shows she was within the vicinity of Ruabon Mountain.

Satellite tagging technology is commonly used to follow the movements of birds and tags continue to transmit regularly, even when the bird dies and until the tag reaches the end of its lifespan. The tag was providing regular updates on the bird’s location, so the sudden and unexpected ending of transmission is suspicious and could suggest criminal interference.

The RSPB searched for the bird but found nothing and reported the disappearance to North Wales Police, who are conducting enquiries and are appealing for information in the local area.

This is the second bird to disappear in north Wales within six months, after the loss of Aalin in February 2018. Aalin was born on the Isle of Man in 2016, travelled to Wales in the spring of 2017 and then remained in the area. Her tag was transmitting regularly, until it suddenly stopped on the morning of 9 February 2018 around Ruabon Mountain near Wrexham, and she has not been seen or heard from since.

Dr. Cathleen Thomas, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “Just a few weeks ago we were celebrating the breeding success of hen harriers across the UK, but already these young chicks are disappearing in suspicious circumstances when they are just a few months old. It’s devastating for those of us involved in watching and protecting these chicks, and a serious blow for an endangered species that continues to decline.

“While we don’t yet know what has happened to Heulwen, we do know that the main factor limiting the hen harrier population in the UK is illegal killing associated with intensive management of driven grouse moors.”

Rob Taylor, Rural Crime Team Manager, North Wales Police, said: "The loss of this hen harrier is very concerning and we are keeping an open mind at this time in regards to this enquiry. Our Rural Crime Team are working closely with the RSPB in relation to the investigation and we are appealing to the public that if you have any information then to call 101 or report confidentially via Crimestoppers." 

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey. The hen harrier population had been slowly recovering in Wales since re-colonising in the late 1950s, however, the latest survey in 2016 showed the number of pairs had fallen by more than a third over the past six years, from 57 to 35 pairs, the lowest number in Wales for over a decade.

If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Wales Police on 101 quoting the reference WO28466. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor Crime Hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.

Last Updated: Monday 17 September 2018

Tagged with: Topic: Birds Topic: Hen harrier Topic: Wales