Two more hen harriers disappear in suspicious circumstances

Jess Barrett

Tuesday 22 May 2018

Female hen harrier

RSPB Scotland and Police Scotland are appealing for information after the suspicious disappearance of two rare hen harriers, one in the Angus Glens and one near Moffat.

The birds, named Saorsa and Finn, were fitted with satellite tags as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project. The tags transmit the bird’s location to overhead satellites, allowing experts to follow them and learn more about the threats they face. 

Saorsa was tagged on a nest in Ross-shire in June 2017. Her tag was transmitting regularly with no signs of any technical problems, showing her journey across Scotland after fledging, until it suddenly and inexplicably ceased transmissions in the Angus Glens on 16 February 2018. Data from her tag indicated she had been in the area since November 2017, but she has not been seen or heard from since.

Balnagown Estate, near Tain in Sutherland, expressed their sadness at losing this special bird. They told us: “Saorsa hatched and fledged from Balnagown Estate and it was fascinating following her progress online since she was fitted with a satellite tag in June 2017. The Estate strives hard to assist with conservation and protection of our wonderful wildlife.”

Finn was tagged on a nest in Northumberland in July 2016, one of only three successful nests in the whole of England for that year. Her tag was transmitting regularly, showing her movements into southern Scotland until 25 March 2018, when transmissions suddenly and inexplicably ceased near Moffat. This was the last anyone heard of her.

Finn was named after young conservationist Findlay Wilde, who told us “I always knew following Finn's journey would be a rollercoaster of emotions and felt she was probably living on borrowed time, but she seemed to soar through all the challenges that came her way. In the short time we followed her, we went through every emotion possible; from the excitement of knowing she had safely fledged to the nagging worries that she was settling in high risk areas; and then of course to the worst news of all. Finn isn't just another statistic in growing listing of missing hen harriers. Her life mattered, and she mattered to me."

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey and one of the most threatened. Most of the population is found in Scotland, making measures to protect them in this country vital. Open heather moorland habitats are preferred for nesting, however in large parts of eastern and southern Scotland, where this habitat is abundant and there is plenty of suitable prey, the hen harrier is largely absent due to illegal killing by humans, despite decades of full legal protection.

Duncan Orr-Ewing, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Species and Land Management said: “Satellite tags are more than 90% reliable and we would expect, if the birds had died from natural causes, to be able to recover both the tag and the body. But this has not been the case.

“The sudden disappearance of these protected rare birds shows that current legislation is not sufficient. We believe the introduction and enforcement of licensing of “driven” grouse shooting is now vital to help protect the hen harrier, as well as asserting other public interests in the way large areas of our upland landscapes are managed both sustainably and within the law. We are pleased that these matters are being considered by the current independent review of grouse moor management in Scotland, and look forward to some firm recommendations to Scottish Government from this panel in due course”. 

If you have any information relating to these incidents, call Police Scotland on 101.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB Scotland investigations on 0131 317 4100 or fill in the online form

Last Updated: Tuesday 28 August 2018

Tagged with: Country: Scotland Country: Scotland Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Hen harrier Topic: Scotland Topic: Scotland