A satellite tagged hen harrier has been illegally killed on a Perthshire grouse moor. The remains of the young female, named Rannoch, were found by RSPB Scotland in May caught in a spring trap which had been set in the open, not permitted by law.
The post mortem report from SRUC veterinary laboratory said: “The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death. Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly. Either way the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering.”
Rannoch was satellite tagged by RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project in July 2017. Her tag data movements were followed closely by RSPB Scotland until 10th November 2018 when she stopped moving in an area of moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff. The solar powered tag battery drained before accurate location data could be gathered allowing her to be found, but after coming online again in May 2019 enough information was provided to locate her remains. A recent study showed that 72% of tagged British hen harriers are confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed.
Dr Cathleen Thomas, Project Manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “We are absolutely devastated that Rannoch has been a victim of crime; the life of this beautiful bird was cut short in the most horrific way due to human actions. Satellite tagging has revealed the amazing journeys made by hen harriers but also uncovers how their journeys end.
“Often the birds disappear with their tags suddenly ceasing to function as perpetrators go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their crimes; Rannoch’s death in a spring trap is evidence of one way in which these birds are being killed. In terms of their population size, hen harriers are the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK, and their population is now perilously low, so every loss we suffer impacts the continued survival of the species.”
Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations Scotland, said: “This latest killing of a hen harrier is truly appalling. The actions of the individual who set this trap were both reckless and indiscriminate, and showed a complete disregard for both the law and the welfare of local wildlife. Sadly, the catalogue of criminal killing of tagged hen harriers and other birds of prey continues unabated; we know many others are illegally killed and going undetected, so her death is part of the tip of the iceberg of the true level of criminality.
“At a time when our hen harrier population is in sharp decline, we repeat our call on the Scottish Government to take urgent action to regulate driven grouse shooting through a licensing scheme, with sanctions to remove licences to shoot on land where the public authorities are satisfied that illegal activities are occurring”.
Rannoch was one of two chicks who fledged from a Perthshire nest in an area owned and managed by Forestry and Land Scotland in July 2017. Her tag was fitted in partnership with local members of the Tayside Raptor Study Group and Forestry and Land Scotland, who monitored the nest together.
The tag data showed Rannoch spent most of her time in Perthshire before she stopped moving on 10th November 2018. As the tag had continued to function after she stopped moving, rather than coming to an abrupt halt, it was assumed that she had died of natural causes. The tag briefly transmitted more data in January this year, and again in May for longer, as the battery recharged in the spring sunlight. The second time more accurate location data was transmitted, allowing RSPB Scotland to finally recover Rannoch’s remains. When RSPB Scotland found Rannoch her leg was caught in a spring trap. Her body was recovered and delivered to the SRUC veterinary laboratory for a post mortem, and Police Scotland were notified.
Logan Steele, a member of the Tayside Raptor Study Group, which monitors hen harriers in the area said: “Rannoch and her sibling were the first birds to fledge from this site in ten years so I was very angry to hear she had died caught in an illegal trap. With so few hen harriers left in this part of Perthshire it is particularly worrying that this bird will not return to breed.”
Anyone with information about this crime or other bird of prey illegal persecution is urged to contact Police Scotland on 101, or the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.