Appeal after hen harrier disappears in Yorkshire Dales

Hen harrier. File pic.

The RSPB is appealing for information after the disappearance of a satellite-tagged hen harrier in the Yorkshire Dales and has suggested it could have been shot on a grouse moor.

But shooting representatives say that just because the bird’s last known location was on a grouse moor, it does not mean it was illegally killed.

Dryad, a male hen harrier, hatched at a nest in the Forest of Bowland this summer.

He was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag so that scientists could trace his movements once he fledged.

But the bird stopped transmitting on September 7.

The tag’s last transmission showed the bird had been roosting on a grouse moor between Kirkby Stephen and Ravenseat in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

RSPB staff searched the area but found no trace of Dryad or his tag.

Dryad has not been heard from since.

The charity claims the Dales have become a ‘hotspot’ for suspicious hen harrier disappearances.

In July this year a hen harrier named Harriet, tagged by Natural England, sent her last transmission near Outhgill, just over the border in Cumbria.

A further two disappeared, last transmitting near Bowes, County Durham and Askrigg, North Yorkshire respectively in September 2019. And in 2016, the hen harrier Rowan was found shot in Ravenstonedale, Cumbria.

Elsewhere in North Yorkshire, in 2019 the body of another satellite tagged hen harrier known as River was found shot on the Swinton Estate, North Yorkshire.

Mark Thomas, RSPB head of investigations UK, said: “Illegal killing is the number one factor stalling hen harrier conservation in the UK. Despite all the positive news around 60 juveniles fledging in England this clearly shows the fate of many of these birds once they disperse. Sadly we expect further suspicious disappearances in the next few months following the well-established pattern of previous years.

“If Dryad had died naturally, we would expect his tag to continue transmitting, allowing us to find and recover both body and tag.

“The sudden stop of satellite tags, particularly considering the history of persecution in this area, strongly points to human interference.”

Mark continues: “It is blatantly clear that current legislation is failing to protect our birds of prey and that criminality continues unchecked on grouse moors.

“The Government must act urgently and commit to licensing of grouse shooting with sanctions to withdraw licenses to shoot where criminal behaviours are proven to the satisfaction of the public authorities. Law-abiding estates would have nothing to fear from this approach.”

In response, Sonya Wiggins, from the Yorkshire Dales moorland Group, which represents shoots in the Dales, said it was worrying to hear the bird had disappeared.

“We hope that the bird will reappear safe and well,” she said.

“Within the Dales, hen harriers spend most of their time on land managed for grouse shooting, so most of their transmissions are likely to come from grouse moors, but this does not mean it has been illegally killed on one and they can travel huge distances between transmissions.”

The group pointed to a case in 2017 when a hen harrier disappeared and then reappeared, and its tag was found to be faulty.

Sonya added: “The Moorland Association, along with all other shooting organisations condemn any illegal activity and the joint statement below was issued last year, to which we remain committed.

“This year has been a record year for hen harriers in England with 19 nests producing 52 fledged young.

“12 of these nests were on land managed for grouse shooting.

“Given that grouse shooting as a land use takes place on approximately 25 to 30 per cent of English uplands, our moors are delivering a disproportionately higher number of successful nests and fledged young than any other land use and we are proud of the part we are playing in the recovery of the species.”