An appeal for information has been issued after a hen harrier fitted with a satellite hag has disappeared.
Female hen harrier Mabel was one of four chicks that fledged in July 2018 from a nest site in the Cumbrian area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
Along with her sibling Tom, she was fitted with a satellite tag on July 10 by Natural England.
Since fledging, Mabel has been into Teesdale and wandered as far north as Allenheads, and also spent time around the Tan Hill area.
The transmitter functioned up until October 2, with the last signal being received from the Little Smale Gill area in Cumbria, north of Ravenseat Moor – but the bird could have been further afield when something happened to Mabel or the transmitter.
Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey, with just three successful nests recorded in England in 2017.
Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. However, despite full legal protection, their numbers remain consistently very low.
A search was conducted by Natural England staff but no tag or body was found. Cumbria Constabulary and North Yorkshire Police were informed, and are making enquiries.
Sergeant Stuart Grainger, of North Yorkshire Police, said: “I was lucky enough to spend some time monitoring Mabel’s nest site, and, despite following birds all my life, this was the very first time I’d ever seen a male or female hen harrier because they are so rare.
“It is therefore particularly upsetting that one of the fledglings from the nest has inexplicably gone missing. I would urge anyone with information to come forward.”
PC Helen Branthwaite, of Cumbria Constabulary, said: “It is extremely worrying to hear of Mabel’s disappearance and that we are facing another enquiry into a missing hen harrier. With so few successful nest sites every bird that is lost has a severe impact on the conservation status of this rare bird.”
A spokesperson for Natural England said: “The sudden disappearance of the hen harrier, Mabel, is a matter of grave concern. We urge anyone with information to get in touch with North Yorkshire Police.”
Landowner farmer Andrew Brown said: “It was a pleasant surprise when Natural England staff knocked on my door and let me know these rare birds were likely to breed on my land.
“The experience of watching them throughout the spring and early summer from building their nest to fledging four chicks was a real privilege.
“NE gave me the chance to see them close up when they were satellite-tagged, and it was an honour to name the tagged birds Mabel and Tom after my grandparents. It is such a shame that something may have happened to Mabel. NE were keeping me regularly updated about Mabel and Tom’s whereabouts, and I was looking forward to hopefully welcoming them back next year.”
David Butterworth, Chief Executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, said: “There was delight from all right minded people when four hen harrier chicks fledged earlier this year in the National Park. That has been matched by the despair felt that one of the birds, Mabel, has now gone missing.
“The North of England has an unenviable reputation for criminal activity in terms of raptor persecution, so it’s hard not to think the worst in this case. However, for the moment we would strongly support the efforts of North Yorkshire and Cumbria Police to find Mabel, and would urge anyone with information to contact the police as soon as possible.”
Anyone with any information about the hen harrier’s disappearance should contact Cumbria Constabulary or North Yorkshire Police on 101. Alternatively, speak to the RSPB in confidence, by calling the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.