Environment Minister ‘answers’ question about the lost Langholm hen harriers

Following yesterday’s report that Elaine Murray MSP had asked the Scottish Executive for information about the young hen harriers from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project (see here), Environment Minister Stewart Stevenson has provided a response:

S4W-04336 Elaine Murray: To ask the Scottish Executive what information it has regarding the number of hen harriers that have been satellite tagged as part of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project and what is known about the whereabouts of those birds.

Stewart Stevenson: In 2010, three hen harriers were satellite tagged as part of the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. All three have now stopped transmitting. One tag was recovered at Langholm, with no trace of the bird. The other two birds were tracked through southern Scotland, south west England and France and Spain. No tags or birds have been found.

In 2011, three birds were satellite tagged and all have now stopped transmitting. Transmissions were last received from south of Carlisle, in the Moorfoot Hills and France. No tags or birds have been found and there are no indications of the cause of the lost signals.

The life expectancy of the satellite tags used is between a few months to around three years. While live, the tags provide valuable information on hen harrier range and dispersal.

(Link to parliamentary questions and answers here)

It’s a shame the Environment Minister didn’t elaborate further, although he was probably just reciting the information he’d been given, possibly from government advisors at SNH or maybe from Natural England, who are responsible for the satellite tag data from Langholm. Could the lack of transparency be because two of the locations (in the Moorfoot Hills and in the Northern Pennines to the south east of Carlisle) from where the last known signals were transmitted, just happen to be grouse moors? And not just any old grouse moors. One grouse moor with a long history of alleged raptor persecution (dead raptors and poisoned bait found on different occasions but no convictions) and one grouse moor with a head keeper and under keeper convicted of raptor persecution (pole trapping and inproper storage and use of a pesticide). One of these estates has already been named on the Raptor Politics website (see here and here).

Is it just an unfortunate coincidence that the signals from these two young hen harriers failed after they were tracked to these two moors? It could well be. But it’s very hard to be optimistic when we hear that the hen harrier in England is just four precious nests away from extinction (see here).

Perhaps one of these days the Langholm Project officials will deem us all worthy of knowing all the facts about this publicly-funded project, which would allow us all to draw our own conclusions instead of being spoon-fed a clearly sterilised version of events.

Perhaps you don’t want to wait for something that might never happen though. In which case, you can email the Natural England spokesperson for the Langholm Project (press officer Emma Lusby) and ask her yourself: emma.lusby@naturalengland.org.uk

8 Responses to “Environment Minister ‘answers’ question about the lost Langholm hen harriers”

  1. 1 Circus maxima
    December 9, 2011 at 7:43 pm

    Include the words “freedom of information act” and ask for the last known co-ordinates.

    SNH are not government advisors…..they only tell the government what they want to know.

  2. December 9, 2011 at 8:23 pm

    It seems strange that the signals from all 6 transmitters stopped well within the expected lifetime transmission period, you would have thought that at least two or three of them would continue transmitting long enough to determine where the birds, (or transmittors) were located. If the technology is so poor as to be so unreliable in use they should look for some other more reliable method of tracking. Having a reasonable knowledge of electronics, I would say it was more likely some other fate caused them to stop transmitting, and I’m sure we all have a good idea what that fate was !!!

  3. 3 Mike Price
    December 10, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Along with the Hen Harrier that Roy Dennis tagged in 2010 and 2011, either there is a serious problem with these transmitters or the percentage of raptors disappearing in the black hole is far larger than anyone has proven, what are the chances of so many of the these birds that are carrying transmitters suddenly disappearing?

    see http://www.raptortrack.org

    1) November 15, 2011

    Sadly Keen’s gone missing – no news since last signals

    2) November 21, 2010

    The dark days of November can be a problem as very little sun hits the solar array on the transmitter as so we receive no transmissions., Glen was never seen again

    3) June 27, 2011

    No transmissions were received on 17th or 20th June. Looks as though we have lost Tanar – last transmissions on 14th June- when activity counter was showing live status on the last transmission of the session at 6.14pm. There have been no transmissions on 17th or 20th June – and still none since – so she has gone. Such a clear cut loss suggests she has been killed.

    Also other species

    Peregrine ;

    4) November 15, 2011

    No news of Aspen since the last signals – gone missing

    5) March 20, 2011

    No signals from Freya’s transmitter so it’s looking as though she is lost. Her transmitter has charged through the winter and so it’s more likely that she moved into new areas, where she was killed, rather than a transmitter fault. But will give it a bit longer in the hope of several days of bright sun to see if a new signal does come through.

    Golden Eagle

    6) Latest news (20th March) Tom’s transmitter has stopped giving signals and we have lost contact

    The next scheduled transmissions for Strathy were 21st and 25th September but no signals were received. The transmitter had been working perfectly throughout it’s lifetime and was expected to transmit for 3 -5 years; the solar panel was charging the battery. The transmitter used on this eagle stored hourly GPS locations from dawn to dusk and transmitted them to Argos CLS Toulouse satellites every four days. If the bird was killed it could have traveled anywhere on 18th, 19th and 20th so its final location is not known.

    Our conclusion is that this bird has probably been killed and the transmitter destroyed although it is impossible to be certain. Transmitter failure is not expected. A report was sent to Grampian Police Wildlife Crime Officer. If anyone has any information relating to this eagle, please report it to the officer at Banchory Police Station.

    7) February 28, 2011

    Lee’s transmitter was scheduled to switch to two-hourly schedule on 25th, and I was hoping that might ‘kick in’ renewed transmissions. No signals suggest that Lee is either dead or the transmitter has failed.

    8) Merlin

    January 16, 2011

    A short signal came in on 9th January from Corries transmitter – it gives hope that the transmitter has not been charging due to its small size and winter sun – let’s hope in the coming months it starts to transmit again.

  4. December 11, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Elaine Murray asked a good question. Stewart Stevenson gave an inadequate answer. Its quite clear that neither English Nature nor SNH have the resolve to address the red grouse/hen harrier issue & Langholm is just a pretence to be seen to be doing something. This reflects badly on the RSPB who are sharing a bed with those two imposters at Langholm. They should insist on complete transparity & integrity with regard to the tag monitoring & of the wider project. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a move to drop the tagging because its proving too embarrassing. Should the RSPB allow that to happen it would prove their lack of resolve too.

  5. 5 paul irving
    December 12, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    unfortunately unless somebody has been out to the position of the last fix to find any evidence all we have is supposition. Yes we all know what happens to the majority of harriers on grouse moors but it is the old old problem of proof. Statistically it looks loike most tagged die on grouse moors or at least the transmitters stop working, that gives the other side and the politicians too much wriggle room unfortunately. What we could do with is an assurance that last fix sites were visited and what was found if anything.

    • December 12, 2011 at 8:56 pm

      What would be the point of radio tagging these birds if the last known received position was not manually investigated after a reasonable time has elapsed since that last known position was recorded. At least it would look as if the project was receiving all the follow up possible, who knows, it may even turn up the odd transmitter, “perhaps” still attached to the bird !!! I would hope, (though not too confidentally) that even SNH/English Nature are not that naive and would make every effort to locate and retrieve these transmitters/birds where they were last heard from. The juries still out on the RSPB.

  6. 7 john miles
    December 12, 2011 at 4:53 pm

    In my opinion, it is well known that the only reason for a £3.5 million Langholm project is to stop Bucclugh’s estate taking SNH to court for damaging their Red Grouse moor. If all else fails heather will be the main species back at Langholm even though other habitats have to be destroyed to make it. The figure of £100,000 a year income for Red Grouse could have come from the breeding Golden Eagles and other Birds of Prey destroyed before the first project but in my opinion the estate is not interested in Birds of Prey or the local Langholm community being able to make money from sustainable tourism.

  7. December 12, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Why have maps & movemoments only been shown of the 2 males which went to France but nothing is shown for the 4 females all of which disappeared just either side of the border in grouse moor areas? The project stinks.

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