Hen Harrier Holly: cause of death unknown

Hen Harrier Holly 2015In November 2015 we blogged about the death of satellite-tagged hen harrier, ‘Holly’, one of several birds being monitored by the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life+ Project.

Holly was a 2015 bird from a site on Ministry of Defence ground in Argyll. She fledged in August 2015 and in mid-October was reported to have dispersed to ‘the uplands of Central Scotland’. By November, data from her satellite tag suggested she had died but no further information was available at the time (see here).

Yesterday an update was posted on the RSPB’s Skydancer blog (here) as follows:

As soon as her satellite tag data showed us she had died, we went to the site– an area of upland farmland and forestry to the north east of Glasgow – to look for her. We searched the area thoroughly but, unfortunately, we were unable to locate her. This is disappointing as we would have wished to submit the body to a government laboratory for a post mortem examination to try to establish how she died.

Survival rates for young harriers like Holly are low, with only around 1 in 3 surviving to a year old.  These youngsters will often die of natural causes such as starvation, but we cannot speculate as to the cause of death in her case.

We will of course provide an update if any further information comes to light“.


What the update failed to mention was that as well as dying from natural causes, young hen harriers are also highly susceptible to illegal persecution (see here).

Another sat-tagged hen harrier from the project, named ‘Chance’, has been overwintering in France (see here).

Photo of Holly by John Simpson

4 Responses to “Hen Harrier Holly: cause of death unknown”

  1. 1 Doug Malpus
    February 6, 2016 at 11:25 am

    Sad news and my untrusting nature leads me to think the worst. Maybe I’m wrong but…..

  2. 2 crypticmirror
    February 6, 2016 at 1:26 pm

    It is a sad fact that while we do rightly vilify gamekeepers for their relentless persecution, we often forget that farmers are just as bad. If we can force some sort of real accountability for keepers and the shooting industry into land reform post the Scottish Elections (which will require an SNP majority, or SNP-Green coalition, because Labour will focus almost exclusively on Westminster differences not Scottish ones, same with Lib Dems hoping to rebuild their own party, and the Tories have no interest in Land Reform or reining in the grouse industry) then our next target will have to be the farming community. They are just as outright murderous towards wildlife as the keepers and bailiffs, and have abused the title of “Guardian of the Countryside” for far too many decades.

  3. February 6, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    This is so sad and it needs to be dealt with but in such an expansive area it will be difficult. If only more people could be recruited to the cause.

  4. 4 Tony Warburtopn MBE
    February 6, 2016 at 7:59 pm

    Sorry Crypticmirror, but you can’t place all farmers at the same level as gamekeepers. Modern day intensive farming and the wretched EU CAP grants and rules, plus the Farmer’s Union, DEFRA and the use of rodenticides do certainly play a major role in the current loss of biodiversity in the UK, as witnessed by their part in the on-going Badger cull, And certainly I fully accept that many large grant-funded farms owned by rich owners often run pheasant and partridge shoots and carry out ‘rough shooting’ – which undoubtedly results in the killing of birds of prey and other species. However, there are many farmers who live on a wing and a prayer (ask any dairy farmer) do manage their land with wildlife in mind, and speaking personally and also for many other conservation groups, we are extremely grateful for literally thousands of farmers who have Barn Owl and Kestrel nest boxes on their land and are delighted when these result in successful breeding. I might add that certain so-called Raptor Protection Groups don’t always act in a way which benefits the birds. But that is another story. What we need to do is clone RPS!

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