With depressing predictability, news has emerged that one of this year’s young satellite-tagged hen harriers (a male called ‘Elwood’) has ‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath mountains just a few weeks after he fledged from his nest in Banffshire.
Another satellite-tagged bird of prey disappears in the Monadhliath Mountains
RSPB Scotland has today announced that a young male hen harrier, fitted with a satellite transmitter as part of the charity’s part EU funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, has gone missing on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness.
The bird, named Elwood, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire, which was being monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) ‘Heads-up for Harriers scheme’.
The transmitter’s data, being monitored by RSPB Scotland staff, indicated that the young bird fledged from its nest in the first week of July, but stayed close to the site in the hills above the River Spey until the 20th, when he began to travel more widely. By the 27th, he had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin.
The bird remained in this area, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on August 3rd. The bird’s last recorded position was on an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9.
Last week, news emerged that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had also disappeared in the northern Monadhliaths in the last five years, with three of these birds, whose transmitters were also functioning normally, going ‘off the radar’ this spring [see here].
Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations, said: “This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable, and illegal persecution is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this general area.
“This case is all the more depressing as the nest from which Elwood successfully fledged was monitored as part of a partnership project between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey – as soon as they move away from these areas they are being illegally killed.
“The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands. We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries.”
So what now, Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for the Environment? How are you going to react to this one? Are you going to tell us how ‘disappointed’ you are? Are you going to tell us that more research needs to be done to understand why driven grouse moors in Scotland are almost devoid of breeding hen harriers (and golden eagles and peregrines)? Are you going to tell us that the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime is effectively addressing this problem? Are you going to believe the lies of the organisations within the grouse-shooting industry that there is ‘no evidence’ that raptors are routinely and systematically killed on driven grouse moors? Are you going to tell us you’re still looking for ‘a pattern of suspicious activity’? Are you going to tell us that you will ‘not hesitate to take further action if deemed necessary’? Are you going to tell us we need to wait to see whether previous anti-persecution measures are working?
How about you tell us that you’ve had enough, that you believe that further action IS necessary and that you’ll be using your powers as Cabinet Secretary for the Environment to put an end to this shameful slaughter?
You could support the call for an introduction of licensing for all gamebird hunting in Scotland, so that these grouse-shooting estates can finally be held to account for their criminal acts. Well, assuming any licensing system is actually properly enforced, but that’s another matter.
And you really should pay attention to the strength of feeling against driven grouse shooting that has emerged south of the border (with considerable support from Scottish voters, too), which will now result in a parliamentary debate in Westminster later this autumn on the subject of banning driven grouse shooting.
Whatever you do, plenty of people here, and around the world, are watching.