Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Bonny’ is missing, presumed dead

Another one of the preciously small group of hen harriers that managed to fledge in England last year has been reported as missing, presumed dead.

Read the news on the RSPB’s Skydancer blog here.

This time it’s Bonny. Bonny was particularly special. He was the first hen harrier to successfully fledge on the RSPB’s Geltsdale Reserve in ten years. He was mischievously named after Tim Bonner, head of the Countryside Alliance (watch the video here) by Chris Packham, as part of the Lush Skydancer Bathbomb campaign. Bonny was featured on the BBC’s Autumnwatch programme, which was a major coup because usually the BBC shies away from the ‘controversy’ of hen harrier persecution but by filming Bonny being fitted with his satellite tag, this allowed a ‘non-controversial’ way of introducing a massive BBC audience to the plight of hen harriers – hopefully his story will be covered in the BBC’s forthcoming Winterwatch, which airs next week, thus providing an opportunity to discuss what might have happened to this young harrier.

As the RSPB’s Skydancer project manager Blanaid Denman says on the Skydancer blog, we don’t know what happened to Bonny. His signal went dead on 14 December 2016 on a moor a few kilometres to the east of Geltsdale. It’s possible it’s a tag failure, but the probability of something more sinister is far greater, especially when you consider the history of raptor persecution in the Geltsdale area.

Over the years, the bodies of five shot hen harriers have been found (the killing of one of these was witnessed by RSPB investigators – see pages 38-40 in Mark Avery’s book Inglorious for a detailed description), there have been at least four attempted shootings of hen harriers, and another hen harrier was found poisoned. In addition, there have been poisoned ravens, poisoned buzzards and some shot peregrines.

Some of these crimes happened on the Geltsdale Reserve (safe to assume this wasn’t the handiwork of the RSPB wardens) and some of the crimes happened on nearby grouse moors. Take a look at the map and note those big brown smudges. When you look at the extent of the driven grouse moors here, and the long, long history of raptor persecution, it’s a miracle that Bonny even fledged in the first place.

The class of 2016 are not doing very well. In addition to Bonny, here are some of the others that didn’t make it to Xmas:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging.

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging.

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead.

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes.

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. Cumbria Police said ‘likely to have been shot’. There is no ambiguity – this bird was shot (more on this soon).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park.

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead.

Eight down, seven to go (Aalin, Carroll, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel).

Photograph of hen harrier Bonny by Mark Thomas


32 Responses to “Satellite-tagged hen harrier ‘Bonny’ is missing, presumed dead”

  1. 1 Lyn Ebbs
    January 20, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    I think it was a major coup that Bonny’s tagging featured on Autumnwatch rather than a major coo, though I expect a lot of people went ‘Aaaaw’. I hope they will now ask some angry questions about his likely death.

    [Ed: thanks, Lyn, another reader had already told us about the mis-spelling, now amended!]

  2. January 20, 2017 at 5:56 pm

    Doh! now come on, these birds might have been killed by wind farms, lets ask the purposefully ignorant for a map of imaginary wind farms nearby?

    Perhaps they were caught in pole traps, the sentence for using such barbaric traps being just a police caution.

    Maybe the bird watchers have killed them with their binoculars, scopes and cameras?

    Perhaps the wrong tags were used and they ended up with tags from India that were destined for use on Sea Turtles.

    Maybe they will turn up with broken legs as a result of hitting a fence, which believe it nor not is amazingly similar to the damage that could be caused to an Eagle by an illegal trap.

    Then again maybe it’s time some people took their heads from up their arses, the misinformation and propaganda brigade are as big a problem as those that are culpable of such crimes, they have proven time and time again that their biggest priority is to try to muddy the waters and limit the damage that the negative PR is doing to shooting.

    Given that this a priority crime area, I see very little evidence that there has been any improvement in raptor persecution crime in upland areas. Isn’t it time that the English Government starting looking in a bit more detail at the population data for raptor species in these high risk areas and started asking some questions?

  3. 3 Peter Shearer
    January 20, 2017 at 6:45 pm

    Hopefully the public are beginning to wake up to this subject and we all need to keep up the pressure.

  4. 4 Marco McGinty
    January 20, 2017 at 8:34 pm

    There is no reason whatsoever for the BBC to ignore this issue during the forthcoming Winterwatch series, indeed with the tagging process being filmed for, and aired on Autumnwatch, this story (and the long back story of persecution) should now be a major discussion for the whole series of Winterwatch, so I truly hope that the BBC doesn’t impose some form of censorship. However they have a long history of censoring such issues, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the BBC orders a total blackout.

    • January 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

      there is a huge cover up of all the activities of the Shooting industry and the Hunting that breaks our Anti Hunting Laws constantly and has the support of the government and therefore the police. Quite why the government and aforementioned orgs want no wildlife left at all, except those they wish to kill, is beyond me. I suppose that its the profits from the shoots and though the majority of us want fox hunting ended entirely, the majority of Tory MPs want the Countryside Alliance votes.

    • January 21, 2017 at 12:38 pm

      London Calling gives little hope of the BBC rocking the boat in any way. I have given up on it as a news channel. We need a channel 4 expose.

      The presentation especially the music, is in some cases over the top but the content is pretty solid.

      • January 21, 2017 at 1:15 pm

        Sorry that wasn’t intended to show as an embedded screen or to start anywhere but the beginning.

      • 8 Marco McGinty
        January 23, 2017 at 3:01 am

        I gave up on the BBC a long time ago, as they, along with the majority of mainstream media in the UK, are utterly corrupt. They simply cannot be trusted to tell the truth, they will deliberately lie on a frequent basis, and despite their proclamations that fairness, integrity and impartiality are core values, the organisation lacks all of these qualities.

        Glad to see other eyes have been opened to the sham that is BBC journalism and reporting.

  5. 9 lizzybusy
    January 21, 2017 at 12:26 am

    Offence 1
    Protection of Birds Act 1954, S1(a) – Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs

    “If, save as permitted by or under this Act, any person wilfully

    (a)kills, injures or takes, or attempts to kill, injure or take (ie capture), any wild bird; or

    he shall be guilty of an offence against this Act …

    and if that offence is committed in respect of a bird included in the First Schedule to this Act shall be liable to a special penalty…

    Wild birds and their eggs protected by special penalties

    Part I
    At all times
    Montagu’s harrier
    Bittern (all species)
    Honey Buzzard
    Common Quail
    Common Crossbill (in England and Wales only)
    Eagle (all species)
    Goshawk, Greenshank
    Black Tern

    Part II
    During the close season
    Brambling Godwit,
    Black-tailed Whimbrel
    Wild duck of the following species—
    Common scoter
    Garganey teal
    Goldeneye Long-tailed duck
    Velvet scoter
    Wild geese of the following species—
    Grey lag goose.”

    Offence 2
    Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, S1 Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs.

    S1 “Protection of wild birds, their nests and eggs.

    (1)Subject to the provisions of this Part, if any person intentionally—
    (a)kills, injures or takes any wild bird;

    he shall be guilty of an offence.”

  6. 10 Les Wallace
    January 21, 2017 at 1:54 pm

    I’m still working through the video of the presentation to MSPs on the 10th of January re wildlife crime. Was notable that Andy Smith, committee member of SGA I believe, was questioned about the lack of raptors of raptors on many grouse moors tried to say that was a mystery and they were missing from some RSPB reserves too, and mentioned Abernethy as an example! Glad to say Ian Thomson rebuffed him about that, but how desperate and pathetic can you get? It sprang to mind at the time that if there are any reserves where BOP numbers are low might be because they are next to shooting estates. Am I right in saying that the harriers nesting on Geltsdale etc last year received supplementary feeding that ostensibly was to help them raise young, but would also reduce the chance that the males flying onto neighbouring estates and getting bumped off?

  7. 11 Lurker
    January 21, 2017 at 2:44 pm

    Not suggesting that persecution isn’t a significant issue but how many satellite tagged birds are hit by vehicles and the tag destroyed that way ?

    • 12 heclasu
      January 21, 2017 at 3:44 pm

      Lurker: I am not at all certain about the motivation behind your question but I will answer it anyway. As one who regularly encounters Hen Harriers when driving I can state with confidence that they are extremely adept at steering clear of vehicles and staying out of trouble.

    • January 21, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Given the frequency with which Harriers hunt motorway central reservations…. they have evolved a a special ability to deal with flying pigs.

    • 14 Paul V Irving
      January 22, 2017 at 6:14 am

      The only harrier I’ve seen on a motor way verge was a marsh harrier and that easyly avoided any vehicles get real this is not a major hazard to harriers gamekeepers with guns with little or no regard for the law clearly are.

    • 15 Marco McGinty
      January 23, 2017 at 3:12 am

      Lurker, have you ever heard of a Hen Harrier, White-tailed Eagle, Golden Eagle, etc, being injured or killed by a car/lorry/bus?

      Me neither, but it was a nice attempt at deflecting from the subject of illegal persecution.

      • 16 Lurker
        January 23, 2017 at 7:43 am

        I think I did say that I wasn’t saying persecution wasn’t a serious issue so will ignore all the comments that suggest I was. The replies all resounding me tell me that it never happens. I’ll take it that that means nobody knows.

        • January 23, 2017 at 11:11 am

          Flying spaghetti monsters ‘never happen’…..so ‘that means no body knows’!

          Seriously, if cars were silent it might be a problem but it is pretty obvious that birds get a screaming advanced warning by a car. There is no evidence that cars are a significant problem.
          It might become a problem when flying electric cars become the norm.

          • 18 Lurker
            January 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm

            Oh right, I’ve hit birds when driving my car and it’s neither electric nor silent and I’ve also seen birds on the road which were dead, I would suggest most likely as a result of vehicle strike. Although birds are, I agree, pretty good at avoiding traffic it does happen. I was merely asking if there were data from tagged (or ringed) populations on the scale of the issue.

            • January 23, 2017 at 1:19 pm

              The Red Kites from the Chilterns and Buzzards seem to be doing fine everywhere. Not sure why you think it would be a problem for Hen Harriers?
              Low flying small woodland birds get hit by cars as they dash from cover to cover and released Pheasants are a frequent casualty.

              • 20 Lurker
                January 23, 2017 at 10:20 pm

                I reiterate I’m not saying that persecution is not a serious issue but a little googling leads me to this:


                Seems it can and does happen.

                • 21 Marco McGinty
                  January 23, 2017 at 11:04 pm

                  Well done, Lurker! You’ve spent the best part of a day trying to find some instances of conflict between cars and satellite-tagged raptors, and you’ve hit upon one incident when a Hen Harrier was struck by a car.

                  The mere fact that you have struggled to come up with any definitive result has left you clutching at straws, and no doubt, within your mind, you will be savouring this moment as a tremendous victory over “the antis”.

                  However, what you have actually achieved is that you have destroyed your very argument. Yes, a Hen Harrier was injured in this case, but the major flaw in your “exposé” is that no satellite tag was involved in this case, never mind one that was destroyed or damaged beyond repair. You have failed to provide any evidence whatsoever that satellite-tagged raptors are falling victim to road traffic collisions, and their tags are being destroyed.

                  So, it looks like you will have to revisit the drawing board (or your web searches) for your conclusive proof that satellite tags are being destroyed by vehicular traffic.

                  • 22 Lurker
                    January 23, 2017 at 11:35 pm

                    Actually Mr McGinty it took me about 2 minutes. I’m not savouring anything and no argument has been proven either way. I asked a simple question, other contributors said “harriers are never hit by cars” or words to that effect. All I’m suggesting is that it does happen or are you suggesting that only non-tagged birds can be struck. Once again, for it seems many people cannot read “I am not suggesting that persecution doesn’t happen!”.

                    • 23 heclasu
                      January 24, 2017 at 3:01 am

                      So, what are you actually trying to prove Lurker? Apart from attempting to muddy the water that is? If you are not ‘savouring’ anything why do you persist? I would suggest that the replies you have received to your question do more than suggest that vehicles present virtually no problem to HH. And no wonder, given the species preference to hunt in open country for a start. Furthermore, the number of tagged HH is a VERY small percentage of the actual number of birds throughout the UK – so the chances of one of those birds coming into conflict with a motor vehicle must be virtually nil.

                      To put it into some kind of perspective for you. I have lived in an area with one of the highest densities of Hen Harriers in the UK, if not Europe, for over thirty years. I drive nearly every day. I see them nearly every day. Not once in all that time have I seen a hen harrier as a road-kill victim. And, believe me, I take more than a passing interest in these things.

                      Finally, if you take the trouble to look through this blog at posts where a tagged bird has been lost, you will see a trend. If you can’t see it then either you are blind or you don’t want to see it! I am not going to spell it out for you but I will give you a hint – there is no mention of ‘roads’, nor ‘vehicles’, nor ‘road kills’ anywhere!

                      Give it a rest!

                    • 24 Marco McGinty
                      January 24, 2017 at 5:26 pm

                      It took you about 2 minutes, did it? Let us recap on the timeline, shall we?

                      At 2.44pm on 21 January 2017, you initially asked about the number of satellite-tagged raptors that are killed by vehicular traffic. The motives behind such a suggestion were asked by heclasu at 3.44pm the same day, followed by circusmaxim at 4.11pm. The next day, at 6.14am, Paul V Irving had his say, and all three suggested that such an occurrence of a sat-tagged raptor being hit by a car/bus/lorry would be incredibly rare. I made a similar comment at 3.12am on 23 January, more than a day and a half after your initial comment. You replied at 7.13am the same day, still with no evidence of sat-tagged Hen Harriers, White-tailed Eagles or Golden Eagles being killed by vehicular traffic.

                      Anandprasad ridiculed your claim at 11.11am, followed by your suggestion that because you have hit birds when driving, it must happen with sat-tagged raptors, at midday. Anandprasad then informed you (at 1.19pm) that because woodland birds are sometimes hit traversing roadways, and that released Pheasants are frequently killed on roads, does not suggest that the same happens to sat-tagged raptors.

                      Eventually, at 10.20pm on 23 January, you finally provide your “evidence”, failing to recognise that the incident you linked to, did not involve a bird wearing a satellite tag. I then informed you of the major flaw in this at 11.04pm. So, your “evidence” finally arrived almost 32 hours after your assertion was challenged. If it only took you “about 2 minutes” to find your “evidence”, why wait nearly 32 hours to post about it? Seems a strange tactic to me.

                      Your second point centred on your belief that “no argument has been proven either way.” Seriously? I think the evidence that very few, if any, sat-tagged HH, WE or EA have been hit by cars and the transmitter destroyed as a result of the collision, proves that you are spouting a load of nonsense.

                      Now onto your final point. You have stated that “All I’m suggesting is that it does happen or are you suggesting that only non-tagged birds can be struck.” As heclasu has professionally destroyed your argument on that point, I don’t need to add anything else.

                      Indeed, there’s probably just as much chance that an Olive Ridley Turtle would fall victim to RTA!

  8. 25 Lurker
    January 24, 2017 at 3:58 pm

    Actually just trying to get to the truth but think I’ll give that “a rest”

    • January 24, 2017 at 5:05 pm

      Lurker you wrote
      “other contributors said “harriers are never hit by cars” or words to that effect.”

      No one said anything remotely like that but twice you tried to claim it. It is a straw man fallacy.

      Everyone said it wasn’t relevant to Hen Harrier persecution and the loss of tags (my summary).

      I thought you did well to find that one accident though.

      It is a classic concern troll tactic to start a sentence with something like “I am not suggesting that persecution doesn’t happen!” and then plough into the opposite direction so I and others have questioned your motive. It really does sound like something a grouser would say.
      If I am completely wrong why not contribute to the tagging crowdfund.

    • 28 Marco McGinty
      January 24, 2017 at 5:36 pm

      “Actually just trying to get to the truth but think I’ll give that “a rest””

      The fact that you have stated that, would suggest that you firmly believe that RTAs are indeed responsible for many of the disappeared HH, WE and EA throughout the years.

      So, despite you having zero evidence to support this belief, you are still prepared to propagate this obvious lie. Quelle surprise! I think you should give it a rest, Lurker, because all you seem to have is fallacious fuckwittery.

      • 29 Lurker
        January 24, 2017 at 6:14 pm

        Thanks Mr McGinty for your rude and patronising response. At no point did I suggest that traffic accidents were the major cause of bird deaths, that is what you ( and other contributors) want to believe is my position.

        I posed the question here in the belief that there would have been studies done on the incidence of bird deaths caused by RTAs. As no-one had any information and the tone of the responses was most certainly don’t be ridiculous that never happens I spent a few minutes googling (my google history suggests) and found that it did happen. At no point did I suggest a belief that this was how the majority of birds met their deaths.

        Quelle surprise indeed that rather than a reasoned interchange you have reduced yourself to being rude and bigoted. I do salute your alliterative skills.

        • 30 Marco McGinty
          January 24, 2017 at 6:53 pm

          If you consider someone completely debunking your nonsensical claims as being “rude and patronising”, then that is entirely up to yourself. It is an utterly absurd position to take, but you are free to do so.

          However, no-one has stated that you suggested that road traffic was the major cause of bird deaths, that was another lie and quite obviously as a result of your wild imagination. You are free to revisit the above comments, and you will soon realise that you have somehow managed to manipulate the text to suit your own agenda, and deliberately lied in the process.

          You may well consider that there would have been studies into mortality rates of sat-tagged HH, WE and EA as a result of road traffic collisions, but it obviously never occurred to you that perhaps it has never happened. As for your assertion that “I spent a few minutes googling and found that it did happen.”, well, no it didn’t. You contributed a link to an incident that slaughtered your own argument. Patently, you do not consider this to be the case, so I will reiterate what was stated in the previous correspondence – the injured Hen Harrier was not wearing a satellite tag! How can a bird not wearing a sat-tag, being injured in a traffic collision, possibly relate to satellite tags being destroyed by vehicular traffic? I take it you are able to see the major flaw in that? Once again, no-one mentioned anything about the “majority” of birds meeting their deaths in such a way. You have to stop lying, Lurker.

          I consider my approach to be reasoned, as instead of propagating misinformation and falsehoods, I tend to use evidence in my comments, and will argue against obvious lies. You should try the evidence-based approach once in a while, instead of the farcical nonsense you so often employ.

        • January 24, 2017 at 7:03 pm

          ‘don’t be ridiculous that never happens’
          There you go, third time lucky.
          So for the third time. No one said that. The fact that you continue is suspicious.
          I am not saying you are a concern-troll just that you act like one.
          Pity RPUK doesn’t show posting history.
          Made your donation yet?

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