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