Mystery hen harrier ‘John’ from the class of 2016

Yesterday Mark Avery wrote a blog about DEFRA’s ridiculous hen harrier brood meddling plan, due to start this year.

In his blog, Mark reminded us that in 2016 there were four young hen harriers that were satellite-tagged at two nests on Forestry Commission land in Northumberland, as mentioned in this local newspaper article last summer.

Since the summer of 2016, we’ve been able to follow the movements of two of those birds because their sat tags were fitted by the RSPB, who have posted fortnightly updates on the RSPB Hen Harrier Life Project website. One of those birds (Finn) is still alive, and the other one (Carroll) is dead.

So what of the other two birds, tagged in Northumberland by Natural England?

Well, one of them was called Mick, and we were told nothing about this bird until a few days ago when we learned he’d ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park just before Xmas 2016.

The other one, we’ve learned on the grapevine, is/was called ‘John’. Again, we’ve been told nothing of this bird’s movements since he fledged last summer – we don’t even know if he’s still alive.

Nothing like a bit of public engagement, eh Natural England?

We’ll need to update our record on the fate of the class of 2016, now we know about Mick & John. So here it is:

Hen harrier Elwood – ‘disappeared’ in the Monadhliaths just a few weeks after fledging (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Brian – ‘disappeared’ in the Cairngorms National Park just a few weeks after fledging (Aug ’16).

Hen harrier Donald – missing in northern France, presumed dead (Autumn ’16).

Hen harrier Hermione – found dead on Mull, believed to have died from natural causes (Sep ’16).

Hen harrier Rowan – found dead in Yorkshire Dales National Park. He’d been shot (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Tarras – ‘disappeared’ in the Peak District National Park (Oct ’16).

Hen harrier Beater – missing in Scottish Borders, presumed dead (Nov ’16).

Hen harrier Bonny – ‘disappeared’ in the North Pennines, presumed dead (Dec ’16)

Hen harrier Mick – ‘disappeared’ in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, presumed dead (Dec ’16).

Hen harrier Carroll – found dead in Northumberland, PM revealed a parasitic disease & two shotgun pellets (Jan ’17).

Ten down, seven to go (Aalin, DeeCee, Finn, Harriet, Wendy, Sorrel, John).

22 Responses to “Mystery hen harrier ‘John’ from the class of 2016”

  1. 1 Dylanben
    February 11, 2017 at 6:56 pm

    It is highly probable that the attrition rate is significantly higher than that known in relation to tagged birds, it being very unlikely that the dark side is targeting only those with tags. I don’t recollect seeing any comments from them regarding the dead harriers with lead in them. Maybe they don’t count as offences in their eyes, nobody having been prosecuted and found guilty of shooting at them.

  2. 2 Nimby
    February 11, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    Ten ‘lost’ in a year or so …. what are the odds of the remaining members of the class of 2016 having a reunion in say 2018? In fact, never let it be said that I’m not a realist : what are the odds on any of the remaining class of 2016 surviving this season?

  3. February 11, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    This proves the obviously huge toll on this species on grouse moors – if even the bulk of the small number of tagged birds are killed, then there is of course a huge loss of untagged birds.

    Diito Gos, Kite, Buzzard, Golden eagle etc etc.

    Keep up the pressure !

  4. 5 Tim Dixon
    February 11, 2017 at 8:22 pm

    Can we not submit a FOI request to ascertain the current status of “John”?

  5. 6 Doug Malpus
    February 11, 2017 at 8:26 pm

    Hideous crime levels and they keep on getting off without penalty.


  6. 7 Iain Gibson
    February 11, 2017 at 9:14 pm

    We’re quick to criticise the brood meddling plan, but why has no-one, especially RSPB, been seriously resisting it? It’s an atrocious travesty against a rare protected species in just about every independent person’s opinion, and we all seem to be suitably appalled, but thinking about it more deeply, it’s almost unbelievable that it is happening at all. I can see no scientific or conservation justification for it. If the ridiculous scheme goes ahead and is declared a success, it means that for the foreseeable future the UK Hen Harrier population will be substantially reduced from its true potential. Why is this inevitable outcome not highlighted? I would presume that there is also a very real danger that the scheme would be extended into Scotland as well. Why are we allowing this to happen? Why is the RSPB not setting up a legal challenge? Or are we just holding fire to see what happens? It might be too late.

    • February 11, 2017 at 11:15 pm

      Iain, all your above questions can be very simply answered with the fact that the grouse shooting brigade are looked upon very kindly by the Conservative government, meaning that the likes of unNatural England do everything they can to appease the nasty brigade.

      • 9 Iain Gibson
        February 12, 2017 at 1:45 am

        Andy, by implication does that also apply to RSPB? Okay, they withdrew their support for the Defra plan due to disagreeing with the brood meddling aspect, but only after some internal discussion. Since then they have remained not completely silent on the matter, but I can’t understand why they don’t attack the proposal with some vigour. The major ornithological organisations seem reluctant to become intensively involved in conservation issues, for reasons which aren’t too clear in my mind. The BTO remains relatively quiet in order to uphold its impartial scientific credibility, and the RSPB is constrained by their Royal Charter which prevents them from criticising “legitimate field sports.” The organisation I am closest to, the Scottish Ornithologists’ Club, has declared itself “not a conservation body,” and also seems to steer clear of calls to stand up and be counted in the grouse shooting debate. In Scotland I hear next to nothing emanating from the Scottish Wildlife Trust. Even my own Branch of the Scottish Raptor Study Group refuses to permit its valuable data to be used to counter the pathetic scientific justification for brood meddling advocated by the Defra partners, including the Hawk & Owl Trust. Is this just apathy, or am I missing something obvious?

        Some aspects of harrier breeding biology are rarely mentioned or perhaps misunderstood. I believe the dynamics of their breeding strategy is slightly more complicated than fully realised, and an important element is the partly nomadic nature of breeding territory uptake. We know that nesting density and egg production are determined largely by the density of field vole populations in spring, but the importance of semi-colonial breeding may be underestimated in terms of sustaining the wider metapopulation of harriers. This is not a new concept to the science, and I suspect most harrier workers are well aware of it. However the brood meddling project will effectively wipe out the harriers’ ability to take full advantage of vole plagues, which are notoriously patchy. Even the normal four-year cycle is not always reliable or evenly distributed on a landscape scale. Reducing the overall density to a maximum of 0.8 pairs per 10-km square will have a devastating effect on the harriers’ survival and conservation status. It means that birds will be unable to concentrate in areas of temporary high vole density, thus not being able to take advantage of the productivity possible in such areas. This effect is currently masked by the high level of persecution inflicted upon the birds. I’d like to hear how the Hawk & Owl Trust and other partners in brood meddling would answer these criticisms of their particular approach. As far as I’m concerned it should be a non-starter and a no-brainer.

        • 10 Iain Gibson
          February 12, 2017 at 2:51 am

          Correction – a maximum of 1.2 pairs per 10-km square.

        • 12 Northern Diver
          February 12, 2017 at 12:32 pm

          I once tried to get Bradford Birders to notify their members about a nearby talk by Mark Avery. Their representative refused and said this “we are not a pressure group and there are sufficient organisations to join relating to wildlife matters. We leave it to our members to choose their own preferences.”

          Such blinkered interests. Birding seems to be just a list-ticking exercise to them. No wonder the shooting estates and their employees think they can slaughter our wildlife with impunity. I don’t think trying to protect endangered species and stop the desecration of our upland environment is being part of a “pressure group”!
          I know the RSPB people on the ground are mostly doing a great job. It seems to be the top of the hierarchy who are dragging their feet. Have they been infiltrated by the landowning classes? Or are they just running scared?

        • February 12, 2017 at 1:08 pm

          Dave, I feel that the RSPB are only interested in making money these days, you can see that from their nicey-nicey adverts.
          Anything that is too controversial is avoided, especially where it might interfere with the current establishment’s vested interests.
          So to answer your question, yes, by implication it does apply to the RSPB.
          Go to a RSPB reserve and ask about raptor persecution; I doubt you will get any sort of reasonable answer. In fact I’d go as far as to say that very few RSPB employees know anything about raptor persecution, why should they, after all they’re earning a wage so why rock the boat?

          Most people appear to bury their heads when it comes to this issue.
          I’ve mentioned the raptor persecution issue to many people over the last year, since I became fully aware of it after reading ‘Inglorious’, and while at first people seem interested they also soon forget.
          When I share RPUK’s posts on my social media pages I receive responses that make me feel like I’m interfering, keep-yer-nose-out type comments.
          There are so few people, relatively, that know about this subject that there’s very little chance of the general public ever getting to really know what goes on behind the shooting scene, the scene that lets the public know how good they are for conservation, the scene that uses the likes of a famous ex-England cricketer to shout from the stands, the scene that provides the ‘Gift of Grouse’.
          The UK’s public certainly know far more about the poaching of the World’s elephants and rhinos than they know about their own country’s wildlife persecution.
          The few raptor workers there are have very little chance of changing the public’s mindset, and certainly not the shooters’.

          I do not know what the overall answer is.
          I would like to see the RSPB take a much firmer stance, but I doubt they ever will.
          We need an RSPB equivalent that will take on the firearms users.
          Perhaps a separate section of the RSPB, with the ‘Royal’ taken out and replaced with ‘P’ for Public, and the ‘B’ replaced with ‘R’ for Raptors; PSPR; the Public Society for the Protection of Raptors.

          And as far as ‘meddling’ is concerned; that is just a total no-no.
          Definition of meddle; interfere with something that is not one’s concern, touch or handle (something) without permission.

          What the f do i know anyway?

    • February 12, 2017 at 8:42 am

      I agree with Iain on this (and I usually try to defend the RSPB!): they appear way too timid and quiet at the moment on this issue. Does the RSPB itself not appreciate the gravity of this situation – how removal of a protected species to make way for an intensifying land use flies in the face of hard-won conservation principles? One principle is that land use should be moderated within our very best wildlife sites (SPAs and SACs) if it poses a risk to designated habitats and species. I can sort of understand how the Wildlife Trusts have chosen absence on this issue because they’re generally rubbish at site safeguard advocacy, but the RSPB is usually seen as at the forefront.

  7. 16 Paul V Irving
    February 12, 2017 at 8:32 am

    A derogation granted to NE by themselves with their agents HOT and ICBP or is it NCBP will be claimed as legal. I’m not sure it is what will their reason be they will claim undoubtedly it will be a conservation experiment, yet it isn’t it is as others have said to limit density on grouse moors, it doesn’t favour the harriers at all.Perhaps it will be claimed a a persecution preventative, nest cameras do that. The whole thing should be challenged in the courts. We cannot just stand by and let this travesty happen.

    • 17 Dylanben
      February 12, 2017 at 1:02 pm

      Fully agree. Question is, who’s got enough clout and brass to do it? The brood-meddling proposal is nothing more than a time-wasting exercise, making it look as though the dark side is doing something tangible in the full knowledge that it won’t work. In the process they’re deflecting attention away from what we all know is the only solution. Meanwhile ……. business as usual.

  8. 18 dave angel
    February 12, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    So, with regard to sat tagged birds, who decides what information is put into the public domain?

    Is there some sort of protocol or regulatory regime attached to the licensing process about what should and should not be published, or is it just a free for all?

  9. 19 Roderick Leslie
    February 12, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    Iain, just to re-iterate comments I’ve made previously, as an ex council member of RSPB the field sports issue in the charter simply does not apply – and I’m not aware of anyone in RSPB claiming it does. The ethics of Field Sports are incidental: this is about the effective extinction of a bird species from England, and nothing else. That the cause may be field sports is no different from issues like pesticide poisoning or development. That this view is right is surely supported by the fact that the very aggressive movement supporting grouse shooting – and BOP persecution – have not majored on the issue.

    As far as conservation organisations go, BTO really is excepted – it is a pure science organisation, able to work objectively for any or all sides of an argument. Beyond that, I agree with Iain that the efforts to stay out of this by bodies like SOC are not creditable, and I think members should be kicking up a fuss – as I have as a member of HOT. It is beyond me how you can be a birdwatcher without having concern for the birds you are watching. One absolutely key place to start is the National Trust’s apparent determination to re-let shooting in the dark Peak raptor disaster area. Now there is a case where an organisations charitable status might be open to question.

    I think there is a broader issue here: conservation in general has struggled to respond to the change in the political climate and continues to behave as if Government were still on their side. There definitely is a hesitancy to recognise the realities or to find new ways forward – which are there, look at the reports of the Natural Capital Committee, for example. RSPB have been hesitant, yes, but the incredible work of RSPB Investigations remains the bulwark against the barbarians and continues without fear or favour.

    • 20 Northern Diver
      February 12, 2017 at 4:51 pm

      If any reader who is sympathetic is also a NT member, please write to Dame Helen Ghosh about not renewing the shooting licence on their land at Hope Woodlands and Park Hall Estates in the Peak District National Park. A decision is imminent I believe.

  10. 21 Roderick Leslie
    February 12, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    Northern Diver is spot on – please do write to Dame Helen. I did. I got a reply from the area manager – not a good sign, if the Trust were about to do the right thing I suspect the letter would have come from further up the line.

    For me, there were two central points:

    1. The NT is a Broad Church

    By this I assume they mean that shooting on their land is appropriate. Whilst many may object to this, shooting is a legal activity. What is not legal, and the point I foccused on in my letter, is illegal persecution of raptors. Presumably the NT church is not so broad as to incorporate illegal activity.

    2. The NT supports traditional land management

    Well, persecution of Hen Harriers is traditional if nothing else, a tradition stretching back some 200 years, therefore to be revered. It is also something we do so very well in England and should be proud of. In fact, were it not for the failures of the Forestry Commission we might have achieved perfection in 2016 – but never fear, traditionalists are making up for lost time and come the breeding season the problem should have been sorted.

    The National Trust may be making a decision soon, no doubt rushed through, because this is certainly not something they wanted your views on in their consultation. But be in no doubt, whatever decision they take that is only the beginning, not the end.

    The National Trust need some Hen Harriers far more than they need another shooting tenant – and if they do not recognise this it is likely that the story of both their past and future shooting tenants will start to unravel. It is often better to suffer the sharp, quickly forgotten, pain of doing the right thing compared to the long drawn out agony of ducking and weaving around the fallout from a cop out that many in the Trust must already realise is wrong and will come back to haunt them for many years to come.

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