Natural England must release hen harrier satellite tag data

Natural England has been fitting tags to English hen harriers since 2002. First it was radio tags and then, since 2007, it’s been satellite tags.

So far, Natural England has refused to release detailed information about the fate of these tagged hen harriers because the data were being collected as part of a PhD study. Last month we learned that the PhD has been abandoned (see here).

NE did release some initial information in 2014 (see here), that showed 47 hen harrier sat tags had been fitted between 2007-2014 and of those, an astonishing 37 harriers (78.7%) had gone ‘missing’. However, NE did not provide details about the circumstances of these disappearances, and notably excluded the locations of the last transmitted signals; even a description of the associated land-use of those final locations was kept secret.

Since 2014, we know that NE has fitted more hen harrier satellite tags (5 x tags in 2015, all of which were ‘missing’ by July 2016, according to an FoI response; and at least 2 x tags in 2016 and perhaps 1 x tag in 2017 – the details are sketchy because NE has remained tight-lipped about how it has spent our money).

In sharp contrast, detailed information on the fate of satellite-tagged raptors in Scotland has been made available to the public, even though some of the tagging effort has been privately funded. The recent report on the fate of satellite-tagged golden eagles (see here), and the RSPB’s consistent public updates on the fate of satellite-tagged hen harriers (see here), has helped to progress the issue of illegal raptor persecution high up the Scottish political agenda and we are now on the cusp of seeing genuine attempts at progressive reform.

We want to see the same progress being made in England but we need access to scientific information to help frame the case. That scientific information is available (15 years worth of hen harrier tag data) and what’s more, it’s been paid for with public funding. Our money!

Last month we encouraged blog readers to contact Natural England and ask for the release of some of that publicly-funded information. So far, NE hasn’t responded but we are quite certain that NE doesn’t have a leg to stand on if it insists on withholding the information and if it tries to do so, we’ll be submitting a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner.

At the very least, the very, very least, NE should be producing a map to show where all those ‘missing’ sat-tagged hen harriers have vanished. This can be done at a scale that doesn’t compromise sensitive locational data and doesn’t compromise the value of the data for peer-reviewed scientific publication (see the golden eagle satellite tag review to see how it can be done).

We would encourage as many of you as possible to email Natural England and ask for the release of this information, even if you did this last month and are still waiting for a response. Email: enquiries@naturalengland.org.uk 

Thank you.

31 Responses to “Natural England must release hen harrier satellite tag data”

  1. September 13, 2017 at 3:19 pm

    I got a reply just now

    Hello Anand Prasad

    Many thanks for your enquiry dated 17 August, and please accept our sincere apologies for the delay in replying.

    Natural England’s original intention was to analyse these data and allow the staff member concerned, who has been responsible for gathering the majority of these data (including a large amount within his own time) to write-up the results via a PhD thesis.

    Natural England’s priority is now to publish as soon as possible. For this reason, Natural England is intending to collaborate with highly respected academics with an expertise in raptor research, with the results to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. We expect the analysis to be completed in 2018 and submitted for review / publication with the aim to publish in the same year (subject to the normal publication timescales).

    Thank you once again for your enquiry, and please accept our apologies for the delay in replying.

    Many thanks

    Natural England Enquiries Team

    • September 13, 2017 at 3:24 pm

      Thanks, Prasad.

      Please email NE and ask for the immediate release of the information. This doesn’t have to compromise NE’s plan to collaborate with external scientists for peer-reviewed publication. A simple map showing the locations of all ‘missing’ and ‘confirmed killed’ tagged hen harriers, and a table showing associated land-use type is all that is needed. See Golden Eagle Sat Tag Review for example. Thanks.

      • September 13, 2017 at 3:38 pm

        Will do. I doubt that the planned publication will have the illegality element highlighted and we would have to wait a year to find out.
        If the subject is just the local migration of Hen Harriers the details we want are unlikely to be given.
        Hopefully the paper is focussing on prosecution.

      • 5 Mike Haden
        September 13, 2017 at 8:42 pm

        Did as you said, even referenced their reason for delay, the Phd and peer reviewed report etc, I just asked them for the raw data (including location of failed tags) no analysis required. This could not jeopardise any subsequent report indeed it would help in any peer review.

    • 6 Caro McAdam
      September 13, 2017 at 4:04 pm

      This reminds me of that scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indy and Marcus are asking the Americans who’s studying the Ark and they just keep saying “Top. Men”…

  2. 7 chris lock
    September 13, 2017 at 4:55 pm

    Un-natural England are very good at this sort of thing

  3. 8 chris lock
    September 13, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    Un-natural England does it again, however the hedge cutting ban till september is good news so well done on that one.

  4. 9 tperry
    September 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm

    Might it be a good plan to email Mr. Gove and ask him to sort out this nonsense without any further prevarication. What’s his email address?
    Mark Avery says he was sporting a Hen Harrier lapel badge recently so perhaps a good time to ask!

  5. 11 David Drury
    September 13, 2017 at 5:36 pm

    Feeble excuse. Longest PhD thesis in acedemic history. Publish the data or stand accused of a grubby cover up I’m cahoots with the driven grouse shooting industry.

  6. 12 Michael Whitehouse
    September 13, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    Do not be fooled into thinking that Natural England will meet their target to publish findings re Hen Harriers in 2018. I suspect that this is just another attempt at kicking things into the long grass. Open and transparent they are not – closed and opaque they certainly are on this specific issue.

    This site is extremely good at publishing facts. The Natural England study commenced in 2002. Could you please publish the history of breeding Hen Harriers in England in the intervening 15 years and how many success there have been on grouse moors. By the time NE’s study is complete they may not be any left to report on. Perhaps this was the plan from the outset.

    Fidling whist our heather moorland burns springs to mind

  7. 14 Piper
    September 13, 2017 at 6:14 pm

    Keep on the case guys !

  8. 15 J .Coogan
    September 13, 2017 at 6:16 pm

    We are used to smokescreens ,dodging the issue ,distorting the truth and downright bloody lies , but this takes the biscuit . Being forced screaming and shouting to release information citing ridiculous reasons ,then censor the important detail ,who do they think they are ? who do they think they are dealing with?,who pays their wages? I will have to calm down before I send the email , don’t think it will make a blind bit of difference however.
    Incidentally just think how much deception there would be if it were not for RPUK , Mark Avery et al.

  9. 18 Dave Mitchell.
    September 13, 2017 at 6:29 pm

    I got the same standard reply but asked that they at least give out some kind of overview and suggested that their lack of transparency was because they were embarrassed by the findings.

  10. 19 Linda Edwards
    September 13, 2017 at 6:46 pm

    Please protect our wildlife all relevant data that the taxpayer e g ME should and must be published in the public domain.

  11. 20 Jimmy
    September 13, 2017 at 8:17 pm

    Don’t think you need to be Poirot to know what happened the vast majority of these birds!!

  12. September 13, 2017 at 8:52 pm

    a complete disgrace of a smokescreen- censoring public information and giving crazy reasons for doing so.

  13. 22 Iain Gibson
    September 13, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    What are they scared of, or who is pulling the strings?

    • 23 Judith Smith
      September 14, 2017 at 8:12 am

      Just for accuracy’s sake…the Manchester Raptor Group funded 2 tags in England in 2017 (one used so far, the other couldn’t be used as the intended bird was predated in the nest by foxes) and 2 in Scotland (both used , one was recovered from a bird which died of natural causes and the tag can be re-used). I think there may be other NE tags which have been funded privately. NE send the donor regular updates about the bird’s movements. So it’s not all taxpayer’s money.

  14. 25 Brian Gunn
    September 14, 2017 at 6:24 pm

    I bet un NE would not be taking this line if the data showed that all the birds and tags were still OK.

    This is a grubby display of lack of transparency and influence by persons with a sporting interest.

    Sat tagging continues to show it’s not the odd bad apple and the industrial scale of persecution which is being carried out countrywide by a group of wealthy, selfish, victorian common criminals.

    • 26 Mike.Haden
      September 14, 2017 at 7:49 pm

      Like all organised crime networks they rely on an omertà to protect their interests. This is not Siciily this is the moors of Scotland and Northern England

  15. 27 ICT
    September 14, 2017 at 9:23 pm

    Mike, and the Godfathers are members of the establishment.

  16. 28 John
    September 15, 2017 at 9:46 am

    It would appear, from the available data, that in cases where the cause of death is known, that starvation and worm burden are the primary causes. Add to this tag failure, loss of signal but to predators taking the bird underground or into a ditch and many of the deaths would appear to not involve anything untoward, other than fitting tags that may well cuase starvation by interfering with the bird’s ability of hunt efficiently and effectively.

    • 29 Paul V Irving
      September 18, 2017 at 9:48 am

      So planet are you living on john, it must be some parallel universe! Tags are about 98% efficient on all other species so that is a false argument or red herring.
      What ever you( and we) think of the higher echelons of NE there is no doubt that the people, mainly Steve Murphy care deeply about the harriers and the fitting of the tags is certainly done correctly so the nonsense about badly fitting tags causing death by starvation or any other reason is again nonsense and or a red herring.
      We also know that birds dying of natural causes are usually found from the static tag signal, yes a few may have been secreted by predators but only a few. We also know from talking to folk that some of the disappeared when investigated show all the signs of persecution, normal functioning tag and bird suddenly gone from places with a quad track in the snow footprints to and from last fix and shotgun cartridges. Lots of these birds have disappeared from known roosting hotspots with signs in the area of persecution. Yes young harriers have a relatively high mortality naturally but what these tags are showing is a near 100% death rate and that cannot be natural. All we need is the last fix data down to say 1km and the circumstances and the land use. Harriers should be common in our uplands that they are not is a scandal and down to one thing ALL studies show that all we want is more incontravertable evidence from these tags.

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