18
Oct
18

Hen harrier ‘Thor’ disappears next to grouse moor in Bowland AONB

Just a little over a month ago the RSPB told us that three of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harrier chicks had all ‘disappeared’ in suspicious circumstances on driven grouse moors (here).

This morning they’ve announced the suspicious disappearance of another one. Here’s the RSPB’s report:

Thor is no more: First hatched hen harrier in Bowland for three years disappears in suspicious circumstances.

This summer we were overjoyed to have hen harriers nesting in Bowland for the first time since 2015. Our project team worked round the clock to monitor the three nests there, and the parent birds fledged an amazing 13 chicks between them.

Young hen harriers were fitted with tags as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project and we watched with anticipation as the chicks grew and started to fly away from their nests and make their way into the world. Unfortunately, it was unlucky 13 for one of our brood.

Young male hen harrier Thor fledged from a nest of four chicks in the Forest of Bowland and his satellite tag was fitted in mid-June. After leaving the nest he remained in the vicinity for several months.

[Photo of hen harrier Thor by Steve Downing]

His tag was transmitting regularly when it suddenly and inexplicably stopped. His last known fix on 3 October 2018 showed he was over Goodber Common near Salter in Lancashire, adjacent to a managed driven grouse moor. This disappearance was reported to the police, and a search revealed no sign of the bird or his tag.

[RPUK map showing Goodber Common in the Forest of Bowland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty]

Thor is the fourth bird to disappear in the past two months, following the disappearances of Hilma, Octavia and Heulwen in August this year. Alarmingly, the last known fix for Thor is directly between the sites where tagged hen harriers Hope and Sky were last heard from before they disappeared back in 2014.

[RPUK map showing last known location of satellite-tagged hen harriers Sky and Hope and the approximate last known location (no grid ref provided) of hen harrier Thor]

James Bray, RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer, was involved in monitoring the nests in Bowland over the summer, and watched as Thor hatched, grew and fledged from his nest. He says: “Whilst we know that hen harrier mortality rates are high for young birds – with a survival rate of around 22% within the first two years – if Thor had died naturally we would have expected to find some sign of him or his tag. His tag was functioning well before he disappeared, which sadly suggests there has been some kind of interference with it.”

If anyone has any information as to what may have become of Thor, you can contact Lancashire Police on 101.

ENDS

According to Guy Shrubsole’s excellent Who Owns England website, the grouse moors to the south of Goodber Common, shown in our map above, belong to the Duke of Westminster’s Abbeystead Estate.

Nobody will be the least bit surprised that yet another young hen harrier has vanished close to a grouse moor in northern England, and especially in the Forest of Bowland AONB. We know from Natural England’s HH sat tag data (2007-2017) that Bowland is one of several areas (along with the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the Nidderdale AONB) where the land is dominated by driven grouse moors and where young hen harriers tend to disappear. We prepared a map of those areas in August 2018 after Natural England had finally released the HH sat tag data (which didn’t include details of any missing RSPB-tagged birds). Here’s an updated map to include hen harrier Thor’s last known location, as well as RSPB-tagged birds Sky & Hope who ‘disappeared’ in 2014:

[Red star = HH found dead & confirmed illegally killed; orange star = last known location of missing hen harriers; Black star: missing hen harrier but grid reference withheld by Natural England; orange stars 1, 2 & 3 = last known locations of RSPB-tagged hen harriers Hope, Sky and Thor].

So what happens now? Absolutely nothing of any significance.

The grouse-shooting industry will either stay mute and hope the news blows over quickly, or we’ll hear from Andrew Gilruth of the GWCT telling us how well the Government’s Hen Harrier (In)Action Plan is working (it isn’t, it’s a sham), or we’ll heard from Amanda Anderson of the Moorland Association that there’s no need for concern as she saw Thor flying past her kitchen window just yesterday.

DEFRA Minister Dr Therese Coffey will be too busy shuffling around in her handbag to even notice her Government’s complete and utter failure to protect this species.

UPDATE 19 Oct 2018: Responses to missing hen harrier Thor (here)

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14 Responses to “Hen harrier ‘Thor’ disappears next to grouse moor in Bowland AONB”


  1. October 18, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I am amazed that this hasn’t become a major news item.
    I wrote to the police and NE as soon as the NE sat-tagged data was released because 2 of the NE Hen Harriers were killed extremely close to Sky and Hope both pairs within 3 days of each other and all 4 within a 7km radius and now another one killed in same area. I am not talking about the Forest of Bowland but a VERY SMALL AREA!!!

    I also have anecdotal incriminating evidence about one of the close-by farms.

    I wrote to the police and 3 of them came to my sister’s farm a couple of weeks ago looking for me but i wasn’t there. They say they e-mailed me but i didn’t get anything. My sister spoke to them and they tried to make out that things were getting better in Bowland citing the breeding pairs this year. She is very pro RPUK and tried to put her view forward. Why were they wanting to talk to me and not the nearby farms? It just allowed them to tick some box.

    This was my complaint to the Lancashire Police.

    According to information released by Natural England (NE) recently:
    https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/hen-harriers-tracking-programme-update/hen-harrier-annual-tracking-update
    On 18th August 2010 Hen Harrier id94591 ‘s satellite tag stopped working.
    3 days later on 21st August 2010 Hen Harrier id58870’s satellite tag also stopped transmitting.
    Both of these failures were very close together in Bowland an infamous raptor persecution hot spot.
    id94591 ‘s last known location was Bowland SD596621 which is 1km outside the last known transmission of Hope and 3km away from the centre of the overlap in last transmission of Hope and Sky.
    id58870’s last known transmission was 2km outside the last known transmission of Sky and about 3.5km from centre of overlap of last known transmissions of Sky and Hope.
    https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/archive/2014/10/08/sky-and-hope-a-plea-for-information.aspx
    All FOUR birds stopped transmitting under suspicious circumstance all within a 7km radius and both times within 3 days of another bird.

    By failing to report the suspicious circumstances in 2010 NE have failed to give information to the police [NE have informed me all missing HH are reported to police] and the RSPB and the public which could have resulted in a prosecution. Not only that but NE have also withheld evidence that could have helped investigate the crime that occurred 4 years later in almost identical circumstances. At the very least making this suspected crime public in 2010 would have been a very strong deterrent against the criminals and could very well have stopped the killings of Sky and Hope in 2014.
    I have no doubt at all that Sky, Hope, id94591 and id58870 were all killed by the same individual or group of individuals and NE, by failing to act [to publicises the data], have contributed to the deaths of Sky and Hope and hindered the investigation into their fatal persecution.

  2. October 18, 2018 at 12:40 pm

    This is my letter to NE and their response.
    They ignored totally the second part of my complaint regarding release of information to the public 8 years to late so i have taken the complaint to stage 2.

    My letter
    According to information released by NE recently:
    On 18th August 2010 two months after being tagged Hen Harrier id94591 ‘s satellite stopped working.
    3 days later on 21st August 2010 one month after being tagged Hen Harrier id58870’s satellite also stopped transmitting.
    Both of these failures were very close together (within 7km) in the Forest of Bowland an area infamous as a raptor persecution hot spot. The fact that TWO Hen Harriers stopped transmitting from the same area within 3 days of each other is more than highly suspicious it is a smoking gun.

    Was this reported to the police? If not why not?
    If it was why wasn’t there a request for public information that could have helped bring about a prosecution?
    The failure to publish this information for 8 years was withholding information of suspected criminal activity. I am convinced that NE has broken guidelines, if not the law, by not reporting these potential crimes.
    Compare with the RSPB response from an almost identical situation where two Hen Harriers disappeared under highly suspicious circumstances 4 years later in 2014 also in the Forest of Bowland. Lancashire Police and the National Wildlife Crime Unit were notified about the disappearance of these birds and there was a huge public outcry and a plea and a reward for information. https://ww2.rspb.org.uk/community/ourwork/skydancer/b/skydancer/archive/2014/10/08/sky-and-hope-a-plea-for-information.aspx

    But that is only the first part of my complaint.
    The smoking gun is more like a fire-fight when all that is added to the following information and this lack of reporting by NE has almost certainly allowed another crime to be committed. This could be argued for all the hidden satellite data but no more so than this.
    id94591 ‘s last known location was Bowland SD596621 which is 1km outside the last known transmission of Hope and 3km away from the centre of the overlap in last transmission of Hope and Sky.
    id58870’s last known transmission was 2km outside the last known transmission of Sky and about 3.5km from centre of overlap of last known transmissions of Sky and Hope.

    To make that clear all these FOUR birds stopped transmitting under suspicious circumstance all within an extremely small area (a 7km radius) and both times within 3 days of another bird.
    The chances that Sky and Hope stopped transmitting in the same area within 3 days of each other under natural circumstances, and that this was not a crime, are astronomical.
    The same is true of id94591 and id58870.
    The fact that all FOUR birds ‘disappeared’ in the same spot in an identical manner is no longer astronomically statistically valid it becomes a plain fact. A crime has been committed. If this was any other crime this would be treated as such.

    By failing to report the suspicious circumstances in 2010 NE have failed to give information to the police and the RSPB and the public which could have resulted in a prosecution. Not only that but NE have also withheld evidence that could have helped investigate the crime that occurred 4 years later in almost identical circumstances. At the very least making this suspected crime public in 2010 would have been a very strong deterrent against the criminals and could very well have stopped the killings of Sky and Hope in 2014.
    I have no doubt at all, and neither would anyone else armed with this information and a knowledge of raptor crime in this area, that Sky, Hope, id94591 and id58870 were all killed by the same individual or group of individuals and NE, by failing to act, have contributed to the deaths of Sky and Hope and hindered the investigation into their fatal persecution.

    Please treat the questions herein not just as a complaint but as a FOI request.

    Their response
    Dear Annad(sic)

    With reference to your email received on the 10th of September. In all cases, in England and the IoM, when one of Natural England’s satellite tagged Hen Harriers stops transmitting the Police are notified straight away and a thorough search of the area is made. If the bird goes missing in Scotland the Police and the RSPB are notified. This was the case in all the incidents you raise in your letter. Once these cases have been passed to the police any further communication about them becomes a police matter.

    We have now been through stage 1 of our complaints procedure to address your complaint. If you are dissatisfied with the outcome and our response then, should you wish to, you can now raise this as a stage 2 complaint through our Customer Focus Team. Further details on our complaints procedures are on our gov.uk webpage.

    Regards

    Adrian Jowitt
    Principal Adviser
    Natural England

  3. October 18, 2018 at 12:53 pm

    There is no gridref but RSPB does state
    ‘the last known fix for Thor is DIRECTLY BETWEEN the sites where tagged hen harriers Hope and Sky were last heard from before they disappeared back in 2014’

  4. 4 Paul V Irving
    October 18, 2018 at 1:43 pm

    Its the 7th Duke of Westminster, Hugh Grosvenor who owns the grouse moor and quite possibly Goodber Common as well.

  5. October 18, 2018 at 3:09 pm

    This is a map of Thor, Sky, Hope and the two killed NE Hen Harriers.
    I was wrong it is within a circle with a 7.6km diameter not radius so half as tight.
    https://imgur.com/bcoLqbH
    [img]https://i.imgur.com/bcoLqbH.jpg[/img]

  6. 8 Judith
    October 18, 2018 at 3:19 pm

    When one of these birds disappears, how much will it have cost? The nest has been monitored, the bird satellite tagged, the police informed, an investigation undertaken, any number of organisations involved, birdwatching tourism lost. Can we come up with a figure for those birds lost in Bowland? I imagine it to be quite high.

    • October 18, 2018 at 3:38 pm

      A very good point. There ought to be some sort of calculation of the costs involved and if the responsible person(s) are caught they should be obliged to stump up not only for court costs and fines but also some sort of meaningful reparation for the various agencies who may have spent a good deal of money, time & energy on protecting/monitoring the birds. I recollect that when a re-introduced raptor in Spain (either a Bearded Vulture or Spanish Imperial Eagle, I forget which) was illegally killed the culprits had to pay compensation to the agencies involved.

  7. October 18, 2018 at 4:30 pm

    [Ed: comment deleted as libellous]

  8. October 18, 2018 at 8:32 pm

    For information, Nick Lyall said on his blog
    “Amanda Anderson, Director of the Moorland Association said: “We join this appeal without hesitation and it is vital the police receive any possible information. This year we have been hugely encouraged by the best hen harrier breeding season in a decade and the fact that 60% of this year’s successfully fledged chicks had help from gamekeepers. At this stage it is not known if anything has happened to Thor beyond that the tag has stopped transmitting. It is widely recognised that that there is a high natural mortality rate for young hen harriers with only two out of every ten expected to survive their first year. We all know that collaboration is the key to successful conservation. As such, enhanced transparency and greater sharing of satellite tag data from the outset of birds’ lives would be a huge step in the right direction.”
    I wonder if he will agree that gamekeepers should be given access to live satellite tag data? Perhaps another member Of the group will comment?

  9. 12 lizzybusy
    October 18, 2018 at 10:01 pm

    In my area, the shooting estate I am interested in adopts a policy of targeting particular predator ‘control’ practices on the boundary of the estate to prevent predatory birds, foxes, badgers etc from entering the shooting estate.

    Funnel, ladder and Larsen traps are all used and moved around.

    Sometimes the bird traps are located on farmland next to the estate.

    The gamekeepers also have a habit of putting stink pits very close to these bird traps (within 50-200 ft or so). To my mind this is a deliberate policy to attract all predators into the area including raptors. The traps sometimes have perches on the traps to further encourage the birds to the area.

    In my opinion, these practices amount to a deliberate policy to prevent all predators, including protected species, from entering the estate.

    The reports of raptor persecution contained on this website seem to follow a similar pattern.


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