Hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances

Athena, the hen harrier that has gone missing.
Athena, the hen harrier that has gone missing.

A young hen harrier from Northumberland has disappeared in suspicious circumstances on a Scottish grouse moor.

Athena was one of 11 hen harrier chicks to fledge from nests in Northumberland this summer. She was fitted with a satellite tag as part of the RSPB’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project and her movements were tracked.

After fledging, Athena left Northumberland and travelled into Scotland. Her satellite tag was transmitting regularly when it stopped suddenly and inexplicably on August 16. Her last known position was on a grouse moor north west of Grantown on Spey in Inverness-shire. A sudden stop suggests criminal interference has taken place.

Information about Athena’s disappearance was passed to Police Scotland.

Athena is one of eight satellite-tagged hen harriers to disappear in similar circumstances in the UK over the past 10 weeks. Among them is Hilma, a Scottish bird, whose last known location on August 8 was near Wooler, over land managed for driven grouse shooting.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, project manager for the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “The main factor limiting the hen harrier population in the UK is illegal killing associated with intensive management of driven grouse moors.

“Young hen harrier chicks already face huge survival challenges in their first few years of life without the added threat of illegal persecution.”