RSPB suspects illegal killing of rare bird of prey which vanished in Northumberland

Missing hen harrier, Reiver, at Langholm Moor. Picture: Andrew Walton.Missing hen harrier, Reiver, at Langholm Moor. Picture: Andrew Walton.
Missing hen harrier, Reiver, at Langholm Moor. Picture: Andrew Walton.
Another satellite tagged hen harrier has suddenly and unexpectedly disappeared in Northumberland, strengthening the RSPB’s call for the urgent licensing of grouse moors.

Reiver, a young female, fledged from a nest on Langholm Moor in the south of Scotland this summer.

She was fitted with a satellite tag while still in her nest, as part of an RSPB project to help understand the journeys made by these red-listed birds of prey and the survival challenges they face after fledging.

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Reiver’s tag was transmitting regularly and as expected, with no sign of malfunction, until it stopped suddenly on September 17.

Her tag’s last fix came from Ninebanks, near Haydon Bridge, an area dominated by driven grouse moors, within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

Reiver is the third Scottish satellite-tagged hen harrier to vanish in identical, sudden and suspicious circumstances in England in 2021.

In February, Tarras disappeared having been last recorded on a grouse moor near Haltwhistle, just outside the North Pennines AONB boundary.

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Another bird, Yarrow, from the Scottish Borders disappeared in April while heading for the North York Moors.

And in 2019, Ada’s last transmission came from an area of grouse moor east of Allendale.

Fewer than 600 pairs of hen harriers breed in the UK. In England there were just 24 successful nests in 2021, despite enough habitat and food to support over 300 pairs. In 2019, the government’s own study found illegal killing to be the main factor limiting the recovery of the UK hen harrier population.

Howard Jones, RSPB investigations officer, said: “It is almost certain that Reiver has been illegally killed.

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"This is more than just a pattern, it is a known fact that hen harrier numbers are so low because of persistent persecution.

"Satellite tags are highly reliable and will continue to transmit even after the bird’s death.

"For a tag which has been functioning reliably to suddenly cut out like this strongly suggests foul play.

"This event is categorised as a ‘sudden stop no malfunction’ and is happening time and again on or near driven grouse moors.

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“Hen harriers disappearing on English grouse moors is having a devastating effect on hen harrier populations and needs to be urgently addressed.”

Anyone with information about this incident should call Northumbria Police on 101 quoting reference NP-20210920-0837.

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