Blog Post: Guest Blog: Music on the Marr hen harrier t-shirt competition

Richard Johnstone is the organiser of the Music on the Marr folk festival, which takes place in Cumbria each summer. Here he tells us why the hen harrier has been chosen as the symbol of this year's festival and how the artistic amongst you could see your very own hen harrier design emblazoned across the chests of  hundreds of this year's festival goers.  Each year in late July, the lovely North Cumbrian village of Castle Carrock, nestled under the Geltsdale fells, hosts Music on the Marr, a three-day music festival showcasing outstanding folk and roots acts from near and far. The moors above the village partly comprise the RSPB's Geltsdale reserve, one of the very few recent breeding grounds of the hen harrier in Northern England. Each year the festival produces a new commemorative T-shirt and has on this occasion decided to feature the...

Blog Post: A new season & hopes for the class of 2017

It’s that time of year... hope and trepidation playing on my mind in equal measure. The breeding season just beginning, and with it, all the excitement and uncertainty of what lies ahead for our hen harriers. Often it feels as though little has changed from year to year, but our recent adventures in satellite tagging have given my reflections this year a new focus. For months now, our remaining satellite tagged birds have been sticking tightly to their chosen wintering grounds – Aalin in Shropshire, DeeCee in the Cairngorms, Finn in Ayrshire, Harriet in the Lake District, and Wendy on Mull. Who knows, perhaps that immobility has been the secret of their success? Being young and immature, it’s unlikely (though not impossible) that any of our young harriers will attempt to breed this year. But experience shows that won’t stop them se...

Blog Post: Guest blog: Hen Harrier at RSPB Wallasea Island

  Andrew Armstrong is a wildlife photographer local to RSPB's Wallasea Wetlands reserve. Andrew’s stunning hen harrier photographs first came to our attention on Twitter where he posts under @drumon25. Impressed by his passion for the birds which clearly shines through his photography, we invited him to share what it feels like to capture these rare glimpses into the private life of one of our most spectacular birds of prey.  As a wildlife photographer I have been visiting RSPB Wallasea Island for three years, predominantly in the winter when the raptors congregate over the site. Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Peregrine, Merlin and especially Short Eared Owls show really well during the winter, making for wonderful photography opportunities. The real prize is getting the opportunity to watch, and hopefully photograph, the Hen Harriers as they...

Blog Post: From a bird found, to a bird lost

As far as positive starts to the New Year go; the news of the possible rediscovery of our missing 2014 female, Highlander, was a pretty fantastic way to kick off 2017. This was shortly followed by a phone call from a farmer in Cumbria who was only too delighted to tell me about the hen harriers roosting in his rushy fields. The palpable excitement and pride in his voice was a wonderful reminder of the power of these graceful birds to captivate and inspire – a welcome sign of hope for the future of hen harriers in our hillsides. Hen Harrier over rushy pasture. Photo: Lin Lyon For the most part, our remaining birds continue to fare well and seem to have settled down for the winter in their favoured roosts – Wendy on Ulva, just off the coast of Mull, Finn in Ayrshire, Carroll in Northumberland, DeeCee in the Cairngorms, and Harriet in the...

Blog Post: Highlander lives?

It’s a rare delight in the world of hen harriers to be able to start the New Year with some good news, but I am utterly astonished and elated to report that Highlander, a female hen harrier which fledged from United Utilities estate in the Forest of Bowland in 2014, and who suddenly and unexpectedly went missing in County Durham in April 2016, has possibly been found alive! Highlander and her sibling, Sky, just after having their satellite tags fitted, in Bowland, 2014. (Image: Jude Lane) To most people, Highlander is the eponymous lead character, played by Christopher Lambert, in the classic 1986 British-American action fantasy film, about an immortal Scottish swordsman on an epic quest. As our own Highlander was “adopted” by children from the local Brennand’s Endowed Primary School however, I’m going to hazard a guess it’s un...

Comment on A natural death on Mull

Keith, As far as we’re aware, the Scottish Government’s satellite-tagging review is already collecting a significant amount of data and information on the fitting, operation and reliability of transmitters. To quote from their website: “The review will investigate a massive data set on satellite tagged raptors, much of it funded and held by RSPB, Highland Foundation for Wildlife and Natural Research. The review will report on the fate of tagged birds, the distribution of losses and known and adjudged causes of loss. It will attempt to determine the significance of these losses nationally and regionally, and factors associated with these. Drawing on international research, the review will comment on the reliability of tags, any effects of tags on raptors, and any inferences on the value of the techniques employed in Scotland.” The S...

Blog Post: Hen harriers on the move and another bird lost

As the cold weather sets in and Christmas approaches, it’s clear that winter is truly upon us. My thoughts at this time of year, as ever, turn to our young harriers out on the hills. Over the last two months, the number of hen harrier sightings at roosts and hunting grounds in southern and coastal areas has increased dramatically, as many of these birds seek to escape the harsh upland weather. Hen harriers have been spotted at a number of RSPB reserves across the country including Saltholme, Burton Mere Wetlands, Blacktoft Sands, Wallasea, and Rainham Marshes, not to mention the National Trust's Wicken Fen reserve in Cambridgeshire and the Wildlife Trust's Upton Warren reserve in Worcestershire, amongst others. Several birders and photographers have been kind enough to share some of their incredible photographs of these birds with us, an...

Blog Post: The autumn outdoor classroom: a lesson on hen harriers and special landscapes

Katy Saulite is  the Hen Harrier LIFE Project's  Community Engagement Officer for Scotland, working with local schools and community groups in areas where hen harriers should be, to raise awareness and promote the conservation of these spectacular skydancers.   At the beginning of September I had my fingers and toes crossed for good weather in the weeks ahead. Two school groups were all set to venture out onto the moorland with the Hen Harrier LIFE project, and I feared the unhelpful presence of that all too familiar horizontal precipitation we’re often blessed with. Thankfully September has been lovely up here in Scotland, and the pupils who took part in our moorland field trips were more than happy to be out and about, exploring and engaging with the outdoor classroom. The primary 5-7 class of Kirkmichael Primary School spent an aft...

Comment on Remarkable hen harrier journeys revealed by satellite tagging

Alex - thank you for the kind words. I've been working on hen harriers for over five years and every lost bird stays with me. It doesn't get easier but the way I see it, we have a choice - either to despair, our to let it harden our resolve to make a difference. I choose the latter. The LIFE project runs until 2019, so I promise there will be plenty more satellite tags to come. Alan - yes please! If you could include time date and location as accurate as possible, that would be much appreciated. ...

Comment on Remarkable hen harrier journeys revealed by satellite tagging

Thanks Alan. I do too! Satellite tagging is brilliant but for the majority of hen harriers, we rely on sightings from people on the ground to help us keep track. It would be a huge help to us if you could share any sightings via our Hen Harrier Hotline, by emailing the details (including time, date, location, description of the bird, and a 6-figure grid reference if possible) to henharriers@rspb.org.uk or phoning 08454600121 (calls charged at local rates). The hotline is linked directly to our Investigations and Regional Conservation teams and is instrumental in helping us to target our limited resources to maximum effect. ...

Blog Post: Remarkable hen harrier journeys revealed by satellite tagging

The recent recovery of Rowan, a Langholm hen harrier tagged by the Hawk & Owl Trust and Natural England, who appears to have been illegally shot in Cumbria, highlights the vital role that satellite tagging has to play in the conservation of this threatened species. These tiny devices, barely 2 cm long and weighing only 9-12g do not, of course, confer protection in and of themselves (the bodies of Rowan , Lad , Annie , and Betty are all testament to that). However they do shine a light on what is happening to these birds, helping us to better understand their movements – where they go when they leave their nests, which roosts they favour over winter, where they attempt to breed and build their nests, and ultimately, where they stop. That final piece of information is the bit that gets most publicity – whether the birds die naturally, ar...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Rowan – a personal reflection

Guy Shorrock is currently the longest standing member of RSPB's Investigations Team. Following the apparent shooting of satellite-tagged hen harrier, Rowan, here he reflects back on his 25 year career in the fight against raptor persecution.   On Monday Cumbria Constabulary released the news that many suspected, that the satellite tagged hen harrier Rowan appears to have been shot . So it looks like yet another victim in the unending catalogue of crimes perpetrated against hen harriers and other birds of prey in the uplands of the UK. One wonders what hope there is for the Defra Hen Harrier plan  whilst persecution appears to continue unabated. The last week or so has been a period of reflection for myself. Friday the 28 October was something of a personal milestone for me – 25 years to the day since I started work in the RSPB Investi...

Comment on A natural death on Mull

Keith – thanks for your message. Several birds of prey, fitted with satellite-transmitters, that have died, have been located in recent years. For example, I’m sure you will be aware of “Alma” & “Fearnan”, golden eagles both found poisoned on grouse moors in Angus, and “Annie”, a hen harrier found shot in SW Scotland. We have also recovered a number of birds that have died of natural causes – through predation or starvation, as well as transmitters that have become detached, as designed, from their hosts. It's also interesting to note that in the wader study you link to, despite three of the tagged chicks being predated, all three tags were recovered. As you may have seen in our recent guest blog by the Dutch Montagu’s harrier project, the transmitters are highly reliable, and numerous recent studies, notably one on Bla...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Hen harriers and grouse shooting – Inquiry and debate

  RSPB Head of Nature Policy, Jeff Knott, shares his thoughts on yesterday's parliamentary hearing of oral evidence ahead of the upcoming Westminster debate on the future of driven grouse shooting. On Tuesday, I gave evidence on the impacts of driven grouse shooting to a joint session of the Petitions and EFRA Committees. That’s quite a dry sentence, but I can tell you the reality is anything but! Basically what it means is that I sat in front of a panel of about a dozen MPs, who could ask any questions they liked. Now I had some idea what sort of subjects they would cover, but it’s certainly a nerve wracking experience, especially for a first timer like me. With that said, I actually really enjoyed yesterday’s session. I was giving evidence alongside Mark Avery, who created the petition calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting (...

Blog Post: Follow that bird! Hen harrier satellite maps go live

I'm delighted to announce the launch of our hen harrier satellite tracking maps on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website: www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife . Already the stories are fascinating – just look at where Donald has gone... Please make sure to log on with Internet Explorer as we're having a few technical issues with other browsers which will hopefully be resolved soon. These maps will be updated every two weeks from now on, with the next update due on Friday 28th October. Be sure to stay tuned....! If you're lucky enough to see any hen harriers in the field, please submit your sightings to the relevant Hen Harrier Hotline below. As you will see from the maps, hen harriers travel very widely, so the more eyes and ears we have out there, the better able we'll be to protect these amazing birds. Details on the time, date, location an...

Blog Post: Grouse shooting: An opportunity for change – how you can help

As a result of over 123,000 people signing a petition by Mark Avery, calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting, the future of this industry and the way our uplands are managed will be debated in parliament in just two weeks, on the 31st October. This is an incredibly important and rare opportunity to push for significant change in the way our uplands are manged. For our part, we will be renewing our calls for reform, specifically through licensing of grouse shooting and vicarious liability for estates where wildlife crimes are committed. You can read Martin Harper's thoughts on the debate here .  My colleague, Jeff Knott, will be presenting oral evidence in front of MPs   here  tomorrow, to inform the debate, and you can have your say too. Find out more about how you can get involved and write to your MP  here .  Now is your chance...

Blog Post: A natural death on Mull

When satellite tagged hen harriers suddenly vanish, as has happened four times already this year with Chance, Highlander, Elwood, and Brian, the questions left unanswered are almost as painful as the disappearance itself. However, sometimes - just sometimes - a body is recovered and the mind can rest easy. Hermione was one of four young to fledge from a nest on an estate owned and managed by the charity, Highland Renewal, on the Hebridean Isle of Mull in 2016. She was satellite-tagged by the Hen Harrier LIFE Project on 29 th  July 2016, and her name was chosen as the winner of an online poll run by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), who sponsored the tag.  Female hen harrier, Hermione, on the Isle of Mull, shortly after having her satellite tag fitted. (Image: Paul Haworth) After fledging a few days later, Hermione spent all h...

Comment on Second 2016 hen harrier goes missing

Keith, The mentioning of the ScotGov review of satellite tagging data is relevant because the latter has been expanded from golden eagles to include data on hen harriers and red kites. As such, the data from Brian's tag will be included in the review. Any interpretation of this as implying association with persecution is your own inference. ...

Comment on Second 2016 hen harrier goes missing

Hi Keith, Foxes do predate hen harriers, just as they predate many other ground nesting birds. This is something we freely acknowledge. However, satellite tags are small and very durable pieces of kit that would require precise and concerted chewing from a fox to destroy to the point of ceasing transmission. I’m sure there are much tastier bits of a hen harrier that a fox would rather focus on. You say we must look at the facts and the facts available to us show that when birds die naturally, we tend to find them - last year’s Hetty on the Isle of Man for example. The facts surrounding Brian’s disappearance mirror those of our other hen harriers, Elwood, Chance, Highlander, Holly, Hope, and Sky before him. The weight of evidence across this bigger picture clearly indicates that there are factors at play beyond natural predation. That...

Blog Post: Second 2016 hen harrier goes missing

I’m sorry to have to report that we have lost another of this year’s satellite tagged hen harrier chicks. Brian, named after the very experienced raptor worker Brian Etheridge, was one of our non-public-facing birds. With the permission of the landowner and help of local Scottish Raptor Study Group members, he was tagged as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE Project on 4 th July on an estate in Perthshire within the Cairngorms National Park. He fledged from the nest and stayed close to the nest site until the beginning of August when he moved north into southern Inverness-shire. Brian then spent the next few weeks over various areas of managed grouse moor, within the National Park with frequent strong, clear transmissions from his tag providing detailed information about his daily travels. Brian having just received his satellite tag (photo:...