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:...

Blog Post: Guest blog: Satellite tracking and mortality in Montagu’s harriers

Raymond Klaassen is one of the lead researchers at the  Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation . Here he tells us about his work using satellite tracking to study the migration and mortality of Montagu's harriers on the continent.  This nomadic species is a close relative of the hen harrier and so similar in appearance to the untrained eye, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Montagu's harriers currently breed on agricultural land in just three locations in the UK, and widely across Europe, from Spain to Belarus. The satellite tags used by the Dutch Montagu's Harrier Foundation are of the same make and model as those currently being used to track hen harriers in the UK.  The tagging process is also subject to the same stringent licensing procedures to ensure the welfare of the birds always comes first.  The Montagu’s harrier is a r...

Blog Post: Introducing Katy: inspiring schools and communities about hen harriers

Guest blog from Katy Saulite, one of our two Community Engagement Officers for the Hen Harrier LIFE Project.  Hello everyone. I feel like it is long overdue that I introduce myself as one of two community engagement officers working as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE Project. As part of this introduction I would like to include a delightfully kind drawing I received from a pupil of Muirkirk Primary School in May, during my first outreach session to a school as part of the project. My name’s Katy and I'm working predominantly in Scotland, delivering exciting community engagement work through the LIFE project across our target project Special Protection Areas (SPAs). As I am now getting stuck into my role I hope to give regular updates of my work with schools, agricultural colleges, community groups and the wider public. I am happy to report...

Blog Post: Guest blog: A view from the hills

David Hunt is one of two Assistant Investigations Officers employed by RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project to support the conservation and protection of this species. Here he reflects on the 2016 breeding season and shares some of his thoughts and experiences of watching over these beautiful birds.  I always think that August is a month when the hill seems to breathe again. The hustle bustle of the busy upland bird breeding season has ground to a halt and all becomes quiet again. This was apparent as I slipped out from the forest edge and stopped to survey the now purple heather-tinged hill, the only noise coming from the wind rippling through the swathes of slowly browning bracken. Not far out onto the hill to my delight, a young female Hen Harrier, complete with a brand new satellite tag on her back gave me a brief squeak before lifting ove...

Blog Post: Meet the Hen Harrier Class of 2016

The profiles of 11 of this year's satellite-tagged hen harriers are now online and what a handsome bunch they are. Check out the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website  to learn more about their stories and meet:                  Aalin (Photo: James Leonard)                 Beater (Photo: Euan Weston)                   Bonny (Photo: Mark Thomas)                     Carroll (Photo: Martin Davison)                 DeeCee (Photo: Brian Etheridge)               Donald (Photo: Dean Thompson)                             Elwood (Photo: Brian Etheridge)                                 Finn (far right, Photo: Martin Davison)                 H arriet (Photo: Shaila Rao)                     Hermione (Photo: Paul Haworth)             Wendy (Photo: John ...

Blog Post: Guest blog: Finn the hen harrier takes flight

Findlay Wilde is the young conservationist and blogger behind Wilde About Birds . Finn is a young female hen harrier who, together with her three brothers, fledged from one of two nests on Forestry Commission land in Northumberland this month.  Finn was satellite tagged as part of the Hen Harrier LIFE Project and is named after Findlay, who was one of the winners of Ecotricity’s Young Green Briton competition last year. Run by Britain’s leading green energy company, the competition looks to find the country’s greenest youngsters and gives them a chance to speak about a key environmental topic on stage at WOMAD Festival. Ecotricity was so impressed by Findlay’s passion and focus on the issue of hen harriers that the company funded the satellite tag.  Here, Findlay shares with us that passion for hen harriers and his hopes for our ...

Blog Post: Introducing a Bonny wee hen harrier

With the notable exception of Henry , few living hen harriers manage to achieve national celebrity status. But at barely six weeks old, our young male, Bonny, is already well used to the public eye, after the fitting of his satellite tag by trained and licensed RSPB staff was filmed and featured on the national BBC Six News last week, as well as a radio edit on BBC R4's PM programme (available here until 17th Sept).  Bonny with his newly fitted satellite tag being held by RSPB's Guy Anderson. Photo: Mark Thomas Bonny was the only chick to hatch from a clutch of five eggs on RSPB’s Geltsdale reserve this year, marking the first successful nest on the reserve in since 2006, and only the second successful nest in the whole of the North Pennines in the last 10 years. He is one of a number of hen harriers to be satellite tagged as part of RS...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Aalin, the sat-tagged Manx Hen Harrier takes to the air

Neil Morris is the Managing Director of Manx BirdLife. Here he shares his thoughts and hopes for Aalin, the second hen harrier to be satellite tagged on the Isle of Man as part of a partnership between Manx BirdLife and RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project.  I’m a complete convert to Manx culture and the beauty and character of the Manx countryside, having relatively recently exchanged the blistering heat of the Qatari desert for the cool climes of the Isle of Man..  On just my third day on the island while tidying up the garden, I looked up to see a Hen Harrier drifting over the hills behind our house. This was my introduction to ‘Manx’ Hen Harriers. Roll forward eighteen months and my family loves the place. To the south, rugged heather moorlands drop spectacularly to dramatic granite cliffs. While to the north, rolling green hills ak...

Blog Post: Elwood Blues: First tagged hen harrier of 2016 goes missing

Ian Thomson is RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations, whose team help to monitor the data from our satellite tagged hen harriers. Here he shares some upsetting news.  We knew it would happen sooner or later, I just hoped that for once it might be later... It’s very disappointing to have to break the news that one of our satellite-tagged youngsters has already “gone missing”, on a grouse moor in the Monadhliath Mountains, south-east of Inverness. We’ve barely even had the chance to properly introduce you to our new group of hen harriers which fledged from nests in England and Scotland this year before we have to announce this terrible news.   Our male bird, nicknamed Elwood by RSPB staff, after the Blues Brothers, was the only chick to fledge from a nest in Banffshire. With a tough start to life due to apparently limited food, th...

Blog Post: Guest Blog: Researchers develop forensic DNA kit for hen harriers

Dr. Arati Iyengar is from the School of Forensic & Applied Sciences at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), who have recently developed a forensic DNA kit, SkydancerPlex, which allows individual hen harriers to be identified from tiny samples of blood or feathers. To celebrate this research, UCLan have sponsored one of this year’s satellite-tagged hen harriers, Hermione, who was named via an online poll. What is the SkydancerPlex? This exciting new development is an extremely accurate DNA based identification kit for hen harriers. In humans, DNA is routinely used to match an evidence sample collected from a crime scene to a sample from a suspect, thus linking the suspect to the crime scene. In wildlife species, there are very few DNA based identification kits, particularly ones which have been tested to the rigorous standards ne...

Blog Post: A thought for this year’s hen harrier chicks

With only a few days to go until the third annual Hen Harrier Day, my thoughts are inevitably with this year’s newly fledged chicks and the challenges facing them as they stretch their wings and take to the air for the first time over the previous and coming weeks. Despite RSPB’s recent departure from the Defra-led Hen Harrier Action Plan, we remain fully committed to securing a sustainable future for these birds and the Hen Harrier LIFE Project has been, and will continue to deliver on-the-ground conservation through nest protection and winter roost monitoring (in partnership with NERF and SRSG), investigations work, and importantly, satellite tagging. This year, thanks to cosmetics company LUSH, and sales of their fabulous Skydancer Bath Bomb, we’ve be able to double the number of satellite tags the project can fit. So far this yea...

Blog Post: Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Jeff Knott is RSPB's Head of Nature Policy. Here he shares his own personal perspective on the decision to walk away from Defra's Hen Harrier Action Plan.  It’s always disappointing when you invest a lot of your time and energy into something and it doesn’t work out as you’d hoped. Whether it’s work, sports or relationships; nothing stings quite as much as the disappointment of unfulfilled potential. The Hen Harrier Action Plan, created under Defra’s Upland Stakeholder Forum has been like that for me and has had a bit of all three. The potential of a positive opportunity. The misplaced optimism of an England football campaign. And ultimately the disappointing realisation that it’s just not working out. Four years. That is, to coin a technical phrase, a bloody long time! Four years ago we were gearing up for the London Olympics...