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 Black Kites in Spain, have demonstrated that, if fitted correctly, such transmitters do not adversely impact on the birds survival, breeding performance or behaviour. With regards to your specific request to publish photos of Hermione, while we will of course notify the public through this blog if anything happens to one of our tagged birds (they are after all, public-facing already and one of the aims of the Hen Harrier LIFE Project is to tell their stories), we feel that while the Scottish Government review of satellite-tagged raptors is ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment more widely on specific cases. We will be contributing comprehensive information regarding all of our dead or missing birds, including Hermione, to this review and await their findings with interest.

Comment on Guest Blog: Hen harriers and grouse shooting – Inquiry and debate

Well done Jeff, I thought your contribution was excellent. I agree that not enough emphasis was put on the illegality that goes on in the uplands, especially when questioning the two proponents of DGS. Perhaps that can be brought out more strongly in the debate.

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 (which over 123,000 people signed), and we were followed by Amanda Anderson from the Moorland Association and Liam Stokes from the Countryside Alliance. I used the time to set out why the RSPB believes change is needed to ensure that intensive grouse moor management is not damaging our environment and to allow the recovery of persecuted birds of prey, notably the hen harrier; and why we believe a licensing regime is the best way to deliver that. I didn’t manage to say everything I wanted to. It would have been nice to spend more time talking about hen harriers as the species most affected by illegal persecution and emphasising the association between that illegal killing and the complete absence of hen harrier breeding attempts on England’s grouse moors this year. I’d have liked to be able to talk about the great work our LIFE project is doing to satellite tag these birds to help better understand their movements, but I suppose even with the session running close to twice its originally allotted time, it was inevitable we wouldn’t get a chance to explore everything fully. If you want to watch the session back, video of the whole thing is still online here . Hopefully no-one noticed my hand shaking as I poured that first glass of water! The main purpose of this session was to inform a debate (triggered by Mark’s petition), which will be held in Westminster on 31 st October. This will be another great opportunity to explore the issues around intensive grouse shooting, so it’s really important we get as many MPs as possible to attend. Please click on this link to ask your MP to attend the debate and speak up for our hen harriers. I’ve not heard back from my MP yet, but hopefully we can get lots of positive voices heard, so that the debate can be another step towards delivering a more sustainable future for our uplands and the wildlife and communities that live in these special places.

Comment on A natural death on Mull

Blanaid, Good to hear that the body was recovered this time and that no evidence of foul play was found.  This bears out Donald Watson’s finding that HHs have a high mortality rate in their 1st year (D. Watson 1977, The Hen Harrier). What would be interesting for all, would be a photograph of the dead bird, as discovered in situ, showing the relative position of the satellite tag and aerial.  We know for example that radio and satellite transmitters do not continue to function when they have been munched by a predator, see here - or when they have either been inadequately fitted, or when the harness system has failed, see here –   So, it would be illuminating to see a photo of a transmitter that continues to function after the host bird has died, as originally found and before the body has been disturbed for examination, and of the orientation of aerial and solar-powered battery pack in such a case.

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: . 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 and activity of the bird will all help direct and inform our on-the-ground conservation work. England: / 0845 4600121 (calls charged at local rates) Scotland : / 07767 671973 (calls charged at standard mobile rates)

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 to truly influence the future of our hen harriers and the uplands. Don't miss it. Hen harrier in flight. (Image: John Whitting) 

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 her time close to her nest area on Mull, with her tag sending out clear and consistent signals. On 28 th  September, however, it became clear from the data received that she had stopped moving. RSPB Scotland Investigations staff attended within a few days and quickly located her body and the transmitter, only a few kilometres from her nest – it was clear that she had died naturally, and her remains had been partially eaten. Sad though this is, many young harriers do not survive their first winter, with starvation or predation a regular cause of death. It is interesting to contrast the death of Hermione with the disappearances of the four satellite tagged hen harriers mentioned above. The locating of Hermione’s body was straightforward, because, as we’d expect with birds dying of natural causes, her transmitter continued to provide us with good location data, directing our search efforts. In the cases of Highlander, Chance, Brian and Elwood, transmitters that were functioning similarly well, suddenly and unexpectedly stopped. While we will never definitively be able to say what happened to them without recovering their bodies, the weight of evidence is strongly suggestive of human interference and it is highly likely that these birds were killed, and the transmitters destroyed.  Arati Iyengar from UCLan offered this comment: " It is very sad to hear about Hermione’s death. However, there is some consolation in that her death was due to natural circumstances unlike in so many previous cases where human interference has been the most likely explanation ." Hermione's satellite data, along with that of all of our previously tagged hen harriers, will now be included in the Scottish Government review of satellite tracking data from golden eagles, hen harriers and red kites. We await their findings with interest.  In the meantime, we can only hope for a more positive future for our 9 remaining satellite-tagged hen harriers. Join us in following their fortunes on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website at  or @RSPB_Skydancer . --- Hermione’s satellite tag was sponsored by the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), whose researchers have recently developed a forensic DNA identification kit specific to hen harriers, which allows individual birds to be identified from tiny samples of genetic material such as blood or feathers.  Find out more about this exciting research  here.    

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

Blanaid, I think you’ve missed my point.  The point was that rather than fuelling unhelpful speculation by conflating every loss of satellite signal (not radar tracking by the way) from tagged birds with possible or alleged persecution – by including Roseanna Cunningham’s press release on losses of satellite signal from tagged golden eagles in the Monadhliaths - it would be better to treat each instance, individually.  And to take into account all the regional and local circumstances - such as the issue of fox/badger predation at Insh Marshes, and possible associated causes of loss of satellite signal, satellite tag failure and/or satellite transmitter shielding.   No radio or satellite transmitter’s signal will be received if the aerial is destroyed, damaged or shielded, from whatever cause, see here - .  And fox’s teeth and jaws are quite capable of puncturing and rendering a satellite tag, its aerial and/or battery inoperable. I am not asserting that natural predation (by fox/badger) was responsible on this occasion, but it is as plausible an explanation - given the local circumstances and conditions - as any other.

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 said, when it comes to individual cases without a physical body to examine, it is as erroneous and unhelpful for you to assert natural predation as the obvious cause, as it would be for us to assert persecution as the cause - which if you read the blog again, you’ll note I didn’t. In fact, I didn’t speculate as to the cause of Brian’s disappearance at all.

Comment on Second 2016 hen harrier goes missing

Blanaid, On 20th June, Martin Harper blogged that trail cameras at Insh Marshes had identified foxes and badgers as being the most likely reason for poor lapwing breeding success at the reserve and went on to state that lethal control of the foxes was being considered as a management option for next year – see here We know from nest cameras monitoring breeding HHs in a Skye study area that fox predation was the major driver of HH breeding failure over the last couple of years - .  Moreover, further nest camera evidence from Langholm this year showed a fox grabbing a young near-fledged harrier from one nest.  The increased usage of trail cameras has thus unequivocally identified foxes as a major predator of HHs.  And RSPB trail cameras at Insh Marshes have identified that foxes regularly forage there.  We also know that HHs have a high mortality rate in their 1st year (D. Watson 1977, The Hen Harrier).     Moreover, as we are all aware, a satellite tag is unlikely to continue functioning after being chewed (along with the prey’s bones, feathers etc) by a fox or badger, and/or after being cached or taken to an underground den or sett, or lying under a carcass with the transmitter shielded by the corpse, vegetation, terrain etc. So, an entirely plausible explanation for this loss of signal would be mammalian predation of a naïve juvenile bird at a fox-rich roosting site or when on the ground with prey.     Wouldn’t it therefore have been better to release the full facts straight away, rather than disingenuously allowing unhelpful speculation to fuel further paranoia and polarisation in the conservation community?   The key point surely is not to conflate these unexplained losses of satellite signal from tagged birds, but to treat each loss of signal on a case-by-case basis and on the often very few facts pertaining.   Anyway, glad to hear that the landowner 'cooperated' in the thorough search of the area…..        

Comment on Second 2016 hen harrier goes missing

This is becoming a depressingly familiar story and only 10 days after the inglorious 12th - what a coincidence. If this was an illegal killing the perpetrators are getting smart enough to conceal any incriminating evidence.  

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: Jenny Weston) Suddenly and without warning, these transmissions stopped on 22 nd August. There was no indication of battery failure or other technical problems. His last recorded position was a few miles from Kingussie, though he may have travelled some distance before his satellite tag stopped. Despite a thorough search of the area with landowner cooperation, his body could not be found.  Brian is the fourth satellite-tagged hen harrier to suddenly disappear off radar this year, after our 2014 birds Highlander and Chance  vanished in County Durham and South Lanarkshire respectively this Spring, and 2016 bird  Elwood  disappeared in the Monadhliaths last month.  The Scottish Government has ordered a review of satellite tracking data , following reports of the disappearance of a number of golden eagles  in the Monadhliath mountains. Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, said: “ The latest reports of satellite-tagged golden eagles disappearing on or near grouse moors are very disturbing and disappointing. “That is why I have instructed officials to analyse the evidence from around 90 surviving and missing satellite-tagged eagles, to discover if there is a pattern of suspicious activity. “Grouse moor management does help species such as curlew and golden plover as well as generating much needed rural employment and income but this cannot be at any price. “The public rightly expects all businesses in Scotland to obey the law. Let me be clear: grouse shooting is no exception. “As previously stated, the Scottish Government is prepared to introduce further regulation of shooting businesses if necessary. It will be unfortunate if the activities of a few bring further regulation on the whole sector, but that is the risk those who defy the law and defy public opinion are running .” This review has recently been expanded to include data from hen harriers and red kites. We welcome this review and look forward to the report on its findings.  It's now a case of all fingers and toes crossed for our remaining young satellite-tagged hen harriers. You can follow the fortunes of 10 of these birds online at or @RSPB_Skydancer .   

Comment on Second 2016 hen harrier goes missing

You get to a point where you're tired of commenting on how sickening this is - to watch these lovely birds grow up, and then you ring and tag them while trying to ignore the fact that at some point you'll probably have to tell the world that your beautiful tagged bird has abruptly vanished without a trace.  On this side of the border we really need to keep banging on about this horrendousness as Parliament prepares to debate the 'sport' of driven grouse shooting and all its dreadful consequences.

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 rare breeding bird in the Netherlands with a breeding population of about 30-60 pairs. Conservation includes fencing all nests in agricultural fields in order to protect the young during harvest. In addition, efforts are made to improve the harriers’ foraging conditions via Agri-Environment Schemes. However, as Montagu’s harriers are long-distance migrants wintering in sub-Saharan Africa it is equally important to also conserve this elegant species during the non-breeding season. If for example a disaster would occur along the migration route or in the wintering area, all conservation efforts on the breeding grounds would be in vain. A basic but essential step towards a year-round conservation is to determine migration routes and wintering areas and satellite tags are the perfect tool with which to do this. In 2006 we tagged the first two Dutch Montagu’s harriers using satellite transmitters, and it was thrilling to be able to follow the journeys of the birds via the daily updates. Since then, we have tracked more than 67 adult Montagu’s harriers from six different countries in Europe, in which the UK has been the latest addition . Satellite transmitters are small technological wonders that allow tracking individual birds around the globe in almost real-time. This is vital, as it actually allows studying when and where the birds die. It is always sad to lose a bird that you have come to know quite well, but information about mortality is of course extremely important for conservation. After having accumulated seven years of tracking data, we decided to review the causes of death of all of our tracked birds to date. In order to boost the dataset we also included data from Swedish Marsh Harriers and Ospreys which had been satellite tracked by colleagues from Lund University in Sweden using the same technology. One important question we had was whether migration is a dangerous behaviour in comparison to breeding and wintering. Indeed, we lost relatively many birds during time they were travelling, and thus the daily mortality rate was clearly raised for migration periods, especially for spring migration. The safest time of the year turned out to be the winter in Africa. When a bird dies, the transmitter is designed to keep sending positions, providing a large number of data points from the final location. The satellite transmitter also has an activity sensor which indicates whether the bird is moving, and this sensor data can be used to confirm the death of the bird. Mortality is more difficult to prove when contact with the transmitter ceases abruptly (observed in 14% of all cases). Was it the bird that died or has there been a technical failure of the transmitter? Technical failures generally are rare. We have recorded a few throughout the years (6% of all cases), however failures have always been preceded by irregular transmission periods and, most importantly, a drop in battery voltage (another parameter monitored by the transmitter). This makes it relatively straightforward to distinguish between a likely mortality event and a likely transmitter failure. Indeed, we never saw a bird returning to the breeding area that we had deemed to have died based on the different sources of satellite telemetry data, but we have seen birds returning with non-functioning transmitters in cases where we had deemed technical failures. A sad but instrumental example of how satellite telemetry could help to evaluate individual cases of mortality is the disappearance of Montagu’s harrier female “Mo”  in East Anglia in 2014. This breeding bird was tracked successfully for several weeks after tagging, until suddenly no new locations were received after the 8 th of August. Technical failure could readily be ruled out in this case as the transmitter had been working perfectly well up to the point contact ceased (and Mo was not observed in the field anymore despite extensive searches). Most likely the bird died but it is unlikely that a natural predator was involved given the fact that the signal stopped so abruptly. In the event of a natural death, we would expect the tag to continue transmitting and send out a new signal to indicate the bird had died. In fact, this information combined by the fact that the last positions were received from a hunting estate points towards illegal persecution. In summary, satellite telemetry actually is a powerful tool to prove illegal persecution. For example, the repeated disappearance of tagged Hen Harriers and Golden Eagles in certain areas in the UK can only be explained by high levels of illegal persecution. The use of this technology opens exciting opportunities to not only study natural causes of mortality of raptors in the field in more detail but also to fight illegal persecution in a better way. Suggested reading Klaassen, R. H., Hake, M., Strandberg, R., Koks, B. J., Trierweiler, C., Exo, K. M., ... & Alerstam, T. (2014). When and where does mortality occur in migratory birds? Direct evidence from long‐term satellite tracking of raptors. Journal of Animal Ecology ,  83 (1), 176-184. Koks, B. J., Trierweiler, C., Visser, E. G., Dijkstra, C., & Komdeur, J. (2007). Do voles make agricultural habitat attractive to Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus?.  Ibis ,  149 (3), 575-586. Trierweiler, C., Koks, B. J., Drent, R. H., Exo, K. M., Komdeur, J., Dijkstra, C., & Bairlein, F. (2007). Satellite tracking of two Montagu’s Harriers (Circus pygargus): dual pathways during autumn migration.  Journal of Ornithology , 148 (4), 513-516. Trierweiler, C., & Koks, B. J. (2009). Montagu’s harrier Circus pygargus. Living on the edge: Wetlands and birds in a changing Sahel , 312-327. Trierweiler, C., Mullie, W. C., Drent, R. H., Exo, K. M., Komdeur, J., Bairlein, F., ... & Koks, B. J. (2013). A Palaearctic migratory raptor species tracks shifting prey availability within its wintering range in the Sahel.  Journal of animal ecology ,  82 (1), 107-120. Trierweiler, C., Klaassen, R. H., Drent, R. H., Exo, K. M., Komdeur, J., Bairlein, F., & Koks, B. J. (2014). Migratory connectivity and population-specific migration routes in a long-distance migratory bird.  Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B: Biological Sciences ,  281 (1778), 20132897. Schlaich, A. E., Klaassen, R. H., Bouten, W., Both, C., & Koks, B. J. (2015). Testing a novel agri‐environment scheme based on the ecology of the target species, Montagu's Harrier Circus pygargus.  Ibis ,  157 (4), 713-721. Vansteelant, W. M. G., Bouten, W., Klaassen, R. H. G., Koks, B. J., Schlaich, A. E., van Diermen, J., ... & Shamoun‐Baranes, J. (2015). Regional and seasonal flight speeds of soaring migrants and the role of weather conditions at hourly and daily scales.  Journal of Avian Biology , 46 (1), 25-39.

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 that this summer saw me getting out and about to five different primary schools, in and around the Forest of Clunie and Muirkirk and North Lowther Uplands SPAs. These visits included assemblies, active workshops and, in one case, a very blustery trip onto the moorland around Muirkirk. Feedback in the form of poetry, drawing, rap and interpretive dance has certainly been entertaining but more importantly extremely encouraging and heartening that these children have been inspired by the story of the hen harrier, and have shown concern for its future. I am very much looking forward to my future work with the Hen Harrier LIFE Project but for now will leave you with a lovely little poem from a pupil in the P6/7 class of Kirkmichael Primary. Enjoy! Kirkmichael Primary 6/7 class posing with their hen harrier poems. The hen harrier swoops so gracefully. To find a girl, he needs to twirl! Dips and dives through the skies, To find the mate to be his date!   Kirkmichael Primary pupil May 2016

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 over me and disappearing over the brow. Shortly after, her brother, looking equally dapper with his new satellite tag jumped up from in front of me, cast a watchful eye over my figure and headed off in search of his sister over the hill. The peaceful silence of the hill briefly interrupted by the effortless beating of wings as the two harriers drifted over my head. Female hen harrier in flight. (Photo: Mark Thomas) This, unfortunately, is all too rare an experience in England. 2016 has been yet another year of Hen Harriers appearing in the news for a variety of reasons; the disappearance of one of 2014's star birds, Highlander  in the spring, the publication DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan and our recent withdrawal of support for it and a grand total of three nesting attempts in England. It is, however, the three successful nesting attempts that I want to focus on. What with the politics of the species often dominating the picture, it is easy to forget sometimes that, although small in number, these birds do exist and aren’t just a depressing statistic. These beautiful birds, far out on the hill, are completely unaware of the battle to save them as an English breeding bird. And we need reminding of them. Female hen harrier and chicks. (Photo: James Leonard) The majority of my work in the RSPB Investigations Team unfortunately involves dealing with the fallout of the continuing persecution of British birds of prey in the uplands. 2016 has been no different. The video that emerged of a camouflaged armed man with a hen harrier decoy in the Peak District and the discovery of three set pole traps in an area of the Yorkshire Dales, close to where a female Hen Harrier had been seen, both stark reminders of the continuing battle that the species faces in our uplands. Stills of film footage showing an armed man with a hen harrier decoy in the Peak District earlier this year.  The season started with the usual pulse of optimism and preparation of all the resources I would need at my disposal for the long summer months. A trickle of Hen Harrier sightings, with the odd bout of skydancing though provided a timely reminder of just how far this ghostly hunter of our hills has fallen. So the relief was palpable when first one and then two pairs settled down on Forestry Commission land in Northumberland, swiftly followed by the icing on the (albeit fairly small) cake, a pair on our wonderful RSPB reserve at Geltsdale in Cumbria. Three pairs. OK, hardly cause for celebration, but each pair of these birds should be celebrated regardless of how many, or few there are, because they’re fantastic. Success stories can often seem few and far between in my line of work, so seeing all three of the English Hen Harrier nesting attempts through from start to finish this year has been a real privilege. Hen harrier tustle. (Photo: Mike Davenport) Sitting in the heather, with the ‘siiip siiip’ of Meadow Pipits echoing around me, the unmistakable silvery grey outline of a male Hen Harrier whips across the fell. He’s on a mission. Within a matter of seconds, the female harrier is up off the nest, willing her partner to drop his catch. After a brief bout of acrobatics, the male meanders off and alights on a fencepost, his chores complete for now, affording me stunning views. A dazzling white beacon in the sunshine. The female finishes her lunch and has a brief rest on a nearby rock before winding her way back to her nest and dropping down out of sight to continue her expectant mother duties. The male has a brief preen and scan of the surrounding hillside before he’s off over the brow in search of the next meal. Perhaps sneaking in a Meadow Pipit snack for himself before he’s due back with the next catch. An intimate snapshot into the daily activities of England’s rarest bird of prey. Satellite tagged on RSPB's Geltsdale reserve, Bonny was one of only seven hen harrier chicks to fledge in England this year. (Photo: Mark Thomas) The summer progresses and thoughts turn to the class of 2016; 7 English Hen Harrier chicks ready to fledge the nest and face the world. A lot of hard work went into the monitoring of these pairs and the Northumberland Hen Harrier Partnership and all the staff at RSPB Geltsdale deserve an immense amount of praise for their work in ensuring the successful outcome of each nest. My work with the harriers at the breeding sites may be over for another year but in many ways the real challenge is just beginning. After a brief interlude, thoughts will turn again to the harriers winging their way into their remote winter roosts in near darkness and the constant tracking of our satellite tagged birds on their travels. Each log in to view the data on my laptop is met with a feeling of nervous excitement as I check where the day has taken them this time. 2017 will inevitably bring new challenges in the world of the Hen Harriers and we will continue to do our utmost in support of the species. For the time being though, the 2 recently fledged harriers which just lifted over my head are away to make their mark on the upland landscape and all is quiet on the hill again. I make my way back through the rippling bracken and slip back into the forest. You can follow the fortunes of this year's satellite tagged hen harriers online by visiting or @RSPB_Skydancer . 

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 Simpson) Sadly Elwood is already no longer with us, but you'll soon be able to follow the progress of our other 10 birds as we map their movements online. The first maps will be uploaded in the next couple of weeks, as our young hen harriers start to get more adventurous and spread their wings away from their nesting grounds... so be sure to watch this space. @RSPB_Skydancer Stay safe little ones!  

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 feathered Finn. I can still vividly remember the very first time I saw a hen harrier. It was high up on the North Wales moors. The fine rain and mist covered my face in water and the low cloud limited my views over the vast landscape.  Despite the rain and mist, I resolved to walk even further up the moors, but my plans to keep going suddenly came to an abrupt stop. A grey ghost, elegant and effortless, glided past within 10 metres of where I stood. He soared effortlessly on the wind, appearing and reappearing through the sloping hills. I am sure many of you out there worry about the way the world is changing and what the future holds for the next generation and the challenges they will face.  Well wildlife of course has to face up to all these changes and challenges too; changes that they have not caused, but will suffer from. An important thing to remember throughout this blog post is that chilling statistic that we have lost almost 50% of our world wildlife over the last 40 years. This really shows how important it is to protect, nurture and speak out for the natural world.  Many species are already struggling due to loss of habitat and climate change, but throw illegal persecution in to the mix and the situation just gets worse.   So what does the future hold for a young hen harrier named Finn? What are her chances? Finn (right) and her three brothers in the nest. Photo: Martin Davison It’s hard sometimes to explain the difficulties faced by these birds, but try thinking of hen harriers as a massive dot to dot picture puzzle.  Think of each dot as one of our much needed hen harriers. We need hundreds of dots to realise the picture we want. But the dots keep disappearing. Sky, Hope, Chance, the 5 males that went missing last year, forcing the females to abandon their nest, and most recently the disappearance of newly fledged Elwood over a grouse moor.  All those vital dots erased.   The end picture we all want for hen harriers doesn’t look good at the moment, so we have to ensure we get all the future dots in the right place.  Each connection line between the dots is all the hard work going on to protect them and stop their persecution, but it’s frustrating that our connection lines seem to be getting longer and longer.  Each plotted dot for the future represents hope and our efforts and successes, strengthening the picture we all want to see. Although I want to be optimistic, Finn’s chances of survival are not good, and it feels terrible to have to say that. She has fledged in an area surrounded by grouse moors; but she has spirit. When she first fledged she did not hang about the nest site as you would have expected, she flew to the coast first and since then has explored the surrounding area. But each of these flights put her in harm’s way as of course she doesn’t understand where the safe areas are.  Finn is going to have so many challenges to overcome, but my big wish for her is that illegal persecution is no longer one of them.   Finn about to receive her satellite tag. Photo: Martin Davison I urge you all to follow Finn’s journey and watch her progress. I urge you to tell other people about her and how important she is as one of those vital dots that will create the future picture we all want to see. Awareness of raptor persecution is growing, and there is a lot of momentum, but we have to keep this going. The natural world across the globe cannot afford to keep losing. ................................. I must say a massive thank you to the RSPB LIFE team and Ecotricity for enabling Finn to be monitored through the satellite tagging scheme.  When I first approached Dale Vince and Helen Taylor of Ecotricity at the 2015 WOMAD festival, I could never have imagined the opportunity this would create.  You can read more about that story here Thanks Findlay! And here's a final note from Helen Taylor at Ecotricity: When we first met Finn just over a year ago we were blown away by his passion and dedication to protect hen harriers, and he inspired us to support his conservation work. It has been fantastic to work with him and the RSPB since then on the tagging project and we’re thrilled that the chick named in his honour has now fledged and is exploring its local area.  We all have a responsibility to protect the wonderful wildlife in this country and the hen harrier is one of our most vulnerable, so we must do all we can to make a difference – before it’s too late. Both Northumberland hen harrier nests this year were protected by the Northumberland Hen Harrier Protection Partnership, which includes the Forestry Commission, MOD, Natural England, Northumberland National Park Authority, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, RSPB, Northumbria Police and local raptor workers. This is the second year in a row that hen harriers have fledged successfully from this site.  From the end of the summer, you'll be able to follow Finn's progress online at or @RSPB_Skydancer .