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 RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project across England, Scotland and the Isle of Man this year. Bonny in his nest at one week old. Photo: Steve Garnett His name was selected by Chris Packham from over 2,300 entries into the #nameandsave competition, run by LUSH cosmetics, to celebrate the incredible £122,000 raised by their skydancer bathbombs to support hen harrier conservation. Watch Chris announcing the winner here:  (Please visit the site to view this video) Right from the beginning, Bonny's life has been a rollercoaster journey. His mother, a mature female, arrived on the reserve back in May and it quickly became apparent that she was eager for a mate, skydancing (a trait normally reserved for males but used by females in times of desperation) and building dummy nests, but all to no avail. There were no males to be seen. Several weeks later, when a male finally did appear, it's safe to say she appeared to be deeply unimpressed - he was young and immature, still very brown and yet to earn his adult grey plumage. Normally in a healthy population of hen harriers, a young male like this wouldn't get a look in. But with so few birds in England this year, the female had little option but to accept his advances or leave breeding to another year. Bonny's mother - a beautiful mature female hen harrier. Photo: Mark Thomas As soon as the nesting attempt was confirmed, dedicated RSPB staff and volunteers mounted a 24/7 watch, special remote monitoring cameras were placed near the nest, and supplementary food was provided under licence, to ensure that this family of hen harriers had the best possible chance of survival and success. As it turned out, had the supplementary food not been provided, our immature male's inexperience could have proved disastrous. Though a reasonably effective hunter, he was hopelessly inattentive of his now-dependent female, frequently heading off for days at a time before reappearing with another small food offering. The extra food provided by RSPB thankfully ensured that the female never had to go far from the nest to feed herself or her chick.  RSPB Moorland Warden, Steve Garnett, placing day-old chicks and white rats on the supplementary feeding post. All supplementary feeding is carried out under appropriate licence from Natural England. Photo: Mark Thomas Having received his satellite tag on the 15th August, Bonny is now busily testing his wings and practicing his hunting skills around the reserve, under the continued close watch of our staff and volunteers. It won't be long before he starts venturing further afield and when he does, you'll be able to follow his movements online at or @RSPB_Skydancer . Good luck, Bonny, and stay safe! 

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 akin to the Malverns give way gently to low sandstone cliffs and long pebble and sand stretches of coast. With a healthy Manx population of Hen Harriers, it’s possible to see them on the way to work, on the school run and even while doing the shopping. The rural, compact nature of the island gives an omnipotence to the Hen Harrier and other ‘high value’ species such as Peregrine, Hooded Crow and Chough. They are always just around the next corner. And so it was that I was delighted to swap my marketing career, with all the thrills and spills of a London commute, for my new role as Managing Director of Manx BirdLife. I have always been passionate about birds and wildlife. Indeed, the formative years of my career were spent at RSPB HQ in Sandy and I have been itching to ‘get back to my roots’ ever since. Aalin with her newly fitted satellite tag. Photo credit: Sean Gray This year’s satellite tagging of a young female Hen Harrier offers the chance to make up the ground lost when last year’s tagged Hen Harrier, Hetty, suffered an early demise. Like Hetty before her, Aalin has been named by the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment, sponsors of the Manx Hen Harrier tagging project (part of RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE programme). Fittingly, Aalin means ‘beauty’ in the revived Manx language. She was tagged in July and has since left the nest, though appears reluctant to stray too far. We await with baited breath her first forays farther afield – perhaps down to the coast like many other local Harriers, or perhaps she might attempt to cross the Irish Sea to England, Wales, Scotland or even Ireland. On a clear day, we can see all four countries from that same hill behind our house. Whatever she decides to do, Aalin’s wanderings will provide valuable data which will add to the overall understanding of Hen Harrier behaviour across the British Isles. Our local community is excited by the project and eagerly awaits updates on the satellite data. But like everywhere, the Manx countryside is threatened by over-population, development and disturbance, though thankfully wilful persecution appears to be rare. Aalin - the future of Manx hen harriers. Photo credit: James Leonard Keeping Aalin in the public eye and maintaining the islanders’ desire to look after the precious Manx countryside and the wild birds to which it provides a home is so important. While it’s tempting to dream that the island might get back to the heady days of 60 Hen Harrier nests each season, it’s vital we focus our energies on the 30 or so nesting attempts we have had this year. We must do all we can to learn about Aalin’s needs and vulnerabilities. That way we can devise conservation plans to protect her and future generations of this magnificent ‘sky dancer’. My thanks are due to the RSPB LIFE team, the Manx Ringing Group, the Society for the Preservation of the Manx Countryside and Environment and James Leonard. Fingers crossed, Aalin will be digitally signing in for a long while to come!

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, this nest was carefully monitored under the Partnership for Action against Wildlife Crime Scotland (PAW Scotland) “ Heads-up for Harriers ” scheme. Recently tagged Elwood, back in his nest. Photo credit: Adam Fraser Elwood was tagged on 27 June when he was about four weeks old and was our first bird to be fitted with a transmitter this year. He fledged from his nest in the hills above the River Spey in Banffshire in the first week of July, but stayed close to the site and home as hen harriers often do in the early days, getting used to their wings and practicing their hunting skills over familiar ground. Eventually on 20 July, he began to travel more widely and seven days later, Elwood had moved 20 miles to the south west, and had settled in the hills around Tomatin. He stayed in this area for a while, with the transmitter providing detailed information about his daily travels until suddenly, transmissions ceased abruptly on 3 August. His last recorded position was in an area of managed moorland a few miles from the Slochd summit on the A9. It’s been a tough few years for birds of prey in this region, with news emerging last week that eight satellite-tagged golden eagles had also disappeared in the same area as Elwood; the northern Monadhliaths. In the last five years, three of these golden eagles, whose transmitters were functioning normally, suddenly and abruptly went “off the radar” this spring. Elwood showing off his satellite tag. Photo credit: Adam Fraser This latest disappearance of a satellite-tagged bird is deeply concerning, and joins the long list of protected birds of prey that have been confirmed to have been illegally killed or disappeared suddenly in this area. The transmitters being fitted to these birds are exceedingly reliable. If there’s a problem with the battery for instance, it is immediately obvious from the data received and we would expect to see a slow and gradual decline in transmissions over time. In Elwood’s case, as in so many others, the signal was coming through loud and clear and there was absolutely no indication of any technical fault. For the transmissions to stop so suddenly and without warning, something catastrophic must have happened to that tag. Illegal killing is therefore the most likely explanation of the disappearance of these birds of prey. The absence of typical breeding raptor species from areas of suitable habitat, or at traditional nesting sites, in large parts of the Monadhliaths is further supporting evidence of a major problem with wildlife crime in this area. The denials and obfuscation from representatives of the land management sector, and their consistent failure to acknowledge and address this problem, is one of the main reasons why our bird of prey populations are struggling in the central and eastern Highlands. We repeat our call to the Scottish Government to introduce a robust system of licensing of game bird hunting, where the right to shoot is dependent on legal and sustainable management of the land, in line with approaches adopted in most other European countries. It’s increasingly depressing to note that despite there being a good number of enlightened estates who are happy to host and protect nesting birds of prey, as soon as they move away from these protected and safe areas they are being illegally pursued and killed. The nest that Elwood successfully fledged from was monitored through one of those positive joint partnerships between PAW Scotland and the local landowner. It proves, yet again, that there is a desire by many to see the success of a breeding Hen Harrier population but due to a few pernicious bad apples, we are unable to follow and learn from Elwood, instead we morning the loss of achieving a simple goal; of keeping a Hen Harrier alive for more than a few months. From next week, follow the fortunes of our remaining tagged birds by visiting the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website at  or on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer . 

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 needed for forensic casework. The SkydancerPlex is the first such kit, making it a real step forward in the fight against wildlife crime. Hermione, the young female hen harrier from Mull, named by UCLan, and satellite tagged by RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project. Photo: Paul Haworth How was it created? Unlike in the case of human DNA where extensive information is available, there was nothing at all available for the hen harrier when we started. It’s one thing to distinguish hen harrier DNA from that of other species but identifying individual hen harriers was a much bigger challenge. To do this, we needed to look at areas of DNA called short tandem repeats (STRs). These are where strands of DNA start to repeat themselves and it’s that pattern of repetition which is unique to each individual, like a genetic fingerprint. The more of these STRs you analyse, the more accurate the identification. After much hard work from a research intern and some MSc students, we selected 8 STRs along with another section of DNA to tell us the sex the bird. These were then all combined into a single identification kit, or an a STR multiplex. Hence the name 'SkydancerPlex'. How does the SkydancerPlex work? By focusing on these specific areas of hen harrier DNA, we can simultaneously amplify and analyse small samples of genetic material to create a DNA profile for each bird.  How do you individualise hen harriers using SkydancerPlex? If two DNA samples (e.g. a sample taken from shot bird and one obtained from a suspect) have the same alleles across all STRs, what you have is a ‘match’. Of course, without DNA from every single hen harrier out there you can never be 100 % certain that a DNA profile is from a particular hen harrier. So instead, what we do is to calculate the probability of the DNA profile being present in a random unrelated individual in the population. The smaller this probability, the more likely it is that the sample came from the individual concerned. By calculating the frequency of the various alleles within the hen harrier population you can then calculate the probability of this match. Using the Skydancerplex, the probability of matching a DNA profile to the wrong bird can be as small as 1 in 188 million. So if a DNA sample had been recovered as evidence and matched to a suspect, it would be hugely powerful evidence against him indeed. What next? The development of the SkydancerPlex is certainly not the end of our interest in hen harriers. It is very much the beginning of more exciting projects. What we really want to do next is use the SkydancerPlex to understand the population dynamics of hen harriers from across the UK and Europe. Analysing DNA from hen harriers from across this range will tell us about their movements and breeding patterns which is vital information to inform future conservation efforts. Find out more about UCLan's exciting research by visiting their website here  and can download the abstract from their published research paper here . From the end of this summer, you can follow Hermione's movements on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website at .

Blog Post: The ordinary 12th

Today is the traditional start of the grouse shooting season – the ‘Glorious 12 th ’ to some; the Inglorious 12 th to others. To be honest, it’s just another day to me – I’ve never been grouse shooting and I doubt I ever will. It’s a Friday so I guess that’s good. I suppose for me it’s just the ordinary 12 th . If someone brings cake in it might stretch to the pretty decent 12 th . But behind that slightly flippant introduction is a serious question – does grouse shooting matter and perhaps most pertinently of all, does it have a future? In 100 years’ time, will there still be a Glorious 12 th , or will it be looked back on as an odd quirky footnote in the history of our countryside? I’m sure we’ll hear lots of perspectives on that today from all angles, but from my perspective the only answer to the question “should grouse shooting have a future?” is a clear... definitely, maybe . Driven grouse shooting can’t have a future unless it shows it is capable of evolving to tackle the problems it faces. These issues clearly start with the illegal killing of birds of prey , which must end. It is absurd this is still going on – we shouldn’t have to remind people to obey the law! But the problems also extend further, from the inappropriate burning on peatlands to drainage and the creation of damaging tracks . In addition, emerging issues such as mountain hare culling and medication of the grouse , are only now coming to the fore. Some moorland management is certainly good for some species, such as curlew and golden plover, but that can’t come at the price of the other environmental damage it causes. One way of tackling these issues would be a rigorous licensing system, such as those found in many European and North American countries, which recognises and builds on existing good practice. Self-regulation has clearly failed, so tougher steps must be taken. The UK has been unusual in having no statutory form of shoot licensing and given the intensity of management on some shooting estates and its environmental impacts, this seems, to put it mildly, a bit odd. We all need a modern scheme, with licensing of shoots and powers to remove the opportunity to shoot gamebirds where wildlife crimes have taken place. Loss of shooting rights is widely available as a sanction and deterrent to law breaking in other countries, so why not here? Licensing is not about tarring everybody with the same brush – law-abiding estates have nothing to fear. Those that have clean licenses could be celebrated for doing a good job. The details of a licensing scheme would need to be worked out through a public debate. But there could be a sliding scale of penalties, ranging from the most severe penalties (loss of the right to shoot) for the worst offences (eg illegal killing) through to lower penalties (fines, suspended loss of licence?) for offences such as burning on deep peat or creating damaging tracks (although arguably these are just as ecologically damaging and potentially more difficult to reverse). There could be a points based system, as on driving licences. We think it is vital that licensing requirements are compulsory, as voluntary approaches have patently failed, and that licences apply at the shoot level. Licensing could have value anywhere intensive management for shooting is causing environmental problems. This would mean a focus on the intensive driven grouse moors of northern England and southern and eastern Scotland, but the same approach could be used to drive up standards in other areas too. Clearly monitoring and enforcement would be required to check estates were abiding by the rules and laws set out in any licence. This might sound bureaucratic or expensive, but it is delivered perfectly straight forwardly in other areas and I don’t see any reason why that couldn’t be replicated here. A good option for administration and enforcement would be via the statutory nature conservation agencies, who could have the necessary access powers and support for enforcement from the police forces. This combination seems to work well in other examples, like the fishing rod licensing system, which is enforced by the Environment Agency working in partnership with the police and other organisations. A modern online system for licence administration and reporting could help save costs. A nominal fee could cover costs of administration. Again, similar to the EA rod licensing system, licence fees could potentially be a significant source of funding for conservation work. With high levels of compliance achieved as a result of effective enforcement, the rod licensing system raises over £20m a year to support fisheries . The shooting community too have a lot to gain from a robust licensing system. Such a system could improve public confidence in the industry, providing a means to demonstrate the sustainability of shooting sports, driving up standards, and giving us an opportunity to celebrate the best shoots where nature thrives on the land. There are no doubt a lot of other details to be worked out. For example, would estates automatically get licences and then have them taken away if they break the rules, or would they have to prove they’d reached certain criteria before being allowed a licence? What I’ve suggested here is in no way a formal RSPB submission on how a licensing system would work. It is merely a few thoughts and suggestions for how it could work. As ever, the details would need to be worked out through a long overdue public debate and consultation with all stakeholders. This is clearly something the public care about, as can be seen in Scotland where the debate is well underway. While it is appalling that yet another golden eagle has disappeared , the words of the Scottish Minister, Roseanna Cunningham, clearly show that she is serious about tackling the problem. Her statement is pretty clear - “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 is good news – progress is being made. Hopefully we can deliver similar progress in England too. The challenge is clear and it’s a great opportunity for clear leadership. That leadership doesn’t just have to come from politicians though. It can and should come from the law-abiding and forward-looking elements of the shooting industry itself. Licensing has huge potential as a tool for driving up standards across the shooting community. Shooters, as well as our wildlife will benefit. Driven grouse shooting is not an inherent right. It is something a small minority of people enjoy, yet affects the management of large swathes of our uplands. It doesn’t seem unreasonable in that context to expect that minority to abide by some basic rules of not damaging the environment in exchange for being allowed to practice their hobby. Will there be a ‘Glorious’ 12 th in 100 years time? Only if grouse moor management reforms, that’s for sure. The status quo is not an option. The RSPB is not anti-shooting. But we are anti-wildlife crime. We are anti-illegal killing. We are anti-damaging land management practices. The ball is firmly in the driven grouse shooting industry’s court to show it is capable of addressing its problems. Licensing is the best option for it to do this. There are plenty of people out there calling for a ban on driven shooting. If the industry embraces licensing as the way to counter these calls and show it can evolve, then there could be many Glorious 12ths to come. If responses to the very real issues it faces continue to be characterised by spin and denial, then the 12 August could become just another summer’s day. But at least there will always be cake!          

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 year, we have fitted satellite tags on birds as far north as Banffshire in Scotland, and soon hope to tag a chick on our Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria, the first hen harrier to hatch at that location in ten long years.  Tags have also gone on birds at National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire, amongst other locations. From the end of the summer, you’ll be able to follow the fortunes of 11 of these birds on the LIFE Project website here . I sincerely hope they fare better than our previous satellite-tagged birds. Bowland Betty – fledged in 2011, found shot dead on a grouse moor in Yorkshire Dales in June 2013. Sky – fledged in July 2014, disappeared in Forest of Bowland in September 2014 when tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting Hope – fledged in July 2014, disappeared in Forest of Bowland in September 2014 when tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting Burt – sibling to Hope, fledged in July 2014, disappeared after tag showed signs of battery failure with transmissions slowly fading and eventually stopping in December 2014, near Exmoor Highlander – sibling to Sky, fledged in July 2014, disappeared in April 2016 when tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting Chance – fledged in 2014, disappeared in South Lanarkshire in May 2016 when tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting Lad – fledged in July 2015, found dead with injuries “consistent with shooting” in September 2015, in the Cairngorms National Park Nile – fledged in July 2015, died of unknown causes in Northern France in November 2015, body not recovered Hetty – fledged from Isle of Man in July 2015, found dead of natural causes in August 2015 Holly – fledged in West Scotland July 2015, disappeared in Central Scotland in October 2015 I look forward to sharing the stories of our new birds with you on our website and @RSPB_Skydancer. In the meantime, I'll be speaking at Hen Harrier Day Northeast this Sunday, hosted at RSPB Saltholme, which is one of many events being held across the country this weekend.  See you there? 

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 – seems an age ago doesn’t it? But four years is also how long discussions went on to try and hammer out an agreement that all parties could agree on and that most importantly, would deliver the recovery of hen harriers. I was the RSPB representative in most of those meetings. While discussion was often difficult and debate was usually forthright, it did feel like there was potential. Getting everyone – conservationists, shooters, landowners, the Government - around a table to try to agree on how to save England’s hen harriers (and only that) was always going to be challenging, but it was a prize worth fighting for. And that’s what kept me going through years of meetings. When the plan was published earlier this year, we welcomed it . Not because it was perfect – it wasn’t (but then I’d argue no compromise agreement ever is) – but because it represented the potential for progress. Unfortunately, that potential has proved to be as fleeting and as unfulfilled as that of Roy Hodgson’s men at Euro 2016. I’m not going to repeat the evidence for the lack of progress. For that, give Martin Harper’s excellent blog from last Monday a read. It is clear that the opportunity the action plan presented has not been grasped. The events of this season have made it abundantly clear that the people I spent years sitting round tables with are unable to deliver the real changes we need to see on the ground. And when it’s clear a partnership can’t deliver what it needs to, then it’s time to separate. And let’s be abundantly clear. The action plan has not failed to deliver because of the RSPB. It has failed to deliver because illegal killing has not ended and hen harriers remain in danger. What’s my over-riding sentiment to this? Anger? Depression? Disappointment? No – its determination. Determination that this will be the last failed process. Determination that we will all, especially law-abiding shooting estates, grasp the real opportunity presented by licensing. Determination that we will continue to work with partners on the ground to protect the birds. Determination that we will save our hen harriers. And licensing really does offer an opportunity. It’s not a blanket approach, but targeted specifically at driving up standards. Progressives in the shooting community should be looking to embrace licensing as a way to identify and marginalise illegality and bad practice. There are plenty out there calling for a total ban on driven grouse shooting. Over 64,000 have signed this petition . For me, taking licensing seriously provides the grouse shooting industry with an option to avoid the failure of the Hen Harrier Action Plan being seen as another milestone on the way to ever increasing calls for an outright ban on driven grouse shooting and the land use and practices that support it. It’s an opportunity they mustn't let slip by. Have I wasted the last four years working on an action plan that has failed entirely? I don’t think so. Because much like failure in sports, in relationships, indeed in life, with hen harriers if we learn the lessons and move forward to achieve our goals in the future, ultimately it will all be worth it. If you share my determination, please attend one of the upcoming Hen Harrier Day events on 6 th /7 th August and, if you live in Scotland, sign this petition supporting calls for licensing.

Blog Post: Let’s take the opportunity for a better future for our upland wildlife.

We’ll be blogging regularly in the run up to Hen Harrier Day 2016 and as a prelude here is an analysis by Stuart Housden, our Director of Scotland, reviewing the issues facing the uplands in Britain and the fate of its hen harrier population and the work we are doing to tackle them. We believe fundamentally that intensive driven grouse shooting needs to reform or sooner or later it will die. We want actively to pursue constructive options - but our support is conditional on progress. This will be a topic we will return to over the coming weeks. We’ve never been afraid to tackle difficult issues, where powerful interests have much to lose, whether that’s those who profited from the world trade in birds’ plumage, or developers who pursue profitable developments at the expense of wildlife sites.  The RSPB has been actively stating the conservation case, and winning the arguments throughout our long history. Our passion for the cause that drives us – to see a world richer in nature – is at the heart of what we do. To this we add a calm evaluation of facts, data and information which we use to inform our policies. And, of course, our extensive network of nature reserves roots us in the practical issues of managing land and working in communities. A long running and currently very topical issue concerns the management of land for grouse shooting, particularly the intensive land management that now supports driven grouse shooting.  This happens on moorland and hills, places made special by the upland heaths and blanket bogs that are home to so much wildlife.  The management aims to produce extensive areas of heather which is regularly burnt to provide young shoots favoured by red grouse and where gamekeepers undertake the control of generalist predators such as crows and red foxes. Grouse moors are quite good for some important species (other than grouse) such as curlew and golden plover not least because of the legal reduction in numbers of generalist predators that would otherwise have an impact on ground-nesting wading birds as was found in this study carried out by GWCT.   But, there is strong scientific evidence which links intensive grouse moor management with illegal practices that result in fewer hen harriers, peregrine falcons and other protected birds of prey that should be found on these open landscapes.  Here’s our recent scientific review of the benefits & costs of grouse moors.. This illegal persecution of wildlife, when added to the intensification of the management of moorland (more burning, track construction, damage to peat areas, catching up and medication of grouse, killing mountain hares) is causing a number of serious questions to be posed to the grouse moor managing community. Female hen harrier - photo credit Andy Hay RSPB Images The RSPB’s Council has carefully considered the science and evaluated the impact that illegal persecution of protected species is having, alongside the damage to eco-systems, weighed against the benefits for some bird species.  We have also looked at other models of management and regulation in other countries, to see what we can learn.  It is apparent that the management of large sporting estates across the UK enjoys ‘light touch’ regulation compared with many other land use sectors (at home), and sports shooting in other countries. It is also apparent that the illegal killing of birds like hen harriers, red kites, golden eagles and peregrines on some upland areas is having a population and range-level impact . This was earlier revealed in the influential Hen Harrier and Golden Eagle Framework documents. In response, many have joined calls to ban driven grouse shooting, whilst those in the grouse moor community continue to challenge the evidence and wish to work in a voluntary capacity to improve practice. What is the RSPB doing to address this critical issue and where does it stand ? We are vigilant and remain absolutely committed to rooting out crime against protected species – often investigating and working with the police and other enforcement agencies to bring these cases to trial, and supporting the necessary action to pursue perpetrators through the courts Our annual BirdCrime report (here’s 2014) and our recent Scotland 20 Year review give further details.. Along with our partners, we are working on the ground to satellite track birds and give them the best possible chance of year round protection, for example through our Hen Harrier Life project . 2.         We believe the regulation of grouse shooting should be subject to a far more rigorous process, that ensures estates and their staff manage land in the public interest and within the law. Self-regulation has clearly failed.  A licensing system, with serious sanctions for breaches, including a sanction prohibiting sport shooting for periods, should now be pursued.  We'll be returning to this issue over the coming weeks.   While we believe a licensed based approach has utility across the UK, we are currently focussing on the opportunity to develop its implementation in Scotland, where significant improvements in regulation are already helping to hold perpetrators of environmental crimes to account 3.         We continue to offer help to those managers who adopt progressive management, and will work constructively with them to find solutions to problems. For example, the diversionary feeding of hen harriers, trialled at Langholm, and which has proved to be successful in reducing grouse losses to predation. 4.         We do not support a ban on driven grouse shooting because we see this as unlikely to achieve the desired objectives as in our assessment it will not get political support without first showing that other approaches do not work. We also believe it focuses on the wrong area through highlighting the style of shooting (‘driven’ vs ‘walked up’), rather than the real problem – the desire to produce (and shoot) ever more grouse which is associated with increasingly intensive and sometime illegal management practices. Experience tells us it will also be extremely difficult to bring about a ban without first exhausting all regulatory approaches.  In short, if people break the law and kill protected wildlife (and this happens in many areas beyond driven grouse moors), such activity will not stop if driven grouse shooting is prohibited across the board. 5.         We have supported the Upland Stakeholder Forum’s joint action plan to increase the English hen harrier population ( the Hen Harrier Action Plan ) as the best current option for delivering progress in England. However, we believe so-called ‘brood management’ option still has significant questions to answer before any trial of the technique can be considered acceptable.  We made this clear as long ago as 2009 .  6.         So what might the future hold for the uplands?  It is increasingly evident that our uplands and the people and wildlife they support face an increasingly uncertain future.  The combination of a changing climate, unprofitable industries (e.g. farming and forestry) and heightened awareness of the importance of the uplands as a carbon store and source of drinking water all serve to remind that the way we use and manage the uplands is of vital importance.  And the connection between the uplands and communities downstream is also increasingly evident with major flood incidents increasingly the norm.  We urgently need to find new ways of restoring degraded habitats, restoring bog and heath, establishing new areas of woodland, restoring floodplains and finding ways to sustain High Nature Value farming systems, vital to the maintenance of meadows and pastures and a suite of priority species.  We know that many landowners who shoot, share our passion for the uplands and the wildlife they support.  And yet we are also aware that some continue to flout the law with no apparent understanding of the consequences of their actions either on the environment or indeed on their own community.  It is surely time for a change.  A change that embraces wider societal needs and puts grouse shooting on a more environmentally sustainable footing.  In the absence of a demonstrable change in behaviour, better regulation is now required to achieve change. We must also think about how to deliver the desired management of such large areas of the uplands.  How will the habitat of curlews, snipe, golden plover and other species for which these areas are very important be managed in the future (especially as populations of some of these key species have virtually gone from the lowlands).What role have the shooting community to play.  Will more intensive sheep grazing see the loss of heather ground, or will commercial forestry become the preferred land use? Something will fill the vacuum. We must ensure any new management properly addresses issues such as flooding caused by runoff from the hills, or damage to peatlands from drains or burning are addressed, rather than risk replacing one environmentally damaging form of management with another. Our Chairman of Council, Professor Steve Ormerod recently set out the RSPB’s position in a guest blog on Mark Avery’s website.  I hope you find this summary and the links to our ongoing work helpful in understanding the RSPB’s position on this issue. In essence, our approach is no different to that employed in dealing with any other land use – we want to promote good practice and eradicate bad, both through effective regulation and direct support for those who wish to work positively. We want to give hope to moor managers, by supporting them as they introduce best practise. But we will not flinch from exposing the illegal killing of protected hen harriers and other birds of prey, and will continue to do all in our power to combat wildlife crime.      

Blog Post: The hen harrier rollercoaster continues…

It's a turbulent and uncertain time for nature conservation (and everything else) in the wake of last week's EU referendum result. The hen harrier is just one of the schedule 1 species currently afforded protection under the European Birds Directive. What will replace this and other vital pieces of European conservation legislation in the wake of Brexit is yet unknown, however you can read our Chief Executive, Mike Clarke's reaction to the referendum result here .  One thing is certain, referendum or no, the emotional rollercoaster that is the hen harrier breeding season rolls on. The Bad News: It is with a heavy heart that only weeks after our beloved Highlander vanished over a moor in Durham, I have to share the news that our one remaining satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, has now also disappeared. Satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, photographed here at RSPB's Wallasea reserve, in 2014 by Tony Orwell. For those who haven't been following this blog, Chance was a female hen harrier, named by RSPB Scotland, who was tagged in June 2014 by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group before the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project began. However, the project followed her movements closely. RSPB staff who were monitoring Chance became concerned when her tag suddenly and inexplicably stopped transmitting at the end of May. A search of her last known location, on a South Lanarkshire grouse moor, was carried out by RSPB Investigations staff, but there was no sign of her. It is possible that she could have moved some distance from here before going offline. We don’t know what caused the satellite tag to fail but as with Highlander, transmission up to that point had been strong and there was no indication of battery failure. She has not been found. Needless to say, we are deeply saddened, disappointed and frustrated at the disappearance of Chance. We were looking forward to following her movements, monitoring any nesting attempts, and sharing them on the LIFE+ project website. We had high hopes that now in her second year, this would be the summer she raised a brood of her own.  We appeal to anyone who can provide any information about Chance’s disappearance to contact the RSPB in the first instance, or if the circumstances appear suspicious, Police Scotland on 101. You can also read a full statement on Chance's life on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website here .  The Good News:   Around the same time that Chance disappeared, RSPB staff at our Geltsdale reserve in Cumbria became aware of a female hen harrier hanging around and displaying over the reserve. She was shortly after joined by an immature male, yet we didn't dare hope that anything could come of it so late in the season. I have never been so delighted to be proved wrong. As of late last week, I can now confirm that we have a hen harrier nest with five eggs on Geltsdale, being watched round-the-clock by a team of dedicated wardens, overnight protection staff, and volunteers, armed with the latest remote monitoring technology. This is one of only three active nests in England this year and if successful, these will be the first hen harrier chicks to have fledged from Geltsdale since 2006 - exactly 10 years. A similar nesting attempt last year resulted in failure when the male hen harrier suddenly and inexplicably disappeared while hunting away from the nest. Faced with the prospect of starvation, the female had little choice but to abandon her eggs. With the Government and landowners now officially committed to the recovery of the species through the DEFRA Hen Harrier Action Plan, we have written to our neighbouring estates so they can play their part in helping to ensure that this year's birds are safe when they leave our reserve to hunt. So what next?  We have everything crossed for successful hatching and fledging from all three nests and we are doing everything in our power to make that happen. However, with the recent sudden and unexplained disappearances of not one but two satellite tagged hen harriers, it is difficult to feel positive about the prospects of this year's fledgelings once they take off. If this is happening to the satellite tagged birds, what can be said for all those hen harriers that haven't been tagged? Through the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project and with huge support from cosmetics company, LUSH, via the sales of their hen harrier bathbombs, RSPB will be fitting more satellite tags on hen harriers across a wider area this year than ever before. We will also continue to work closely with dedicated volunteers in the Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), and with other organisations and individuals to monitor and protect these birds on the ground wherever possible. A wise person once said, "There is more that unites us, than divides us." We all want our hen harriers back.

Comment on Another missing hen harrier

Good and thanks for the clarification. I thought he meant the coalition groups of the Hen Harrier Actionless Planless-plan. On the ground the RSPB is fantastic at wildlife crime reporting and in the European Courts fighting the government on muirburn and habitat destruction on grouse moors but as far as the Hen Harrier Day the RSPB has previously been quite luke-warm and distinctly frozen against the rapidly growing movement to ban driven grouse moors and end raptor crime on the uplands for ever. The RSPB is hardly leading the way for these 'rapidly growing coalition of groups' but belatedly riding on the coat-tails of HH day. The RSPB needs to be leading the way rather than being part of the problem in supporting the legalization of the crime of brood movement and contrary to international guidelines supporting the re-introduction of Hen Harriers in the lowlands before the source of the killings has been removed.

Comment on Another missing hen harrier

Prasad - As mentioned on Martin Harper's blog yesterday, a great way for you to find out more and get involved would be to come along to one of the 11 Hen Harrier Day events being held across England and Scotland on the 6-7 August. These events have grown year on year since they started in 2014 and are a coming together of people who care deeply about hen harriers and want to see an end to the persecution that's keeping them from our hills. To find out more about your nearest event and see photos from previous years, visit

Comment on Another missing hen harrier

Blánaid you quote James Bray as saying 'a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals are fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey.’ Please could you tell me more about these wonderful groups?

Comment on Another missing hen harrier

Please could James Bray explain who he means by 'a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals .. fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey' I would like to know more about these wonderful groups of people and how i can join them.

Blog Post: Another missing hen harrier

Just over a week ago, I shared with you the incredible story of Chance, a young female hen harrier who surprised us all with her continental winter migrations.   Today however, I have another story to share – another female hen harrier, fledged in 2014, the same year as Chance, this time from the Forest of Bowland, where the RSPB have been working in partnership with the water company, United Utilities, local raptor workers and others to protect and monitor hen harriers since the 1980s. Satellite-tagged and “adopted” by children from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School alongside her sister, Sky, the name Highlander is one that long-time readers of this blog might recognise. However in April this year, while Chance was in France readying herself to cross the Channel again, Highlander’s satellite tag suddenly stopped transmitting and she joined her sister in the ranks of the "disappeared".  Those closest to Highlander’s journey over the last two years have endured both incredible highs and crushing lows in the process, and it feels only right that you should hear her story from them. Steve Downing is a long-time member of the voluntary Northern England Raptor Forum (NERF) and has been working with hen harriers for over a decade. I started working with hen harriers in 2004 so 2014 was my 10 th anniversary monitoring and protecting hen harriers, England most persecuted bird of prey. Fellow raptor workers often say that they wish that they had hen harriers in their study area and I always caution ‘be careful for what you wish for’. The emotional rollercoaster associated with monitoring this species is intense and the rewards are few and very far between. Harrier nest protection can be soul destroying with the watchers sitting about a kilometre away from the nest, in all weathers, recording adult activity in minute detail. The effort from all of the volunteers, day shift and night crew is truly monumental. Following two years without a single nest in Bowland, Spring 2014 got off to a good start with a phone call to say that birds were back on territory; great but would they breed? Several days later a text arrived from Mick, RSPB Assistant Warden and Bowland Raptor Study Group member. A female was down incubating eggs and we arranged to meet on the United Utilities estate a few days later. Being one of only a handful of people licensed to do so in England, it is both a tremendous privilege to fit BTO leg rings on the young of this iconic species and a great responsibility. At 11 am on the 23 June Mick and I visited the nest under licence. It contained five healthy looking chicks and after sharing a smile we set to work, preparing the way for Stephen Murphy, Natural England Hen Harrier Project Officer, to fit the satellite tags to two of the chicks. Sisters Sky (left) and Highlander (right) having their satellite tags fitted, July 2014. (Image: Mick Demain) By the time the satellite tags were fitted the chicks were almost ready to fly free and local school children had given the tagged birds names. They had named a female from nest one Sky and her sister was named Highlander. What a fantastic names for birds whose home was 380m high in the Forest of Bowland. Two more satellite-tagged birds from the only other nest in Bowland that year were given the equally inspirational names of Hope and Burt. By late summer all of the Bowland chicks were flying free and hunting for their own food. It was good news that they had got so far. Unfortunately on the 10 September 2014 the satellite tag fitted to Sky, Highlander’s sister, inexplicably stopped working. The emotional rollercoaster had taken a dive but things got worse when Hope, from the neighbouring nest suffered the same fate on the same moor just three days later. I had held those birds, weighed them, measured them and ringed them a few weeks earlier and now they had joined the " disappeared" . The other two sat-tagged birds, Burt and Highlander, were still alive but how many of the untagged birds were also dead? The full story of Sky and Hope can be found here and here . Despite an extensive search and appeals for information, they were never found.  As autumn turned to winter, the signal from Burt's satellite tag became gradually less frequent, indicating a likely problem with the battery. His last confirmed transmission was received on 26th December from a location in Exmoor National Park where he was wintering. Sadly, he hasn't been seen since. James Bray started as RSPB’s Bowland Project Officer in February 2015. Working in partnership with United Utilities, monitoring and protecting hen harriers on their estate in the Forest of Bowland is a key part of James’ role. Following her first winter, Highlander was first seen back in Bowland in late March on the slopes where she was born. With four pairs having settled down and with Highlander having found a mate, the team were incredibly excited. Highlander was paired with a bird that was in its third year. It was a grey bird that still retained some brown feathers on its back, so we were able to identify it from the other males present on the estate. The pair settled in a small valley and began making a nest, bringing dead heather stems in to make a flimsy platform on the ground amidst a stand of deep heather. Soon after she had begun incubating her eggs disaster struck – her mate suddenly disappeared. He was the first of four male hen harriers that had females incubating eggs on the United Utilities estate to disappear. The female hen harrier does all the egg incubation and relies on the male to feed her. If he disappears she must leave the nest to hunt and the eggs will chill and die. Showing great determination to breed, Highlander stayed in her chosen valley and within a few days of her first mate disappearing she had managed to attract the attentions of another younger male. Highlander was soon back in her original nest and following a licensed nest visit, fieldworkers found that she had laid nine eggs. This was incredible as historically, only a tiny number of harriers have ever laid nine eggs in one nest. Not all the eggs would have hatched but this demonstrated how strong Highlander was. Highlander's second nesting attempt with an incredible 9 eggs. (Image: James Bray, 2015) As the days of her second attempt passed it became clear that her mate was struggling to provide for her. Hen harriers can be polygamous, and this male was already paired with another female who was on eggs. The strain proved too much and Highlander, being the secondary female, was deserted and she had to leave her eggs to feed herself. Her second nesting attempt had failed. Obviously fed up of Bowland, Highlander headed off to southern Scotland and following two failed breeding attempts, we really thought that that would be the end of her first breeding season. A week later I received a very excited call from my colleague Mick who was monitoring a lone male harrier; he had attracted a female! This young male, in his first breeding season, had been skydancing on his own for over a week, and Mick told me that he had not seen a male displaying so vigorously before. The first day that the female was in his valley he brought her six items of food over the course of the day but she completely ignored his advances. Over the next couple of day the two birds began to bond and were soon showing signs of nesting. We were obviously ecstatic that he had attracted a potential mate, and even more so when we saw that the female was carrying a satellite tag, and that its transmission confirmed that it was Highlander. The birds settled down, Highlander laid her third clutch of the season, and we all held our breaths. Monitoring nesting hen harriers is often a game of hope and patience. Hope that ground predators do not find the nest, hope that bad weather does not have an effect on food supplies, and hope that the male returns after each hunting expedition. Patience is also required as it takes nearly a month for the eggs to hatch. And so as that month passed with no problems for the birds and with the male regularly bringing in food we began to count down the days. 6 July was the special day, as this was the day that food was first seen being carried into the nest, a sure sign that Highlander’s first chicks had hatched. That next week was very special as the male was proving to be a very good provider of food and many of our volunteers and staff took turns watching the valley and looking out for food passes as the male returned. Five days later, on the day that the last egg would have hatched, disaster struck. Highlander and her mate were seen flying low over the nest diving at something on the ground. Mick and a colleague checked the nest to find that it had been cleaned out, most probably by a small ground predator such as a stoat or weasel. Heartbreakingly despite all her efforts, Highlander’s first breeding season had ended in failure, thwarted by her first male “disappearing”, then by a lack of food, and finally by nest predation. Highlander's third nesting attempt ended in predation. (Image: James Bray, 2015) Highlander spent the autumn and winter of 2015 and early 2016 within 30 miles of Bowland. As spring approached she returned to Bowland for brief visits but the vole population is at a very low level unfortunately, and harriers that have visited have not stayed long. Highlander was no different. I was with three visitors to Bowland when she paid her last visit to the valley in which she was born. We watched a female harrier quartering the hillside, and as she came closer I saw the satellite tag – Highlander was here. We hoped that she’d stay but that was the last time that she was seen in Bowland. Sister to a missing sibling, partner to a missing mate, and three nest failures in the space of two months, our Highlander endured through it all. However, on 16 April 2016, Highlander’s satellite tag suddenly and unaccountably ceased transmission.  The last signal received placed her in County Durham but it's possible she may have moved on from the area before going offline. We don’t know what caused the satellite tag to fail but transmission up to that point had been strong and there was no indication of battery failure. She has not been found. A final word from Steve... 2014 was my 10 th anniversary working with hen harriers and was supposed to be celebration of success. It was not. In 2014 I ringed nine birds in Bowland. Four were sat-tagged and all stopped transmitting, long before the sat tags reached their anticipated ‘end of life’. Male hen harriers are often called ‘ghosts of the hills’ because of the colour of their plumage and the way the fly. It is supposed to be a compliment but in reality it is not; they are ghosts. It makes me very sad, it should make every reasonable person sad. A final word from James... All the staff and volunteers here feel great anger that Sky, Hope, Burt, and Highlander are no longer quartering the English uplands, anger that there is only a tiny handful of hen harriers nesting in England in 2016, and anger at the persecution on some grouse shooting estates which results in there being no skydancing harriers over our hills. We must turn that anger into a determination to stop persecution of birds of prey. We can find hope in the knowledge that the RSPB is doing all it can to protect hen harriers and that a rapidly growing coalition of groups and individuals are fighting to change the way that the uplands are being managed and to stop the persecution of birds of prey. And we must hold on to the hope that hen harriers, as they have proved before, are more than capable of returning to the English uplands – our job is to ensure that the habitat conditions are right for them and that persecution is stopped. Find out more about our work to monitor and protect hen harriers through Hen Harrier LIFE Project, and follow the fortunes of our satellite tagged birds by visiting our website or following us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .   

Blog Post: In with a Chance – satellite-tagged hen harrier returns home

Our last Skydancer blog focused on the sad fate of the young satellite-tagged hen harrier, Lad, who barely a month after fledging, was found dead in the Cairngorms National Park, brought down by injuries “consistent with the damage caused by shooting” (see here ). Today however, I’m delighted to have a much happier story to share – our remaining satellite-tagged hen harrier, Chance, has returned home! Chance is a female hen harrier who was satellite-tagged by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group and fledged from a nest in Southwest Scotland in June 2014. Although this was just before the Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project began, the project has been following her movements since it launched and the story that has unfolded is a remarkable example of just how wide-ranging and unpredictable hen harriers can be. Chance displaying her satellite tag at RSPB Wallasea reserve, October 2014. Image (c) Tony Orwell Having spread her wings in the late summer around the Scottish borders, she slowly made her way south, exploring the uplands of Northern England before being spotted at RSPB’s Wallasea reserve in Essex in October 2014. There we thought she’d stay but the south of England clearly wasn’t far south enough for this adventurous bird and by the end of that month, she had crossed the Channel and set up home in the Pay de Loire region of Northern France! Come April 2015, Chance was showing every sign of staying put but in late May, she surprised us all by crossing the Channel once more and heading north, briefly to Scotland and ultimately settling down to spend her summer exploring the hills of Northeast England.   Chance's route south from Northumberland to France took only three days, in October 2015. Her rapid return journey north  from France to Scotland  took just four days, in May 2016. When autumn came this time, there was no hanging about. In October 2015 Chance flew from Northumberland, via South Wales, back to Northern France in the space of just three days! Now, after another winter of watching and waiting, Chance has returned to the UK once more, this time taking just four days to travel up the east coast of England and back to where she started in Southwest Scotland. From Scotland to England, Wales, and France, the remarkable journey of this young female is an important reminder that if we want to truly secure a future for hen harriers in any one part of the UK, they need to be protected throughout the whole of it. Increased satellite tagging through the Hen Harrier LIFE Project is playing a vital role in this by helping us to better understand where hen harriers go and to highlight where they're most at risk.  It’s incredible to think that without satellite tagging, we would never have had the faintest idea of the incredible journey our Chance was undertaking every winter. So now she’s back, what next? As a second year bird, there’s every possibility Chance will attempt to breed this year but with her late arrival on the scene, will she find a mate in time? Follow her fortunes on the Hen Harrier LIFE Project website as we map her movements every two weeks and follow us on twitter @RSPB_Skydancer .   

Blog Post: Hen Harrier “Lad” found dead on Speyside

By Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, Scotland Lad was a male hen harrier who was fitted with a LIFE+ Project satellite tag by licensed RSPB staff on 16 th July 2015, a few days before he fledged from a nest on an estate owned by Wildland Ltd in the Cairngorms National Park, in southern Inverness-shire. After fledging in late July, Lad stayed close to the nest area until the last week of August, when he then moved a short distance away from the estate where he was tagged.  Photo credit: Dave Pullan Only a few days later, on 3 rd September, RSPB staff monitoring the transmissions from Lad’s tag became concerned that he had stopped moving in an area of moorland, still within the National Park, near Newtonmore. On the 10 th , with further transmissions confirming he was dead, RSPB Scotland Investigations staff visited the area after informing the police, and found Lad’s body lying face down in the heather. The carcass was recovered, the police were informed, and Lad’s remains were delivered to the SRUC Veterinary laboratory near Penicuik the following day. Photo credit: RSPB Investigations We received the preliminary post mortem report from the laboratory a few days later. It stated: “The skin was split open on the left side of the neck parallel with the jugular groove. There was haemorrhage in the subcutaneous tissues in this area and a horizontal split in the trachea. There was damage to three feathers of the right wing consisting of a single groove mark perpendicular to the shaft of each feather.” The body was then X-rayed. The subsequent follow-up SRUC post mortem report from 29 th September stated: “Despite the failure to identify metallic fragments within the carcase the appearance of the damage to the wing feathers is consistent with damage caused by shooting. The injury to the neck could be explained by a shot gun pellet passing straight through the soft tissue of the neck. Both injuries could have brought the bird down and proved fatal.” Copies of the preliminary and follow-up post mortem reports were immediately passed to Police Scotland. RSPB Scotland understands that the police have subsequently had meetings with representatives of several estates located in the vicinity of where Lad’s body was recovered. We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Wildland Ltd who gave permission and access to fit the satellite tag on Lad, staff at the SRUC Veterinary laboratory for undertaking the post mortem work and to Police Scotland for their follow-up to this case. We are of course saddened that the sudden death of Lad has deprived us of the opportunity to follow his travels through Scotland and beyond, and maybe go on to raise chicks of his own. We wish to appeal to anyone who can provide any information about Lad’s untimely and early death to contact Police Scotland on 101.  

Blog Post: Nile the hen harrier helps the conservation of his species

Last summer, we fitted a satellite tag to a male hen harrier chick at a nest in Northumberland. He was named Nile by our Investigations team. We were able to track his movements south to Salisbury Plain over the autumn, and along with records from the Wiltshire Ornithological Society, his tag revealed new winter roosting and foraging areas for hen harriers in the area. Nile with his satellite tag fitted (photo credit: RSPB Investigations) The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) - responsible for managing and maintaining the MoD’s land and properties - has been working with its tenants for many years to implement management measures at known roost sites to improve conditions for hen harriers. The new information from Nile’s tag will allow the DIO to implement further measures in these new areas to make their land even better for these spectacular birds. Sadly, not long after migrating across the channel to northern France, data for Nile’s tag showed that he had died. We organised a search for his body, but unfortunately it could not be found so we will never know his cause of death. Although we are gutted that we were not able to follow Nile’s progress further, it’s heartening to know that information from his satellite tag will help protect roosting harriers in future.

Blog Post: National Hen Harrier Survey 2016

Guest blog by Simon Wotton, RSPB Conservation Science There will be a full survey of breeding hen harriers in the UK and Isle of Man in 2016.  The last national survey of this UK red-listed species of conservation concern was in 2010, when the population was estimated at 662 territorial pairs (95% confidence interval, 576–770), an 18% decline in the population between 2004 and 2010. The population decreased in parts of Scotland and the Isle of Man, and remains at very low levels in England.  The survey will provide updated estimates of population size and national and regional trends since 2010.  As a high profile species of great conservation concern, current information on status across the UK range is vital. In Scotland, the survey is being organised by RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Raptor Study Group.  Survey coverage will be organised in coordination with the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Non-random ‘census’ coverage of core areas will be carried out by volunteers, and randomly selected 10km squares will be surveyed in the rest of the range, by RSPB fieldworkers. The survey area (the species’ known range) has been defined using results of the last survey and the Bird Atlas 2007-11, consultation within the RSPB and with the statutory conservation agencies, and by approaching Raptor Study Groups for their knowledge and details of the “core areas” for hen harrier that they usually monitor. Planned survey coverage in Scotland, by volunteers and RSPB fieldworkers. Elsewhere, it is expected that complete coverage will be achieved of all suitable 10km squares within the Hen Harrier range in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  The other survey partners are Natural England, Northern England Raptor Forum, Natural Resources Wales, Manx BirdLife and the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group. Field surveys will follow the well-established two to three visit method between late March and the end of July, giving the advantage of good comparability with previous surveys.  If no birds have been seen, or breeding has not been confirmed, during the first two visits, a third visit may be made between late June and the end of July.