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 www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife 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 www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife 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. www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife @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 http://wildeaboutbirds.blogspot.co.uk/2016/08/wilde-about-finn.html 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 www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife or @RSPB_Skydancer .   

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 rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife 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!

Comment on Elwood Blues: First tagged hen harrier of 2016 goes missing

How sad to hear this news.  It's high time these 'black holes' for tagged raptors were permanently closed, in all senses of the word.  Full marks to the terrific landowners who continue to prove that it is possible to run a shooting estate without killing our birds of prey.

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 www.rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife  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 rspb.org.uk/henharrierlife .

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!          

Comment on Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Keith Cowieson, Chief Exec of Songbird Survival wrote 'how has the situation changed in the intervening 49 days between the Conservation Director’s statement of 6th June' Well for starters. raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../horrifically-injured-buzzard-found-on-grouse-moor-in-north-yorkshire raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../sga-statement-re-illegal-traps-found-on-invercauld-estate raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../hen-harriers-surviving-on-grouse-moors-not-a-chance-in-hell raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../goshawks-still-under-threat-in-peak-district-national-park raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../police-investigate-suspicious-death-of-tenth-red-kite-in-north-yorkshire raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../hen-harriers-surviving-on-grouse-moors-not-a-chance-in-hell raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/.../how-many-hen-harriers-breeding-in-england-this-year Will that do?

Comment on Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Jeff, Multi-agency, 6-element plans involving 2 pillars that are still in their formative stages are very unlikely to deliver ‘immediate progress’, not least because those 2 elements haven’t even commenced - hence my question about the ‘Measures of Success’, and their associated timelines, that our Society was working to.  What exactly were they? On the southern reintroduction I will ask around, as you suggest.  And on the subject of reintroductions, just been reading in British Birds about the successful 6 year-long, multi-agency, multi-stage, cirl bunting brood management project in Devon/Cornwall.  That's the way to do it!  Thank goodness the team there didn't give up when it wasn't looking good, but chose instead to extend the project by 2 years. Finally, as I recall, the phrase used was ‘give him a knee-in-the-groin from me’ (that your colleague seemed quite keen to deliver I might add), but very happy to do so in person when we next see each other :-)   And a further Pythonesque greeting inbound with a Mr Greenwood from yesterday's Countryfile Live event.....)

Comment on Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Jeff, Multi-agency, 6-element plans involving 2 pillars that are still in their formative stages are very unlikely to deliver ‘immediate progress’, not least because those 2 elements haven’t even commenced - hence my question about the ‘Measures of Success’, and their associated timelines, that our Society was working to.  What exactly were they? On the southern reintroduction I will ask around, as you suggest.  And on the subject of reintroductions, just been reading in British Birds about the successful 6 year-long, multi-agency, multi-stage, cirl bunting project in Devon/Cornwall.  That's the way to do it!  Thank goodness the team there didn't give up when it wasn't looking good, but chose instead to extend the project by 2 years. Finally, as I recall, the phrase used was ‘give him a knee-in-the-groin from me’ (that your colleague seemed quite keen to deliver I might add), but very happy to do so in person when we next see each other :-) Keith

Comment on Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Keith As a member and volunteer, thank you for your ongoing support and for your thoughts here. We were supportive of the action plan, but only on condition it deliver immediate progress. Having so patently failed to do so, continued support was untenable. On southern reintroduction, as I no longer sit on the group, you'd have to ask those on the group where it has now got to. And as you'll have noticed, I wasn't at Ragley. Maybe we'll bump into each other at Birdfair. If we do, you can kick me in the balls in person, rather than asking my colleagues to do it on your behalf ;-) Jeff

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? 

Comment on Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Jeff, As you are well aware, I take an interest in all birds.  I have enjoyed watching and photographing breeding and wintering hen harriers for 40+ years, in Scotland, the Netherlands and Germany (and their close ‘cousins’ in North America and New Zealand).  I am posting here in my capacity as an RSPB member and volunteer (as I thought the second sentence of my posting below stated fairly clearly, but perhaps not).  Here's the relevant sentence again - "Here’s a member and volunteer’s perspective."   As members, my wife and I are some of those folk who fund our Society, you know the staff salaries, (underfunded) pension plan, upkeep of existing, and acquisition of new, nature reserves and all the other seemingly boring but essential stuff.  As a volunteer I am one of those folk who saves the Society money by carrying out surveying, protection and representational duties in my spare time.  That way, the Society doesn’t have to take on extra staff, or hire ecological consultants or the like – I do it for free, as well as paying membership fees to help fund full and part time staff, infrastructure and other fixed, incidental and opportunity costs.  Not to waste them on half-hearted, on-the-bus/off-the-bus participation in what I consider to be a very important government-endorsed, multi-agency, conservation initiative that warrants fully-engaged, wholehearted commitment for however long it takes to secure the hen harrier’s future.     Glad to hear that our Society is continuing to support two thirds of the HHAP, why then announce with great fanfare that we were withdrawing support from the scheme?  And you still haven’t answered my query about the Southern England reintroduction pillar of the Project – what is happening with that?  And still struggling to understand how the situation changed between the Conservation Director’s clear and unambiguous statement on 6th June, and his volte-face on 25th July – please enlighten us.  For my part, if our Society wishes to Influence, positively, law abiding estates and responsible organisations - and anyone else for that matter - then it needs to engage with them in a sustained and fully constructive and collaborative manner, for the long-term, not flounce out of painstakingly built partnerships and initiatives at the first hint of difficulty.       Finally, I won’t be attending next week, because I have no desire to support the RSPB’s former Conservation Director - the chief proponent of the events - after his shocking blog postings of 6th and 7th October 2014 when he incited his readers to denigrate, disparage and generally abuse gamekeepers en masse, see here - http://tinyurl.com/jdygb4j and here - http://tinyurl.com/hfncpsr .  This thoroughly nasty piece of on-line, rabble rousing and incitement was very aptly dubbed a ‘Gamekeeper Hate Fest’ by one of our very own Skydancer Project volunteers – see the final Comment on the 7th October 2014 posting.  I prefer to support the hen harrier by getting out on the ground and reporting anything suspicious I see or find to the police – like the dead hen harrier I found in the Scottish uplands last year.  No signs of foul play in that particular instance according to the Police Service of Scotland and the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture experts who analysed the samples I collected (because no-one else was prepared to).     Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at Ragley?      

Comment on Leaving the Hen Harrier Action Plan: a personal perspective

Jeff, As you are well aware, I take an interest in all birds.  I have enjoyed watching and photographing breeding and wintering hen harriers for 40+ years, in Scotland, the Netherlands and Germany (and their close ‘cousins’ in North America and New Zealand).  I am posting here in my capacity as an RSPB member and volunteer (as I thought the second sentence of my posting below stated fairly clearly, but perhaps not).  Here's the relevant sentence again - "Here’s a member and volunteer’s perspective." As members, my wife and I are some of those folk who fund our Society, you know the staff salaries, (underfunded) pension plan, upkeep of existing, and acquisition of new, nature reserves and all the other seemingly boring but essential stuff.  As a volunteer I am one of those folk who saves the Society money by carrying out surveying, protection and representational duties in my spare time.  That way, the Society doesn’t have to take on extra staff, or hire ecological consultants or the like – I do it for free, as well as paying membership fees to help fund full and part time staff, infrastructure and other fixed, incidental and opportunity costs.  Not to waste them on half-hearted, on-the-bus/off-the-bus participation in what I consider to be a very important government-endorsed, multi-agency, conservation initiative that warrants fully-engaged, wholehearted commitment for however long it takes to secure the hen harrier’s future.     Glad to hear that our Society is continuing to support two thirds of the HHAP, why then announce with great fanfare that we were withdrawing support from the scheme?  And you still haven’t answered my query about the Southern England reintroduction pillar of the Project – what is happening with that?  And still struggling to understand how the situation changed between the Conservation Director’s clear and unambiguous statement on 6th June, and his volte-face on 25th July – please enlighten us.  For my part, if our Society wishes to Influence, positively, law abiding estates and responsible organisations - and anyone else for that matter - then it needs to engage with them in a sustained and fully collaborative and cooperative manner, for the long-term, not flounce out of painstakingly built partnerships and initiatives at the first hint of difficulty. Finally, I’m afraid I won’t be attending next week, because I have no desire to support the former Conservation Director - the chief proponent of the events - after his shocking blog postings of 6th and 7th October 2014 when he incited his readers to denigrate, disparage and generally abuse gamekeepers en masse, on-line, see here - http://tinyurl.com/jdygb4j and here - http://tinyurl.com/hfncpsr .  This thoroughly nasty piece of on-line, rabble rousing and incitement was very aptly dubbed a ‘Gamekeeper Hate Fest’ by one of our very own Skydancer Project volunteers – see the final Comment on the 7th October 2014 posting.  I prefer to support the hen harrier by getting out on the ground and reporting anything suspicious I see or find to the police – like the dead hen harrier I found in the Scottish uplands last year.  No signs of foul play in that particular instance according to the Police Service of Scotland and the Science and Advice for Scottish Agriculture experts who analysed the samples I collected (because no-one else was prepared to).     Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow at Ragley?