Hen Harrier

“Huge blow for struggling species” as yet more Hen Harriers ‘disappear’

The suspicious disappearance of two rare Hen Harriers is “a huge blow for a struggling species”, the RSPB has said.

The UK’s most persecuted bird of prey, an adult Hen Harrier ‘disappeared’ from the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire on 4 May after its satellite-tag stopped transmitting, and another bird went missing in what the RSPB said were “suspicious circumstances” in North Yorkshire two weeks later.

Given the time of the year Hen Harriers may well now be feeding chicks in nests.

RSPB senior investigations officer Howard Jones said:

“To have two more Hen Harriers disappear this spring is a huge blow for a struggling species where every nest counts.”

This brings the running total of Hen Harriers (a species with full legal protection) that have either ‘disappeared’ or been killed in the north of England in the past year alone to twenty-one (see eg Anu: yet another Hen Harrier ‘disappears’ from March this year).

As so often in the past, police are investigating the disappearances, which they frame as likely to have involved ‘human interference’ – in other words, killed by gamekeepers to ‘protect’ Red Grouse chicks long enough for them to be sold to shooters after the ‘Inglorious 12th’ of August.


Shooting industry to blame

Hen Harriers have been legally protected since 1954 but still face illegal persecution because they are hated by commercial shooting estates.

Both the Forest of Bowland AONB and North Yorkshire are dominated by grouse shooting estates and are renowned as ‘raptor persecution blackspots’, where protected birds of prey routinely ‘disappear’ in what are called ‘suspicious circumstances’ – a term often reserved for situations where experts know the birds will have been killed illegally but don’t have direct evidence to prove it yet.

The missing Lancashire bird’s last location placed it over a grouse moor, the RSPB said.

Yet more proof (not that any more proof is needed) that Natural England’s ludicrous ‘brood meddling’ support of the shooting industry (where Hen Harrier chicks are removed from grouse moors, reared elsewhere, then released back into the wild all so that a handful of shooters can kill Red Grouse undisturbed by birds of prey) has done nothing to stop the illegal persecution of a species that is still close to being wiped out as a breeding bird in England.


Hen Harrier /RSPB


Hen Harriers ‘ten times more likely to vanish mysteriously or die on a grouse moor than anywhere else’.

A 2019 Natural England study of Hen Harriers found that 72% of 58 satellite-tagged birds were either confirmed or considered very likely to have been illegally killed. Furthermore, it found that Hen Harriers were ten times more likely to disappear or die on a grouse moor than anywhere else.

All because while a large part of a Hen Harrier’s diet is typically made up of voles and small passerines like Meadow Pipits, on moors where grouse are bred at up to ten times their natural density that quite naturally means Hen Harriers find and take grouse chicks too.

The grouse shooting industry has been feverishly ‘greenwashing’ data on the numbers of chicks produced by breeding Hen Harriers in a futile attempt to spin how wildlife-friendly they are (this coming from an industry built 100% on shooing live targets out of the air remember).

As Protect the Wild explained in a post last year, trumpeting the breeding success of what is actually a tiny number of nests is nothing but data manipulation when the shooting industry refuses to acknowledge what happens to those young birds once they leave those nest (most of which are closely monitored) and start to range onto grouse moors (where they are certainly watched, but only so that gamekeepers can work out the best opportunity to kill them).

They ‘disappear’ in ‘suspicious circumstances’.

As we have also said many times, the shooting industry should have no say whatsoever in what species of birds of prey breed in the UK or how many of them there are. Yet, time after time protected and threatened birds are illegally killed on grouse moors.

Some police forces have started to recognise now that fox hunts are ‘organised crime groups’ – it’s time the shooting industry was recognised as an organised crime group too.



Thankyou for supporting our work to end bird shooting