THREE more Hen Harriers ‘disappear’ on grouse moors

The RSPB has posted a press release today which describes how THREE more Hen Harriers (one of the UK’s most persecuted birds of prey) have ‘vanished’ on grouse moors in northern England.

All three of them have been killed within days of the ‘Inglorious 12th’, the start of the 121-day blood-soaked season the industry uses to sell as many Red Grouse as possible to its complicit clientele (for our take on the ‘Inglorious 12th’ see ‘There’s nothing ‘glorious’ about killing grouse’).

To quote the RSPB, who are clearly getting more and more fed up with the grouse shooting industry, “Sadly, although this pattern of satellite-tagged birds disappearing around the start of the Red Grouse shooting season has been seen before, the RSPB have never had a case of three satellite-tagged Hen Harriers going missing within six days.”

This announcement from the RSPB follows hard on the heels of the usual pro-shooting crap (frankly there is no other word for it) from lobbyists like the Moorland Association who in a tweet on the 12th described grouse shooting as ‘sustainable and enjoyable’ and the Countryside Alliance’s clown-in-chief Tim Bonner who just two days ago was telling Daily Express readers how it is ‘conservation that underpins the importance of grouse shooting’.


Greenwashing Hen Harriers

Shooting lobbyists like the Moorland Association, BASC, and Bonner have tried over recent years to convince an unimpressed and increasingly well-informed public that as far as Hen Harriers are concerned all is well. The handful of nesting pairs (England alone should have over 300!) that do breed on the moors have been successfully producing chicks so we should all be celebrating shooting’s huge contribution to the conservation of a bird they actually loathe…

But as we and others (including the RSPB’s CEO Beccy Speight) have repeatedly pointed out, a ‘record’ number of chicks means diddly-squat if they don’t survive long enough to become breeding adults (see ‘Hen Harriers and greenwashing‘). A fact that moorland estates and the blunt instruments they hire to exterminate ‘pests’ like birds of prey are only too aware of. Take what credit they can for fighting the urge not to stamp on harrier eggs, then wipe out the young once they leave the nest as they’ve always done. Job done.



The hugely-influential website Raptor Persecution keeps a rolling tally of Hen Harriers “confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed in the UK since 2018, most of them on or close to grouse moors”. That tally now stands at a staggering 101!

101 Hen Harriers that we know about, how many more have been lost that we don’t? And take note of the date. 2018 was the year Natural England began handing out bribes to shooting estates as part of their ludicrous ‘brood meddling’ plan – a ‘plan’ that has so far cost taxpayers £900,000 and has done absolutely nothing to stop Hen Harrier persecution (see ‘Hen Harrier ‘brood meddling’ slammed by Wild Justice‘ for more information).

This must stop

While Protect the Wild doesn’t agree with the RSPB’s calls for a ‘licencing lifeline’ for the grouse shooting industry (read why ‘The grouse shooting industry must be shut down‘), we completely support the work of their world-class investigation team.

Given the omerta of silence that hangs over grouse moors it is vanishingly unlikely anyone will ever be convicted of these crimes though. No one has been convicted in the past, and estates for all their blather about ‘zero tolerance’ of raptor persecution have NEVER handed over one of their own to investigators or to the police.

As the press-release makes clear, there are several other crimes against Hen Harriers being investigated at the moment. The fact is that despite the bribes being handed out by Natural England, and despite the increased surveillance and public anger, estates and gamekeepers are unable to help themselves when it comes to persecuting birds of prey. See it, kill it. Just like in the past…

If we ever want this destruction of wildlife to stop, then there is only one answer – shut the bloody industry down as soon as possible.

Or there will just continue to be a steady stream of images taken of young Hen Harriers like Hapit, birds full of life that just a few months later have ‘vanished’ or ‘disappeared’ never to be seen again.



Hapit disappeared in an area where nine other Hen Harriers have vanished or been found dead with injuries consistent with persecution since September 2020. Photo RSPB


RSPB press-release

“Three more satellite-tagged Hen Harriers vanish on driven grouse moors, all within days of the ‘Glorious Twelfth’

Three satellite-tracked Hen Harriers have suddenly disappeared over land managed for driven grouse shooting. All three disappearances have happened within days of the Glorious Twelfth, the official start of the shooting season for Red Grouse, and a time where grouse numbers are managed to be at their peak level to ensure a successful shooting season.

Hen Harriers, are a rare, protected species, known for their acrobatic ‘skydancing’ courtship display over the uplands. The Hen Harrier is categorised as a red listed species in the UK, due to its low population levels.

Martha was a one-year-old female Hen Harrier. She was tagged as a chick at Mar Lodge, a National Trust for Scotland estate in Aberdeenshire in the spring of 2022. The satellite tracking data shows that Martha moved into Northumberland in early August 2023 and gave her last transmission from Westburnhope Moor near Hexham, in the North Pennines on 9 August 2023.

Selena was a juvenile female tagged on United Utilities land in Bowland in the spring of this year. Her satellite tag showed that she had just moved to the Yorkshire Dales before her last transmission from Mossdale Moor near Hawes, in the Yorkshire Dales on 11 August 2023.

Hepit was another young female Hen Harrier. She had also been tagged as a chick on United Utilities land in Bowland this year, before moving to the Yorkshire Dales last month. Hepit’s last transmission came from moorland at Birkdale Common near Kirkby Stephen, on 15 August 2023 – an area where 9 other satellite-tagged Hen Harriers have vanished or been found dead with injuries consistent with persecution since September 2020.

Despite being legally protected, multiple studies and reports confirm that illegal killing is the main factor limiting the recovery of Hen Harrier in the UK, causing a reduction in nesting success, annual productivity and survival of breeding females. A recent RSPB Centre for Conservation Science study, which investigated the illegal killing of satellite-tagged Hen Harriers in association with gamebird management (Ewing, et al 2023), has shown that the survival rates of Hen Harriers in the UK is “unusually low” with birds surviving for just 121 days after fledging. Human persecution accounted for 27-41% of deaths of Hen Harriers aged under one year and 75% of deaths in birds aged between one and two years. It also highlighted a strong overlap between Hen Harrier mortality and the extent of grouse moors.

Sadly, although this pattern of satellite-tagged birds disappearing around the start of the Red Grouse shooting season has been seen before, the RSPB have never had a case of three satellite-tagged Hen Harriers going missing within six days.

Beccy Speight, the RSPB’s Chief Executive said “This is the first time so many Hen Harriers have gone missing in such a short space of time, all on driven grouse moors. This is on top of the 21 birds that we reported on in April, as having gone missing in the last twelve months. If these magnificent birds are ever going to have a sustainable population in England this has to stop, productivity from nests means nothing if the birds don’t survive.

All three incidents have been reported to the police and the NWCU (National Wildlife Crime Unit). Sadly, there are several other Hen Harrier persecution incidents that we cannot report on at this time.

If you notice a dead or injured bird of prey in suspicious circumstances, call the police on 101 and fill in the RSPB’s online reporting form:

If you have information about anyone killing birds of prey which you wish to report anonymously, call the RSPB’s confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.” [Part of an RSPB press release posted 18 August 2023]


  • Featured image female Hen Harrier in flight/RSPB



We can all help tackle crimes against Birds of Prey by learning how to Recognise, Record, and Report them. Please see our Protectors of the Wild page > Birds of Prey and the Law