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Anu: yet another Hen Harrier ‘disappears’

To quote the RSPB, “Hopes dashed for vanished Hen Harrier Anu, whose tag was found cut off after roosting on grouse moor”.

Anu, a satellite tagged Hen Harrier, vanished after roosting near Upper Midhope in the Peak District National Park – on land managed for driven grouse shooting.

RSPB Investigations Officers located the bird’s tag three days later and police forensics found it had been deliberately cut off the bird. Investigators fear the bird was illegally killed and his tag removed to hide the evidence.

Anu joins a long list of Hen Harriers and other birds of prey which have (in the jargon) ‘suspiciously disappeared’ or been killed in relation to land managed for driven grouse shooting.

 

 

‘Suspicious disappearances’ – routine persecution

Another week, another Hen Harrier belatedly confirmed ‘missing presumed dead’ on a grouse moor.

Anu, a male Hen Harrier chick from a nest on United Utilities land in the Forest of Bowland, was fitted with a lightweight and extremely reliable satellite tag by the RSPB in the summer of 2021. Just a few months later, in February 2022, Anu roosted on a driven grouse moor near Upper Midhope in South Yorkshire. He has never been seen again.

Quoting the RSPB again:

Anu. Image copyright RSPB

The tag data confirmed that Anu was alive in the early hours of 11 February, but strangely that the bird had been unexpectedly active during the night: a time when Hen Harriers do not usually fly and we would expect it to be roosting and still.

The next signal from the tag on 11 February gave cause for concern. The data indicated that Anu was dead. Further location data indicated bird/tag was now approximately 9Km away to the east at Wharncliffe Chase. After a thorough search using specialist equipment in wet conditions, we found no sign of the bird or tag, despite the tag continuing to transmit from the same location.

We returned for another intensive search and eventually found the tag. There was no sign of the body, not even a scattered feather indicating it may have been removed by a scavenging animal. Worryingly, and crucially, the harness which securely fastens the tag to the harrier appeared to have been severed. We reported our concerns to South Yorkshire Police who took the tag for forensic analysis. They agreed that Anu’s disappearance was now suspicious.

 

 

Same old, same old

So, one of the chicks lauded by Natural England (the statutory adviser for the natural environment in England) and shooting lobbyists as ‘proof’ that the bad old days of the persecution of Hen Harriers by grouse moor owners for the ‘crime’ of living off the land was over, disappears into the thin air of a grouse moor like so many of its predecessors.

Proof, in fact, 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.

Tom Grose, the RSPB Investigations Officer quoted above, said:

“To find Anu’s tag detached from his body, having been deliberately cut off, categorically shows human involvement. It is highly suspicious that he roosted on a grouse moor the night before, was unexpectedly active in the hours of darkness and hasn’t been seen since.

We suspect that Anu was killed that night, his tag cut off and then the body dumped away from the grouse moor by someone trying to cover their tracks. The deliberate killing of a wild bird is illegal, yet sadly criminal persecution has been identified is the main reason driving Hen Harrier declines.”

 

 

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

A 2019 study of Hen Harriers by Natural England revealed 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 vanish mysteriously 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 the natural density that quite naturally means Hen Harriers find and take grouse chicks too.

Anu disappeared just a few months before the government and the shooting industry came together to report that ‘record numbers of Hen Harrier chicks’ had been hatched via ‘brood meddling’.

As Protect the Wild pointed out at the time, these were only ‘record’ numbers of chicks when compared against the criminally low numbers of chicks that have been reared since the intensification of driven grouse shooting and the obsessive killing of Hen Harriers. Historically – when the birds were far more widespread and not subject to daily persecution – there would have been many hundreds of chicks reared, not a dozen. Besides, these ‘brood meddled’ chicks were reared in ideal conditions: the eggs weren’t stamped on by gamekeepers, and their parents weren’t shot while away gathering food leaving them to starve in the nest.

 

 

Shooting will never leave Hen Harriers alone

‘Brood meddling’ will never work, because all it does is confirm that law-breaking by the shooting industry is so widespread and so entrenched that neither the government nor police forces across the UK can end it. It simply says that Natural England admits it’s beaten, can never halt raptor persecution, so it may as well try something – anything – else.

There is of course one more and very obvious option: shut the damn shooting industry down. It exists solely so a few hobbyists can gun down a wild bird on a moor that has had most of its wildlife eradicated, is ringed with snares and traps, and is routinely set fire to. It is absurd to pander to shooting estates and the shooting industry. We know it, hopefully Natural England will come to know it too – and soon.

  • In the meantime anyone with any knowledge of this incident, or who knows of anyone killing birds of prey, is asked to call South Yorkshire Police on 101 (it’s hard to imagine gamekeepers forming an orderly queue, but the police have to ask…). The RSPB has a dedicated confidential Raptor Hotline for information relating to crimes involving birds of prey: 0300 999 0101.