The British Association for Shooting and Conservation has called for common sense and an evidence-based investigation following the failure of satellite tags fitted to two hen harrier chicks in Lancashire.

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Many in the conservation and birdwatching communities have very publicly pointed the finger of blame at shooting interests, with the RSPB offering a £1,000 reward for information relating to the disappearance of the hen harrier chicks. The BASC has pointed out that the chicks were fledged on land which is managed for shooting, the shoot managers were closely involved in the monitoring of nests and were involved in the tagging of the fledged chicks. It is thought that the area where one of the birds disappeared is a known historic winter roost for hen harriers and is not involved in management for driven shooting.

Cautioning against speculation over the fate of the birds, the BASC’s England North West officer Duncan Thomas, a former police wildlife crime officer, highlighted that local shooting interests have been closely involved in the protection of these two birds from the outset: “People involved in the shooting syndicate assisted in the monitoring of the nests, funded diversionary feeding measures to help the birds fledge and imposed an exclusion area around the nests. They were also there with Natural England staff when the trackers were fitted. The shoot did everything possible to ensure the success of both of these very important nesting attempts and we are deeply disappointed at the loss of contact with the birds and the hasty attempts to portray the shooting interest as villains.”

BASC’s chairman Alan Jarrett has stated: “We are very disappointed to hear of the loss of contact from two transmitters attached to these hen harrier chicks. At this early stage — and in the absence of any evidence — it is unwise to start pointing fingers and claiming the disappearance is due to illegal persecution. Such allegations are putting short-term campaigning over the longer-term issue of protecting and encouraging the re-emergence of the hen harrier in England.

“BASC condemns all illegal persecution of birds. Unfounded allegations serve only one purpose — to confuse the issue in order to make short-term campaigning gains. It is evidence and evidence alone which must be used.”

The possibility of predation has not been ruled out in this case, as BASC’s director of conservation Tim Russell explained: “Hen harriers are ground-nesting birds and are vulnerable to predation. Mortality rates in all birds are high in their first year and can be up to 70 per cent in birds of prey. Recently fledged hen harrier chicks are known to have fallen to predators including foxes and other birds of prey. Power cables and other causes are also known to have been factors in early mortality. In addition, tracking devices can and do fail. Until there is firm evidence on this incident, unhelpful speculation and allegations should cease.”