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War of the words as hen harrier tag goes quiet

A satellite-tagged hen harrier disappeared on the Glorious Twelfth and RSPB Scotland has pointed the finger at grouse moor managers.

hen harrier tag

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Tony Hamblin/FLPA/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock (5301392a) Hen Harrier (Circus cyaneus), adult female, with prey in talons, in flight, approaching nest in moorland, Sutherland, Scotland, United Kingdom, Europe VARIOUS

Rural groups have rejected claims that grouse moor managers were responsible for the disappearance of a hen harrier.

RSPB Scotland says a satellite-tagged bird, named Calluna, vanished over an Aberdeenshire grouse moor near Ballater when transmissions from the tag ended abruptly on the Glorious Twelfth.

First day of the season

Ian Thomson at RSPB Scotland said: “There is a depressing irony that Calluna disappeared on the first day of the grouse shooting season. This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting.”

Calluna was hatched at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate, near Braemar, in June this year. She was the result of only the second successful breeding attempt by hen harriers on the estate in living memory.

A spokesman for the National Trust commented: “We are not going to let this stop our vital conservation work. We are going to carry on at Mar Lodge and our other properties doing what we can to ensure the survival and recovery of endangered species.
“If Calluna’s fate adds to the body of evidence that raptors are being killed we need the Scottish Parliament to act swiftly and decisively to minimise the risk of this happening again at Mar Lodge and elsewhere.”

Disappearance does not mean death

Rural groups have dismissed speculation that Calluna’s disappearance is down to raptor persecution. The Countryside Alliance (CA) responded: “The disappearance of a tagged bird is not something new and certainly doesn’t necessarily equate to the death of a bird. Earlier in 2017 the national press reported the death of a hen harrier, Highlander, with the RSPB publicising foul play.

“The reappearance of the bird, alive and well, 10 months later was the cause of some embarrassment for the charity. The CA is determined to see an end to the thankfully rare illegal killing of birds of prey, but we question whether sensational media releases followed by embarrassing U-turns are the way to achieve that.”

Land managers “dismayed”

David Johnstone, chairman of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “Local land managers reject the inference that the loss of signal from this tag is connected to grouse moor management and are now offering every assistance in searching the area where the last transmission was recorded.

“They are dismayed that they were not informed earlier that the tag had stopped transmitting nearly three weeks [before it was reported] as this would have assisted the search.”

Tags can fail

Dr Colin Shedden, BASC Scotland director, commented: “Following on from the recent report on satellite tagged golden eagles it is of concern that this harrier has now ‘disappeared’, ironically on 12 August.

“Tagging birds is a good way of monitoring activity and distribution, but tags can fail. We would urge anyone with any information on the whereabouts of this bird to come forward. BASC condemns all aspects of wildlife crime and works closely with partners in PAW Scotland to bring to an end all illegal persecution of raptors.”