Hen harriers: good news and bad news

Hen harriers can be easily shot when protecting their nest against human intrusion

Hen harriers can be easily shot when protecting their nest against human intrusion

So another satellite-tagged hen harrier has disappeared. This is extremely bad news, though hardly unexpected. I’ll come back to this later, but it is heartening to report some good news in the form of Heads up for Harriers. This is a PAW Scotland-driven initiative to encourage estates to work with conservationists to monitor nests on cameras to identify some of the threats to the eggs and chicks.

Last year was particularly successful, with 30 nests fledging in excess of 100 chicks in hen harrier SPAs. This year was less successful, probably due to the weather, with two nests on five of the estates involved failing for that reason and another losing one chick to fox predation.  Twelve young fledged in total, but with any nesting bird, especially those that nest on the ground, there are always good years and bad years.

None of the results are surprising. Extreme weather and predation are well-known factors in hen harrier breeding success, just as they are in grouse breeding success. Nesting grouse, of course, don’t have to contend with their eggs or chicks being destroyed through human interference or the parent bird or birds being shot. The cameras, unfortunately, won’t stop this, nevertheless it is a step in the right direction and full marks to participating estates. I wonder if any of the estates involved are Glenogil, Millden, Glenlochy, Raeshaw, North Glenbuchat, Leadhills.  I somehow doubt they’d have any harriers there to nest.

Returning to the missing harrier, this was a chick fledged this year in Perthshire and given the name Brian. Its signal stopped abruptly on 22nd August near to Kingussie, an area of grouse moors. Despite searches the bird was not traced.

This is the second of this year’s satellite-tagged harriers to ‘disappear’, with the previous one, given the name Elwood, disappearing on 27th July in the Monadhliaths, the area in which eight satellite-tagged golden eagles have also ‘disappeared.’  Professor Des Thompson, Scottish Natural Heritage, who is the Chair of PAW Scotland Heads up for Harriers group, said,

“The loss of Elwood is very worrying, particularly given the reported loss of eight satellite-tagged golden eagles in the same vicinity over the last five years. We are reviewing these incidents and will report our findings in due course”.

The ‘findings’ may be part of the report being prepared for Roseanna Cunningham, Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform, who requested a review of satellite-tracking data. In my own experience with satellite-tagged birds, if they die or are unwell, the instrument continues to transmit their location to within a few metres and they are easily recovered. Of course if they are deliberately killed the instrument would be destroyed by the criminal and immediately stop transmitting. If this is what happened it is unlikely to be proved but more and more identical incidents must help Ms Cunningham draw her own conclusions.


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2 Responses to Hen harriers: good news and bad news

  1. jw4926 says:

    This is devastating news today …… the future of these birds is in our hands – too many ‘isolated’ incidents….. ‘rotten apples’ need to be found and thrown out ……. Ms Cunningham will have to be seen to be acting pretty soon ….. burying heads is not going to solve the problems …..

  2. Unfortunately I think it will be next year before a decision is made.If there is anything positive about this delay it’s that there is likely to be more evidence by that time.

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