Fingal, a young male hen harrier, hatched from a nest in the Scottish Borders last summer. Tagged with a lightweight satellite shortly after, his movements over the following months showed him exploring the local area, before heading south where he briefly soared over Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Cumbria before flying to Dumfries and Galloway to spend the winter.
His last location, transmitted in May, was east of Thornhill – an area managed for gamebird shooting. Fingal is the fourth hen harrier to vanish on a grouse moor since April and the 45th to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the UK since 2018.
Recent studies suggest that Scotland, which has the highest population of hen harriers in the UK, has as few as 460 pairs left in the wild.
Following a search of the moor by Police Scotland, no trace of Fingal was found – and with no continued transmission from his satellite tag, he is thought to have been subject to ‘human interference’.
The Scottish RSPB’s head of investigations, Ian Thomson, called the developments a “depressingly familiar story”, saying: “Yet again a satellite-tagged bird of prey has disappeared suddenly and inexplicably on a grouse moor and is presumed killed. These birds will continue to disappear until grouse shooting estates are licensed.”
Meanwhile, Benny Higgins, executive chairman of Buccleuch, who lease and manage the area which Fingal disappeared, responded saying: “We are concerned about the statement issued by RSPB today presuming that a bird had been killed on land managed by Buccleuch. While RSPB did not identify the exact location, it is known locally that Buccleuch manages this land.
“Buccleuch is extremely proud of our record in recent years in trying to rebuild the hen harrier population, hosting several nests on our land. There has been no suggestion that any of our gamekeeping staff were involved in this incident, nor were even questioned by police.”