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Concern for hen harriers

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By Fiona Reid
Concern for hen harriers

RSPB Scotland is appealing for information following the discovery of the body of a hen harrier found to have been shot and the sudden disappearances of two young satellite tagged hen harriers.

A member of the public found the dead female bird on a grouse moor near Wanlockhead on June 7 and a post mortem examination by SRUC vets has now confirmed that it died as a result of “penetrating trauma” injuries of unknown cause, with shooting a possibility. 

The examination also showed that the bird had previously been shot, with a shotgun pellet recovered from the left breast muscle. 

An investigation by Police Scotland has not identified a suspect for the bird’s shooting.

Meanwhile, the missing birds have not been seen for several months.

They are fitted with satellite tags and these show that young male Romario was last recorded on September 11 on a grouse moor between Tomintoul and Grantown-on-Spey, while the last transmission from young female Thistle’s tag was received on October 12, from another grouse moor in east Sutherland. 

RSPB experts say satellite tags are highly reliable, so sudden stops in transmission give immediate cause for concern.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project manager, said: “We’re devastated to have lost more young birds in suspicious circumstances. The UK’s hen harrier population is in such a precarious position it means that every bird really does count and to have these ones disappear at such a young age is really concerning. Sadly, incidents such as this have become common place for our project with tagged hen harriers disappearing at alarming regularity every year, and it’s really worrying that a young female bird has been shot.”

Duncan Orr-Ewing, head of species and land management at RSPB Scotland, added: “The project satellite tags don’t stop transmitting if a bird dies of natural causes. To have them go offline suddenly and without warning strongly suggests the hen harriers have been the victims of crime, as in the case of the shot bird.”

Studies suggest there are only around 575 pairs of hen harrier remaining in the whole of the UK and Isle of Man. The vast majority of these pairs – 460 – are in Scotland.

Anyone with information about these incidents, or any illegal persecution of birds of prey, should contact Police Scotland on 101, or call the RSPB’s confidential raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.

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