Harrier death in illegal trap investigated

Hen harriers nest on the ground and like to eat grouse. Picture: RSPB
Hen harriers nest on the ground and like to eat grouse. Picture: RSPB
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A protected bird of prey that died in an illegal trap on a Scottish grouse estate would have endured “significant unnecessary suffering”, according to a post-mortem report.

Conservationists discovered the remains of the young female hen harrier, which had been fitted with a satellite tag, clamped in a spring trap on a Perthshire moorland.

The trap had been set in the open, which is against the law.

The body was sent for examination at the veterinary lab at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) and police were informed of the find.

The bird’s death is now being investigated.

A police spokesman said: “Police Scotland can confirm it has received a report regarding a hen harrier having been caught in a spring trap in an area of land between Aberfeldy and Glenalmond, and an investigation into the circumstances is ongoing.”

The post-mortem report stated: “The bird was trapped by the left leg in a spring trap at time of death.

“Death will have been due to a combination of shock and blood loss if it died quickly, or to exposure and dehydration/starvation if it died slowly.

“Either way, the bird will have experienced significant unnecessary suffering.”

The bird, named Rannoch, was tagged after hatching last year as part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE project.

Her activities were being charted, but transmissions showed she stopped moving last November on a moorland between Aberfeldy and Crieff.

The solar-powered tag battery drained before the bird could be located. However, the tag sparked back to life last month, allowing conservationists to find the remains.

LIFE project manager Dr Cathleen Thomas said: “The life of this beautiful bird was cut short in the most horrific way due to human actions.

“Satellite tagging has revealed the amazing journeys made by hen harriers but also uncovers how their journeys end. Often the birds disappear with their tags suddenly ceasing to function as perpetrators go to great lengths to hide the evidence of their crimes. Rannoch’s death in a spring trap is evidence of one way in which these birds are being killed.

“In terms of their population size, hen harriers are the most persecuted bird of prey in the UK, and their population is now perilously low, so every loss we suffer impacts the continued survival of the species.”

But estate owners and gamekeepers have denied responsibility for the crime.

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association said: “Where there is proven criminality, we share the abhorrence felt when a bird of prey is illegally killed.”

He added: “The estates have made it clear they were not responsible for the setting of the trap.”

Sarah Jane Laing, executive director of Scottish Land & Estates, said members “completely condemn illegal activity” and urged anyone with information to contact police

She said: “The estates take their animal welfare obligations very seriously and have conducted their own investigations. Staff have been adamant they were not involved.”