Exclusive:Hen harrier disappears 'in suspicious circumstances' in Angus glens

Data transmissions from the tagged bird suddenly stopped coming through in February.

A tagged hen harrier has disappeared in what RSPB Scotland has described as “suspicious circumstances”.

The charity is appealing to the public for information to assist them in their investigation to find the bird, which went missing in Glen Esk in Angus.

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The satellite-tagged young female hen harrier, called Shalimar, fledged from a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire last summer.

The tagged hen harrier disappearedThe tagged hen harrier disappeared
The tagged hen harrier disappeared

The RSPB said her tag was functioning as expected before data transmissions unexpectedly and suddenly stopped on 15 February.

Officers from the National Wildlife Crime Unit and Police Scotland carried out a search of the area where the bird last transmitted, but failed to find its body or tag. The RSPB said if a tagged bird dies of natural causes, in the vast majority of cases the bird’s tag and its body can be recovered and submitted for post- mortem analysis.

There have been cases of raptor persecution in the Angus Glens before from poisoning, shooting and illegal trapping.

According to RSPB figures, since 2017, this has included four hen harriers, a golden eagle and a white-tailed eagle.

While cases have decreased over the years, new legislation being brought in under the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill (WMMB), which has just completed stage three, aims to tackle the crime.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations said: “The Scottish Parliament has recognised the ongoing link between crimes against birds of prey and the management of some grouse moors by its of passing of the Wildlife Management and Muirburn Bill earlier this week.

"In future, any landholding linked to wildlife crime faces a loss of its licence to shoot grouse. While these provisions have come just too late to prevent Shalimar becoming the latest hen harrier to likely disappear at the hands of criminals, we hope that the new legislation will help to consign raptor persecution to the history books in Scotland”.

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Ross Ewing, director of moorland at Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The disappearance of any hen harrier is a cause for concern but it is premature to say what has happened in this instance without clear evidence. When Police Scotland issue an appeal for information, they have the full support of land managers and gamekeepers.

"Although there has no appeal as yet from the police, anyone with information should contact police as the investigating authority.”

The Mar Lodge Estate, near Braemar, is an important area for breeding hen harriers, largely as a result of effective habitat management and an overall commitment to conservation.

Last year, 32 hen harriers, successfully fledged from nests on the estate, making it the site’s most productive year to date after the species colonised the area in 2016.

Since then, the number of breeding pairs has grown year on year reaching a high of 11 pairs in 2023, with eight of these breeding successfully to produce the bumper number of chicks.

Four of those were fitted with satellite-tags by RSPB to gather data to help conservationists study the birds movements, including identifying roost sites, foraging areas and any migration patterns, while also helping to detect suspected incidents of persecution.

A report by RSPB scientist Steven Ewing published last year said that hen harrier persecution accounted for 27-43 per cent of mortality of first-year birds, with the lifespan of the bird after fledging averaging 121 days.

Hen harriers, a species closely associated with heather moorland, are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey and, in terms of its population size, the most heavily persecuted species in the country.

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