CONSERVATIONISTS have expressed their sadness at the unexplained disappearance of a protected female hen harrier in the Highlands.
An appeal has been issued for any information about the whereabouts of a satellite-tagged hen harrier in the Cairngorms National Park.
The female hen harrier was named ‘Calluna’ and hatched at Mar Lodge Estate, near Braemar in June this year.
She was named following a public poll on Twitter organised by National Trust for Scotland staff.
Calluna’s hatching followed hard work by Trust staff and volunteers over many years to restore habitats in order to make the recovery of populations of various threatened species possible.
Calluna has disappeared in suspicious circumstances north of Ballater on 12 August when her satellite tag abruptly ceased transmitting.
David Frew, the National Trust for Scotland’s Operations Manager at the Mar Lodge Estate, said: “Staff at Mar Lodge Estate and the National Trust for Scotland as a whole are deeply saddened by the apparent loss of Calluna.
“She was the result of only the second successful breeding attempt by hen harriers on the estate in living memory.
“We are not going to let this stop our vital conservation work.
“We are going to carry on at Mar Lodge and our other properties doing what we can to ensure the survival and recovery of endangered species.
“We will find and work with partners who can help us deliver mutually beneficial land management solutions through which people and nature will thrive together.
“The good news is that ‘Harriet’, another hen harrier chick we tagged in 2016, and was also named via a public poll, is alive and well, having overwintered in the Lake District and retuned to Mar Lodge Estate in the spring of this year.
“We very much hope that our harriers will return to Mar Lodge Estate to breed again in 2018 – in the meantime you can keep watch on Harriet on the ‘Hen Harrier Life’ project website.”
The National Trust for Scotland’s Head of Conservation Policy, Stuart Brooks said: “If Calluna has been lost, as we fear, it is a sad day for us and Scotland.
“We have worked so hard over recent years to help nature return to the hills and glens of Mar Lodge, affirmed by its recent designation as the British Isles’ largest National Nature Reserve.
“If Calluna’s fate adds to the body of evidence that raptors are being killed we need the Scottish Parliament to act swiftly and decisively to minimise the risk of this happening again at Mar Lodge and elsewhere.”
Ian Thomson, head of investigations at RSPB Scotland, said: “This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting.
“We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment has commissioned an independent group to look at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law.
“We look forward to a further announcement shortly on the membership of this group, and we are committed to assist the work of this enquiry in any way that we can.
“The LIFE project team has fitted a significant number of tags to young hen harriers this year, with the very welcome help from landowners, including the National Trust for Scotland, who value these magnificent birds breeding on their property.
“The transmitters used in this project are incredibly reliable and the sudden halt in data being received from it, with no hint of a malfunction, is very concerning.
“We ask that if anyone has any information about the disappearance of this bird we urge them to contact Police Scotland as quickly as possible.”
Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors and are struggling even in Scotland, their stronghold.
The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27% since 2004, with illegal killing in areas managed for driven grouse shooting identified as one of the main drivers of this decline, RSPB Scotland said.
A Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) spokesman said: “The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland.
“This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing. The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation.
“We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the police immediately.”