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Four hen harriers ‘missing over grouse moors in Scotland’

RSPB Scotland says the birds’ satellite tags suddenly stopped transmitting in August and September this year.

A conservation charity has expressed concern over the disappearance of four tagged hen harriers in recent months.

RSPB Scotland said the birds were last located over land managed for grouse shooting when their satellite tags suddenly stopped transmitting.

A chick from a nest in Northumberland whose last known position was on a grouse moor near Grantown-on-Spey in Inverness-shire has not been seen since August 16.

Two birds tagged on the Mar Lodge Estate in Aberdeenshire this summer were last located near the Aberdeenshire/Moray border on August 29 and near Ballater on September 3 respectively.

To have more hen harriers disappear is devastating for all of us involved in monitoring these chicks Cathleen Thomas, RSPB Scotland

The fourth missing bird was last recorded on a grouse moor north of Glenalmond in Perthshire on September 24.

Ian Thomson, head of investigations for RSPB Scotland, said: “In common with so many previous disappearances of satellite-tagged birds of prey, each of these missing birds was last known to be on a moor managed for driven grouse shooting before its transmitter suddenly stopped.

“The picture is becoming ever more clear – in almost all cases when a tagged birds dies naturally we are able to recover its remains if it disappears over a Scottish grouse moor, it’s never seen or heard of again.”

Cathleen Thomas, who manages the charity’s Hen Harrier LIFE project, said: “To have more hen harriers disappear, including three of this year’s youngsters, is devastating for all of us involved in monitoring these hen harrier chicks.”

The Scottish Gamekeepers Association said there could be several factors at play.

A spokesman said: “Until the findings of satellite tags are monitored by independent experts or bodies, we will never fully understand what happens when tags lose transmission nor will anyone be any closer to being able to do anything about it.

“There could be many factors at play. Our understanding is that the majority of the seven tagged hen harrier chicks at Mar Lodge this year have died in some circumstance or another, with one tag going off radar for some days before signalling again, so we are not going to speculate on cases.

“Around a quarter of ‘suspicious’ tags studied in SNH’s satellite-tagged eagle report lost transmission away from grouse moor areas, including islands, yet the tags themselves were never recovered.”

Scottish Land & Estates (SLE) said anyone with information on the location of the hen harriers should contact police as soon as possible.

A spokesman for SLE said: “Where a satellite tag stops transmitting, we cannot instantly conclude that the bird has been killed or harmed.

“Land managers across many farms and estates would have been willing to assist the search for these birds had earlier notification been provided.

“If any of these birds have been intentionally killed then that is unlawful and we fully support the full weight of the law being brought to bear on the individuals responsible.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101 or the RSPB’s raptor crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.

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