Arthur became the ninth tagged hen harrier in three months to vanish in similar circumstances in the UK In November we reported that a rare hen harrier had disappeared in North Yorkshire, triggering an investigation by the police and the RSPB. This was…
Dr. Cathleen Thomas, Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager, introduces the new cohort of tagged hen harriers for 2018. We were overjoyed this summer when we tagged an unprecedented amount of hen harrier chicks across the UK. The team hiked over bogs, moorland and mountains, often during heat wave conditions, to locate the nests and used their specialist expertise to fit lightweight tags to each feathery bundle. After the success of this year’s breeding season, it’s with mixed feeling that I’m introducing you to the class of 2018. You will have seen from our last blog post that we’ve already lost three of our 2018 tagged hen harriers in suspicious circumstances. We hope that the rest of this year’s cohort manage to survive a little longer. Hen harriers are one of the UK’s most persecuted birds of prey, and the breeding population in England is dangerously low with just nine successful nests this summer despite habitat for over 300 pairs. Fitting tags helps us learn more about the risks they face. We’re now crossing our fingers as we watch these young birds go out into the world. For now, we’d like to introduce you to twelve of them. This year we incorporated a couple of themes into the naming process. Some have been named after gods and goddesses, others pay homage to notable people, while some celebrate their national language and landscape. 1. Thoth Thoth is a male chick tagged in the Scottish borders in 2018, named after the Egyptian god with the head of an ibis. His tag was sponsored by Scottish Borders Council to learn more about hen harrier movements in the Scottish borders. Thoth the male hen harrier (photo credit: Jack Ashton Booth) 2. Vulcan Vulcan is a male chick tagged in Northumberland, and came from a nest of five chicks. His father is colour ringed and is from Langholme. He’s a favourite of our project team member Jack , and named after the Roman god of fire. Vulcan the hen harrier (photo credit: Jack Ashton Booth) 3. Rain Rain was tagged at Bowland, and came from a nest of five chicks. She’s one of the first hen harriers chicks to be successfully raised in Bowland since 2015. Rain (photo credit: Steve Downing) 4. Nyx Nyx was tagged at Bowland from a nest of five chicks and is one of the 13 birds to successfully fledge at Bowland this year. He is named after Nyx, the shape-shifting water spirit. Nyx (photo credit: Steve Downing) 5. Thor One of a brood four, and the first of our chicks to be tagged this year. Thor was named after the famous god of thunder and was tagged on a nest at Bowland in collaboration with United Utilities estates. Thor (photo credit: Steve Downing) 6. Doona Doona is a female chick tagged on Isle of Man, named by Dhoon School. Her name means ‘dark maiden’ and she was tagged in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Doona (photo credit: Steve Downing) 7. Arthur Arthur is a male chick tagged at the National Trust’s High Peak Moors. He is named after Arthur Hobhouse, who set out the philosophy behind our system of National Parks of England and Wales. Hobhouse argued that everyone should have access to fresh air and beautiful places. 2019 marks the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949. Arthur will be monitored in collaboration with raptor workers and the National Trust. Arthur (photo credit: Paul Thomas) 8. Keen Keen is a female bird tagged in Perthshire from a nest of three chicks. She is the third bird to be tagged in an area of woodland managed sustainably by the community for the benefit of everyone, after DeeCee in 2016 and Heather in 2017. Keen (photo credit: Brian Etheridge) 9. Marci Marci is a female chick and the third bird to be tagged at Mar Lodge, one of several chicks born there in 2018. Harriet and Calluna were also tagged there in 2016 and 2017 respectively. Marcie (photo credit: Shaila Rao) 10.Hilma – missing Hilma was a female chick tagged at a nest on Forestry Commission Scotland-owned land in the Scottish Borders, and a sister to Thoth. Her tag was sponsored by the Scottish Borders Council to learn more about the movements of hen harriers in the borders. However, Hilma didn’t travel very far. After she left her nest, she moved south into Northumberland. Her tag was transmitting regularly when it suddenly and inexplicably stopped. Her last known fix on 8 August showed she was near Wooler, Northumberland over land managed for driven grouse shooting. Hilma is the second tagged hen harrier to disappear in Northumberland in the past year, after we reported on the disappearance of Manu in October 2017, closely followed by his brother Marc in Cumbria in February 2018. Hilma (photo credit: Steve Downing) 11. Heulwen – missing Heulwen was a female chick tagged in Gwynedd in North Wales. Her name was chosen because it means ‘sunny’ in Welsh. After she left her nest, Heulwen travelled through north Wales, across Snowdonia and eastwards towards Wrexham. Her satellite tag was transmitting regularly untili it suddenly and inexplicably stopped. Her last known fix on 29 August shows she was in the vicinity of Ruabon Mountain. Heulwen was not far from where Aalin , one of our 2016 tagged bird cohort, went missing on 9 February 2018. Heulwen (photo credit: Guy Anderson) 12. Octavia – missing Octavia is a female chick tagged at the National Trust’s High Peak Moors from the first successful nest in the Peak District since 2014. She was named after Octavia Hill, one of the three founders of the National Trust. On the 22 August she moved onto privately-owned driven grouse moors near Sheffield. Her tag was transmitting regularly when it suddenly and inexplicably stopped. Her last known fix on 26 August showed she was over an area of land managed for driven grouse shooting at Broomhead. Octavia (photo credit: Steve Downing) Jenny Shelton from our Investigations team explains more in this video: (Please visit the site to view this video) If you’re having trouble viewing the video on our blog page, you can go directly to youtube: https://youtu.be/x-mqn3tEPhU
Following on from a successful breeding season, we speak to Jack Ashton-Booth and Tom Grose, our newest Assistant Investigations Officers, investigating hen harrier persecution in England and Wales. Here we get to know them and their work a bit better… You’re both keen birders. What’s been your best ever birding moment? Jack: My highlight was in October 2013 witnessing 299 rough-legged buzzards migrating out to sea in southern Demark! Tom: So many to choose from! Watching a pair of shoebills in Uganda’s Murchison Falls NP as a teenager was like something from a dream… the birds and the setting along the north bank of the Nile were very special. What do you do when you’re not working? Jack: Self-confessed raptor geek – read, write, illustrate and watch raptors. If I’m not birding or ringing then I love to climb and keep fit. Tell us something else we might not know about you… Tom: By the time you read this, I will have become a father. How do you describe your job to friends and family? Tom: I say that we are trying to help one of England’s most threatened birds of prey and explain the persecution these birds face (which generally elicits a shocked response). When I talk about investigations work I usually get called a bird detective. Jack I try to steer clear of the details and essentially say I have the best job in the world, get to study hen harriers on a near daily basis. Non- birders don’t have a clue what I’m talking about but birders are somewhat mesmerised! (Jack Ashton-Booth with a young hen harrier) Without giving away too many secrets, what does your work involve? Tom: Lots of driving and walking the moors! We aim to find and monitor nesting attempts and, if these are successful, satellite tag the chicks. This results in some spectacular encounters with hen harriers. We can then track these birds’ movements, and if they don’t survive hopefully find out where and why this has happened. We also proactively attempt to stop persecution and ensure that those responsible are held to account. The EU funded Hen Harrier LIFE project itself focuses on monitoring harriers both on the ground and via satellite tagging. It also includes protecting nests and investigations work pertaining to persecution incidents alongside community engagement and raising awareness of the issues that threaten hen harriers. Why did you apply for the role? Jack: I was driven by my passion for raptors and the opportunity to directly make a difference to hen harrier conservation in the UK. I’m hoping to further my understanding of this captivating species. Tom: I live on the edge of the Peak District, a black spot for raptor persecution, and I’ve witnessed first-hand the effects this has had on individual birds and their populations. This role presented one of the best opportunities to make a difference to that, locally and nationally. You’ve been in the role several months now. Is it living up to expectations? Jack: Above and beyond – don’t be fooled, it’s not for the faint hearted and it’s not simply sitting on a hill watching harriers sky dancing (although some days are). It involves LONG hours in the field and can at times feel like you’re swimming against the tide. It’s most definitely a job with the greatest highs and the greatest lows. Tom: It has exceeded them. I feel incredibly privileged to be part of the team. There have been some real highs and lows but I’ve never been happier in my work. Successfully fitting satellite tags to several broods of chicks was very satisfying after lots of hard work and lots of nervous moments along the way. Can you tell us more about the help you receive from local raptor workers? Tom: Quite simply we couldn’t do our job without them. They are the real unsung heroes of raptor conservation. Their years of experience and time spent in the field are vital, especially as we are only a small team. I’d like to extend a huge thankyou to those I’ve worked with this year, particularly the members of the Northern England Raptor Forum. You know who you are! Jack: The people I liaise with are incredible and know their raptors inside out. What I would love to see however is the old school cliques in the raptor working circles start to open up and allow new blood up the ranks. I know so many amazing young birders keen to learn about raptors and they should be encouraged by their elders. These areas are too big to simply work it alone, more eyes mean more raptors are found. How do you liaise with the police and CPS? Tom: As we have no statutory powers ourselves our relationship with these two bodies is vital. We are in regular contact with Wildlife Crime Officers, providing information to them and assisting where we can which helps with enforcement. When a case come to trial, our role is to provide evidence for the CPS to build a case and act as an expert witness. Who else do you get help from? Tom: We work in partnership with many organisations such as the Forestry Commission, National Trust, National Parks, Local Wildlife Trusts and raptor groups. Jack: The forestry commission raptor workers have been amazing and monumental in teaching us tricks of the trade when finding hen harrier territories and nests. What can the public do to help birds of prey? Tom: Reporting possible crimes to police and hen harrier sightings to our hotline are both incredibly valuable – you are our eyes and ears. Local communities must make it clear that raptor persecution has no place in their countryside. In order for real change to happen the public as a whole needs to tell those in power that this barbaric practice must stop. Jack: Question everything when in the countryside. If you see anything on a grouse moor that looks odd, like a spring trap or a cage, then take a photo and send it in to us. Also, report dead or injured birds of prey. The quicker you get info to us the quicker we can respond, and ultimately get a conviction if a crime has taken place. (Tom Grose recovering a dead bird) What’s the hardest part of the job? Tom: The knowledge that many of the chicks we have watched grow won’t make it, not just through natural causes but by being shot or trapped by a selfish few. Jack: For me the quantity of cases that get dropped by our legal system. If our legal system dictates that a crime has been committed, then it should be treated the same as any other crime and not brushed under the carpet because it is not perceived as a priority case. You haven’t had your first winter out on the moors yet, are you prepared?! Tom: In previous roles I’ve spent many winters out on the hills carrying out surveys and habitat restoration. But this time I’ll be doing it to protect hen harriers! Jack: I can’t think of anything better than a flask of tea and a winter hen harrier roost! Bring it on!
Hen harriers are in trouble – that’s not news to anyone. The RSPB continues to urge the government to crack down on illegal persecution in the uplands in a bid to give these birds a chance to re-establish a stable population in England. But is there anything you, me, your friends and your family can do? Well, yes there is, and some of these things you can do right away. Together we can change the tide and stop illegal persecution. Picture credit: Jack Ashton-Booth 1) Attend a Hen Harrier Day event: Share your passion for these magnificent birds, hear talks and campaign for changes to help protect the future of hen harriers. 2) Sign up to Findlay’s Thunderclap. Hen harrier campaigner extraordinaire Findlay Wilde is asking everyone who cares about these birds to sign up to a Thunderclap on social media. Sign up here and at 9.30am on 12 August, this message will appear on your Twitter or Facebook page: “I am against the illegal persecution of uplands wildlife. The dark side of the Inglorious 12th must be stopped.” 3) Report crimes: Walkers, hikers, climbers and anyone out in the countryside can be our eyes and ears, keeping us informed about crimes involving birds of prey. Look out for traps set on posts, dead or injured birds of prey, or people behaving suspiciously. Call RSPB Investigations and police on 101 or fill out the online form . 4) Speak out: If you are involved with the driven grouse shooting or rural community and have information about people killing hen harriers, there is a way for you to alert us in complete confidence. The RSPB’s Raptor Crime Hotline (0300 999 0101) will allow you to speak out without it coming back to you. We know there are people out there with information, and you can help us end this culture of criminality. 5) Help us fight for licensing: The voices calling for change are getting louder, and the more of us who voice our outrage at the illegal killing of hen harriers, the more likely we are to bring about change. Self-regulation of driven grouse moors has not worked, so we want the government to introduce a system of licensing. 6) Spread the word: There is a huge movement happening on social media calling for action to protect hen harriers. Adding your voice will help increase the impact, raise awareness and hopefully drive change. Public opinion carries great sway! Follow and Retweet our @RSPB_Skydancer tweets – and of course, don’t forget to tell people face-to-face as well!