Blog Post: Hen Harrier “Lad” found dead on Speyside

By Ian Thomson, Head of Investigations, Scotland Lad was a male hen harrier who was fitted with a LIFE+ Project satellite tag by licensed RSPB staff on 16 th July 2015, a few days before he fledged from a nest on an estate owned by Wildland Ltd in the Cairngorms National Park, in southern Inverness-shire. After fledging in late July, Lad stayed close to the nest area until the last week of August, when he then moved a short distance away from the estate where he was tagged.  Photo credit: Dave Pullan Only a few days later, on 3 rd September, RSPB staff monitoring the transmissions from Lad’s tag became concerned that he had stopped moving in an area of moorland, still within the National Park, near Newtonmore. On the 10 th , with further transmissions confirming he was dead, RSPB Scotland Investigations staff visited the area after informing the police, and found Lad’s body lying face down in the heather. The carcass was recovered, the police were informed, and Lad’s remains were delivered to the SRUC Veterinary laboratory near Penicuik the following day. Photo credit: RSPB Investigations We received the preliminary post mortem report from the laboratory a few days later. It stated: “The skin was split open on the left side of the neck parallel with the jugular groove. There was haemorrhage in the subcutaneous tissues in this area and a horizontal split in the trachea. There was damage to three feathers of the right wing consisting of a single groove mark perpendicular to the shaft of each feather.” The body was then X-rayed. The subsequent follow-up SRUC post mortem report from 29 th September stated: “Despite the failure to identify metallic fragments within the carcase the appearance of the damage to the wing feathers is consistent with damage caused by shooting. The injury to the neck could be explained by a shot gun pellet passing straight through the soft tissue of the neck. Both injuries could have brought the bird down and proved fatal.” Copies of the preliminary and follow-up post mortem reports were immediately passed to Police Scotland. RSPB Scotland understands that the police have subsequently had meetings with representatives of several estates located in the vicinity of where Lad’s body was recovered. We would like to acknowledge the assistance of Wildland Ltd who gave permission and access to fit the satellite tag on Lad, staff at the SRUC Veterinary laboratory for undertaking the post mortem work and to Police Scotland for their follow-up to this case. We are of course saddened that the sudden death of Lad has deprived us of the opportunity to follow his travels through Scotland and beyond, and maybe go on to raise chicks of his own. We wish to appeal to anyone who can provide any information about Lad’s untimely and early death to contact Police Scotland on 101.  

Blog Post: Nile the hen harrier helps the conservation of his species

Last summer, we fitted a satellite tag to a male hen harrier chick at a nest in Northumberland. He was named Nile by our Investigations team. We were able to track his movements south to Salisbury Plain over the autumn, and along with records from the Wiltshire Ornithological Society, his tag revealed new winter roosting and foraging areas for hen harriers in the area. Nile with his satellite tag fitted (photo credit: RSPB Investigations) The MoD’s Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) - responsible for managing and maintaining the MoD’s land and properties - has been working with its tenants for many years to implement management measures at known roost sites to improve conditions for hen harriers. The new information from Nile’s tag will allow the DIO to implement further measures in these new areas to make their land even better for these spectacular birds. Sadly, not long after migrating across the channel to northern France, data for Nile’s tag showed that he had died. We organised a search for his body, but unfortunately it could not be found so we will never know his cause of death. Although we are gutted that we were not able to follow Nile’s progress further, it’s heartening to know that information from his satellite tag will help protect roosting harriers in future.

Recent events and tasks

Sat 12th Apr – Graham Wilkinson led a lovely walk over the back of Chipping – Wolfen Hall, Burnslack (remains of several old cottages along the old track and then the sole surviving building), Windy Hills and a peep over at the finest show of snowdrops I’ve ever seen. Some of us had lunch at the Tillotsons and fell asleep in the afternoon.
Wed 15th Apr – Tarja Wilson’s swangsong project working for LCC, parkland tree guards at Leagram Mill Farm, were finished off by a very willing group on what was a very pleasant day. What a neat job we made of them! I last saw Tarja in my rear view mirror with a couple of others as the temperature was falling and the sun was fading putting up bird boxes….

Blog Post: National Hen Harrier Survey 2016

Guest blog by Simon Wotton, RSPB Conservation Science There will be a full survey of breeding hen harriers in the UK and Isle of Man in 2016.  The last national survey of this UK red-listed species of conservation concern was in 2010, when the population was estimated at 662 territorial pairs (95% confidence interval, 576–770), an 18% decline in the population between 2004 and 2010. The population decreased in parts of Scotland and the Isle of Man, and remains at very low levels in England.  The survey will provide updated estimates of population size and national and regional trends since 2010.  As a high profile species of great conservation concern, current information on status across the UK range is vital. In Scotland, the survey is being organised by RSPB, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Scottish Raptor Study Group.  Survey coverage will be organised in coordination with the Scottish Raptor Study Group. Non-random ‘census’ coverage of core areas will be carried out by volunteers, and randomly selected 10km squares will be surveyed in the rest of the range, by RSPB fieldworkers. The survey area (the species’ known range) has been defined using results of the last survey and the Bird Atlas 2007-11, consultation within the RSPB and with the statutory conservation agencies, and by approaching Raptor Study Groups for their knowledge and details of the “core areas” for hen harrier that they usually monitor. Planned survey coverage in Scotland, by volunteers and RSPB fieldworkers. Elsewhere, it is expected that complete coverage will be achieved of all suitable 10km squares within the Hen Harrier range in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.  The other survey partners are Natural England, Northern England Raptor Forum, Natural Resources Wales, Manx BirdLife and the Northern Ireland Raptor Study Group. Field surveys will follow the well-established two to three visit method between late March and the end of July, giving the advantage of good comparability with previous surveys.  If no birds have been seen, or breeding has not been confirmed, during the first two visits, a third visit may be made between late June and the end of July.  

Blog Post: Hen Harriers – Heaven Scent

Guest blog by Paul Morton – Lush Campaigns, to celebrate raising £100,000 for satellite tagging of hen harriers over the coming years. It’s always good to start off a story with a bit of nostalgia, especially when one of your favourite birds is involved. Baz Luhrmann (remember him? No? Sunscreen? oh never mind) famously philosophised that nostalgia is a form of advice that you drag up from the past and distribute to unsuspecting victims. Well, I’m glad that an experience I had when I was 10 years old enabled me to advise 33 year old me to take note and remember that wildlife, nature and particularly male hen harriers are beautiful….never to be forgotten (or lost). You see, I live on the edge of Poole Harbour, a stones throw away from RSPB Arne Nature Reserve, a great place for winter birds of prey, then and now. 10 year old me was sat in the Shipstal Hide with my mum, watching avocets, curlew and redshank, when a gentleman with a scope sat next to me shouted out 'HEN HARRIER!'. Now, one of my favourite hobbies was reading my Collins Field Guide over and over and I had a mental note in my head of all birds I was expecting to see in Poole Harbour during my life time and hen harrier certainly wasn’t on that list (neither was great northern diver, ring ouzel or red kite to be perfectly honest with you)! Slightly puzzled, I asked if I could take a look and what I saw I’ll never forget. A male hen harrier quartering along the spartina fringes of Gold Point, a finger of land that points out into the harbour. Star struck and speechless I watched it for what seemed like hours but must have only been seconds before it carried on over the marsh and behind the woodland never to be seen again. I felt like I had won in life already and nothing could better this experience….ever! Fast-forward 15 years and I somehow managed to wangle a job at RSPB Arne nature reserve as an Information Officer, a job that required me to educate and enthuse people about the reserves wildlife...and enthuse I did. I was at Arne for two years and loved my time there, saw some amazing things and met some incredible people. Yet, without doubt, my highlight at Arne would be bunking off 20 minutes early (sorry Lynne) during the winter, and going to watch hen harriers before they went into roost. A spectacle that still needs me to pick my jaw up off the ground after the birds have gone to bed. Anyone that knows me will know I can get a little over excited and distracted when it comes to birds and wildlife and get so pent up with excitement, adrenaline and anxiety - often all at the same time! Luckily I’ve learnt to channel these emotions by campaigning for change and action. Fast-forward another four years and I’m sat with the Lush campaigns team (which is where I spend a percentage of my work time) and we’re discussing campaign ideas. For some people (including me prior to working for them) it may come as a surprise just how strong Lush are as a campaigning organisation, fighting hard for human rights, animal welfare and environmental injustice. When it was announced in 2014 that only four pairs of hen harrier had successfully bred in England we felt compelled to get involved to try and help promote the issue to our customers. A campaign was set up through all our UK Lush shops, where we provided a website for people to get all the info they needed about this illegal activity, as well as a politely worded postcard for people to sign….destination Buckingham Palace. Over the course of the month more than 20,000 Lush customers signed postcards and added their voice to our plea for the illegal killing to stop. This was ‘high street conservation’ at its very best and we even got to take a trip up to Buckingham Palace to hand over the signed postcards. Surprisingly they didn’t open the main front gates for us and welcome us through with a horned fan fair, rather they let us in through the small side gate along Buckingham Palace Road, you know…the entrance where they deliver the fish. Still, our and the public's message was clear and we all kept our fingers crossed and our breath held. One year on and what had changed? Well, not a lot to be honest. There was a slight rise in Hen Harrier breeding success from four to six pairs, but at the same time five adult males had ‘disappeared’ from active nests during the breeding season and it seemed we were back to square one. It also seemed the obvious approach was to work with and help the RSPB with their Hen Harrier Life+ project by raising enough money to try and satellite tag as many Hen Harrier chicks as possible over the coming years. OVER TO THE GENERAL PUBLIC… In July 2015 (and with less than a week's notice), the Lush manufacturing team designed and built a prototype bath bomb in the shape of a male hen harrier against a setting sun, which looked and smelt incredible. Admittedly, the prototype was about the size of a dinner plate, so after a quick re-design and tweak, our product was ready and we were now almost ready to throw the challenge over to the public to start raising money for hen harrier conservation. There was one small problem, we didn’t have a name for our Sicilian lemon and liquorice masterpiece, so over to Chris Packham to come up with a name…."Skydancer – Far from the Madding Guns". Skydancer went on sale in early August 2015 and here we are only seven months later having now raised £100,000 for hen harriers thanks to the wonderful support of our Lush customers. We’re over the moon with this result, and can’t thank everyone enough for their contribution towards this campaign. So to finish off, do I think we’ll see a rise in breeding hen harriers over the coming five, ten, fifteen years? Well, yes I do. Not just because I’m a hopeless optimist but because I also believe in the power of people. Right across the country there are people fighting for this cause and all it needs is a little co-ordination, lateral thinking and dogged determination to fight for our environment and its hen harriers now and in years to come. ...... The LIFE Project would also like to thank the Lush staff involved in running an awareness-raising event with local RSPB staff at the Aberdeen store on 20th and 21st February where another 88 bath bombs were sold, proceeds of which have gone to the cause.

Blog Post: Countryfile Conservation Success of the Year: the hen harrier

As some of you may be aware, the hen harrier was awarded Countryfile’s Conservation Success of the Year last month: Birders Against Wildlife Crime (BAWC) received the award on behalf of the species for their hard work raising awareness of the birds’ plight at their conference in Bristol last weekend. Here is a photo of the guys from Birders Against Wildlife Crime (from left to right: Charlie Moores, Lawrie Phipps and Phil Walton) with the award. Photo credit: Guy Shorrock