The body charged with “conserving, enhancing and managing the natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations” is being criticised for its lack of transparency surrounding the disappearance of three satellite-tagged Hen Harriers.
The three birds were part of the 2020 cohort of nine chicks satellite-tagged as part of the controversial practice of ‘brood management’, or ‘brood meddling’ as it has become know to many opposed to the scheme.
The information about the all three disappearances only came to light following a freedom of information request from conservationist Dr.Ruth Tingay who runs the Raptor Persecution UK blog. This has led many to question why Natural England has not been more forthcoming with the information on missing birds.
One of the missing birds was originally removed from a nest in North Yorkshire and tagged on 11 July 2020. His tag’s last known fix was on 20th September 2020, right next to a grouse moor in North Yorkshire.
Another, a young female given the name ‘Fortune’, was tagged on 15th June 2020 at a nest site in Northumberland. Her last tag fix came from an undisclosed site in Northumberland which Natural England say is an important Hen Harrier roost.
Hen Harrier, copyright Dean Eades, from the surfbirds galleries
The third ‘missing’ bird is ‘Harold’, who was tagged in the Yorkshire Dales in June 2020. His last fix position came from a grouse moor between Kirkby Stephen and Ravenseat. This is the same location where a young Hen harrier named ‘Dryad’ went missing in September 2020. Bizarrely Harold was fitted with a satellite tag that has previously been identified as unreliable. This model of tag was removed from the brood management trial at the insistence of the scientific advisory group.
Writing about the disappearances Dr.Tingay said: “this information has had to be dragged out of Natural England via a Freedom of Information request.” And on the disappearance of ‘Harold’ she asked: “why the hell is Natural England still using this tag on other Hen harriers?”
Natural England provided no significant comment following the news of the missing birds. They tweeted a brief message on Tuesday evening to say “We are currently working with local police to investigate a missing hen harrier in the Yorkshire area. Raptor persecution, including of hen harriers, is a national wildlife crime priority. We would urge anyone witnessing or suspecting persecution to contact the police.”
Former leader of the Green Party and now an active peer in The House of Lords, Natalie Bennett tweeted to Natural England asking “why @naturalengland did it take an FOI to get this information”. They didn’t reply.
Director of Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Tim Birch said on Twitter: “Here we go again, tougher action needed. Our uplands are death traps for our birds of prey and National Parks offer no protection for them. Time to rethink what our Uplands are for in 2021.”
The disappearance of these three birds means that there are now 48 Hen Harriers ‘missing’ or confirmed illegally killed since 2018. Given that there are only the birds we know about, it is a truly shocking number and once again calls into question as to why Natural England are continuing to work with an industry involved in what appears to organised wildlife crime in Britain’s countryside.