Another Bowland hen harrier mysteriously disappears near grouse shooting moor

Police are investigating the disappearance of yet another rare bird of prey in Bowland.

Thursday, 18th October 2018, 10:12 am
Updated Friday, 19th October 2018, 3:01 am
Thor, a Bowland hen harrier, has gone missing

A hen harrier has suddenly gone missing from Goodber Common, near Salter, a few miles west of Lowgill - in an area where other hen harriers have also mysteriously disappeared.

The disappearance has triggered an investigation by the police and the RSPB.

This summer conservationists fould that hen harriers – a rare bird of prey which nests on moorland – were nesting in Bowland for the first time since 2015.

Goodber Common in Bowland, where the hen harrier is believed to have gone missing. Image courtesy of Google Maps.

The three nests were closely monitored by RSPB staff as part of the EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE Project, and the parent birds fledged 13 chicks between them.

One of these chicks, named Thor, was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag by project staff, which has enabled the RSPB to track his movements since fledging.

Regular transmissions showed him cautiously staying close to the valley he called home.

But on October 3 his tag suddenly stopped transmitting.

Undated File handout photo issued by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds of a Hen Harrier. The UK Raptor Working Group revealed Thursday February 3, 2005, that the illegal killing of spectacular birds of prey like the Red Kite and Hen Harrier threatens their re-introduction into the UK. See PA Story ENVIRONMENT Raptors. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Photo credit should read: RSPB Handout.

His last fix came from Goodber Common, near Salter - adjacent to a managed driven grouse moor.

The incident was reported to the police and RSPB Investigations staff searched the area of his last known fix but found no sign of the bird or his tag.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest and most persecuted birds of prey with just nine successful nests recorded in England in 2018.

Known as the ‘ghosts of the moor’, these agile birds of prey nest on the ground, often on moorland, and are known for their spectacular courtship display, the ‘skydance’.

Hen harrier chicks in Bowland

They are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which makes it an offence to intentionally harm or disturb them.

Anyone found to have done so faces an unlimited fine and/or up to six months in jail. But, despite full legal protection, studies show that their declining population is largely associated with human persecution.

Thor is the fourth bird to disappear in just two months, following the similarly unexplained disappearances of Hilma, Octavia and Heulwen in August 2018 – birds that were also tagged as chicks earlier this summer.

Alarmingly, the last known fix for Thor is directly between the sites where tagged hen harriers Hope and Sky were last heard from before they disappeared in 2014, which is the last time that there were chicks successfully raised in the Forest of Bowland.

James Bray, RSPB’s Bowland project officer, was involved in monitoring the nests in Bowland over the summer, and watched as Thor hatched, grew and fledged from his nest. James said: “Whilst we know that hen harrier mortality rates are high for young birds, if Thor had died naturally we would expect to find either his body or his tag – or both.

“His tag was functioning well before he disappeared, which sadly suggests there has been some kind of interference with it.”

Anyone with information should contact Lancashire Police on 101.

If you find a wild bird which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form HERE

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