Two of this years Bowland Hen Harriers reported missing in Lancashire.

Two young female satellite-tagged hen harriers have vanished in Lancashire in unexplained circumstances after their satellite tags stopped working at the beginning of September. The female birds, named Sky and Hope, both fledged this year from nests on the United Utilities Bowland Estate in Lancashire where they had been protected around the clock by RSPB staff and volunteers.


Stephen Murphy holding a tagged hen harrier

Hen harriers are England’s most threatened bird of prey and this season there were only four successful nests in the whole country. Sky and Hope were among the first chicks to fledge in England since 2012.

Sky was officially named and adopted by pupils from Brennand’s Endowed Primary School in Slaidburn in Bowland. Hope was given her name by members of the RSPB’s youth groups from Macclesfield and Leighton Moss, Lancashire.

The birds were both fitted with lightweight solar-powered satellite tags, designed to be operational for around three years. Satellite tags are frequently used by conservation organisations to find out more about the movements of species. For example, The British Trust for Ornithology has been following the migration of tagged cuckoos since 2011.

Scientists tracking the movements of the young hen harriers became concerned when their tags stopped transmitting. Sky’s satellite signal stopped suddenly on the evening of Wednesday 10 September with the data suggesting she was roosting at her last known location, while Hope’s last’s known location was sent on the morning of Saturday 13 September.

Both of the birds had left their nest sites on the United Utilities Estate several weeks earlier but had remained in the Bowland area since fledging. Searches were made but neither Sky nor Hope have been recovered.

Experts think it is improbable that the loss of satellite transmission is due to technical failure. Only a tiny percentage of hen harriers fitted with satellite tags since 2007 have stopped transmitting when it was known the tracked bird was alive.

Bob Elliot, RSPB Head of Investigations, said: “In our experience, this satellite technology is normally very reliable and it is rare for them to fail for technological reasons.  Losing two birds in such a short time frame and in the same geographical area is strange.

“Based on the last known data and our understanding of the technology, Sky appears to have suffered a catastrophic tag failure at roost suggesting either natural predation or human intervention as the likely causes for her sudden failure to transmit. However, we would not expect natural predation to stop the tag transmitting data so suddenly. Hope’s tag was transmitting reliably, with no evidence of any technical problems.”

TV presenter and hen harrier campaigner Chris Packham said: “It’s incredibly disheartening to discover that two of this year’s chicks have already apparently failed to survive. It shows how vulnerable hen harriers are and that four nests are nowhere near enough. Without satellite tagging, these disappearances might never have come to our attention but technology is on our side and we will keep watching.”

The disappearance of the birds has been reported to Lancashire Police and the RSPB is offering a £1,000 reward. Anyone with information about either of the birds should contact  Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or, alternatively, call the RSPB’s confidential hotline on 0845 466 3636.

19 comments to Two of this years Bowland Hen Harriers reported missing in Lancashire.

  • Tim Sarney

    Where were the last transmissions from? Is this vitally important information being with held and if so, who is not prepared to let the public know where the birds disappeared? This is tax payer funded so we have a right to know!

  • kevin moore

    Why won’t the RSPB tell us exactly where these birds went missing? as Tim says we have funded these tags and we do have a right to know where this happened, this is the RSPB showing they are still in the pockets of landowners,all spring and summer they have been boasting about being “on the Front-line in Bowland” but as soon as any trouble comes they seem to retreat from the Front-line. Do they not appreciate, by concealing the locations where these birds have been lost only plays into the hands of those responsible?

  • Petectid

    If these tags were funded with public money, would a FOI ( freedom of information ) re quest be an appropriate course of action, in order to gain the information on where the last transmissions were recorded?

    Editor’s Comment. Many FOI request have already been made without success. The interests of estates are being placed first before the interests of the birds these tags were introduced to protect. Strange logic.

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      The reason why all of this years hen harrier chicks were not fitted with satellite tags is understandable. Because of the predictability most if not all of the harriers that fledged this year would disappear on moorland where red grouse are shot, the resulting embarrassment to estates would result in a huge national outcry and widespread hostile publicity towards the shooting industry. Neither Scottish Natural Heritage, Natural England or the RSPB for some illogical reason would wish to see this happen.

  • We had 2 Hen Harrier’s fitted with satellite tags in the Bowland area!They are both missing without trace.Somebody somewhere has got blood on their hands.£1000 reward from the RSPB with well over a million members,not enough.The criminal penalty for killing a Hen Harrier does not warrant the crime,perposterous.
    I hope the law catch the murderer’s,fine them thousand’s of pounds,name them and shame them on tv and in the press and sentence them to jail.3 Years in jail.

    If you can’t do the time then don’t do the crime!

  • steven

    The two hen harriers were lost in the Forest of Bowland, making this information public would show the RSPB’s failure.

  • Kevin moore

    It does not matter how much the reward is offered, no one will ever be prosecuted for this crime. The rspb know exactly were these birds were killed. If it turns out they disappeared on an estate in bowland, then only authorised people would be on the estate with guns,it is not too difficult to work it out .

  • Ron Hey

    I saw a large bird of prey on my way to Preston on the m55 near Preston.It may have been the missing hen Harris?!

    Editor’s Comment. Ron, the bird you most likely saw was a buzzard not a hen harrier.

  • This is heartbreaking!Two female Hen Harrier’s missing in the Forest Of Bowland,yet again.Bowland area as become very hostile towards Hen Harrier.I agree with a previous comment sent from Kevin Moore.The law,the penalty does not warrant the crime committed.£5000 fine and imprisonment.If you are from the gentry,the aristocracy,the very rich and hand in glove with the law then no action will be enforced on guilty person.
    Not many years ago now,I can recall a member of the Royal family shooting pheasant on Sandringham estate.A hen Harrier was found shot dead.This member of the Royal family was seen leaving the estate in a Range Rover soon after the incident.The RSPB knew who shot the Harrier,but would only say there was a member of the Royal family shooting pheasant.An investigation by them led to nothing,no one was arrested or charged!The incident made national news on tv and in newspapers,ended with no one being found guilty of shooting the Hen Harrier,this my friends speaks for itself.This is what the nation of bird and wildlife lovers is up against.Hard to stomach!

  • The law on protecting all wild birds needs revising.There should be no exemptions to the law.Occuppier or Authorised Person should not be allowed to break the law by protecting his livestock!The RSPB were supposed to be lobbying this in Westminster and have been campaigning for changes in the law for years!

  • Chloe George

    I am saddened to hear once again how such happy news of new hen harrier chicks earlier in the year has once again turned black! All animal, countryside, bird lovers know all too well that it is the landowners that are shooting these incredibly beautiful birds down and I whole heartily admire the RSPB’s continued fight and determination to prevent these cruel shootings taking place. Reading the comments above it annoys me how most of the responses mention the RSPB in a negative way! “Not giving enough reward,” “not letting you know where the transmitters have stopped working” and so on and so on….Change the record people and focus on the real issue here which is supporting organisations like the RSPB in their plight against sections of society who think it is their right to play god and shoot down these precious, beautiful creatures and get away with it! We need a united voice against these ‘particular landowners ‘ not fractured. After all we all agree on one thing – protecting these harriers and giving them a chance.

    • Terry Pickford, North West Raptor Protection Group

      Chloe, most sensible people totally support the work the RSPB are doing trying their best to protect the Hen Harrier under very adverse conditions.However when it comes to harriers, we appear to be taking one step forward and then two steps back. Everyone who appreciates Hen Harriers, LIKE YOURSELF, are feeling terribly frustrated at what has been taking place; despite all the media publicity followed by the national Hen Harrier day these magnificent birds continue to be persecuted with almost impunity ON A WEEKLY BASIS.

      I totally agree with you Chloe, we need a united voice against the landowners upon who’s land these truly iconic birds are being destroyed. To help towards that end you must appreciate that transparency is very important. I really do think you have missed the point regarding calls to make public those locations where the satellite tags stopped sending out their signals. It is generally accepted most transmitters fitted to Hen Harriers which then suddenly go off-line was a result of human interference, most likely these birds being shot from the sky as they fly over red grouse moors.

      If is critically important to understand, if the RSPB are to have any chance of bringing this sort of illegal activity to an end they must make public the moorland locations together with the name of each estate where these transmissions failed resulting in the disappearance of so many Hen Harrier. By keeping this detail secret it helps the landowner conceal what has taken place on his or her property, making it more not less likely these losses will continue with impunity in the future.

    • Kris Moore

      This is a bit “off topic” but anyway… We used to have an unquestioning faith in the RSPB and were members for many, many years. No longer. Note the colour change (blue to green on many publicity materials), note the relocation and the reduction in size of the avocet logo, the new magazine “Nature’s Home”.

      The RSPB is repositioning itself as the NGO for nature and its membership appears to be dropping. Read the reports of the RSPB moving raptor populations so that wind farms can be erected. We went along with all the SSE nonsense about renewable energy with the RSBP and now feel duped and stupid. We live in a beautiful area of mid Wales that is threatened with ~700 400ft wind turbines. When we raised this with the legacy officer in early 2012 he thanked us for giving him the “heads up” about the proposed wind farms. What he didn’t perhaps know, we’re being generous here, is that the RSPB had given the green light to the Welsh Govt in 2008 and 2010 to go ahead with wind farms in a number of areas of Wales.

      If you look in Nature’s Home Summer 2014 you will see a 2 page spread (pg 26&27) arguing in favour of wind farms. The 40% of the page picture they show is 3, say 150ft, turbines in a recently cropped arable field with a nice 12th Century church emerging from the tree in the distance. And then in the corner a dire picture of a flooded field. This is a nice paste up to show the cuddly side of wind turbines – no control boxes no transmission lines, no pylons taking the electricity down to London to keep the lights on on the empty floors of the Shard.

      The message is “come with us to the sunny uplands of wind turbine produced electricity or be flooded out of existence”. Ask the RSPB how it feels about population growth, increasing air travel or the 1.44 x 10^9 litres of petrol alone that is used in this country every month and they will says that those matters are “political”. You have to challenge the organisation.

  • Kris Moore

    Don’t know the Bowland Area very well – but sudden disappearance ? shot or perhaps are their wind turbines in the area? If it is wind turbines we now think that the RSPB will seek to cover it up. Which might be why they wouldn’t release the location of the losses. Those school kids must be feeling awful – naming them and now they are gone. Wouldn’t it have been better to do the maths on the total numbers.

  • Heather

    Very few wind turbines on Bowland and I suppose, sooner or later, we would find out if they were implicated in the Harrier losses. As far as I know, the only large wind turbines are the group (8?) visible from the Lune Valley main road at Claughton, on the very western fringe of Bowland. Some farms/houses have a single very small turbine, as does the church near Stocks Reservoir, but would these cause a problem to raptors?

  • Rob Hannah

    I want to know and I would have hoped the police will now know, were these two trackers went offline.

    Pointless any organisation spending vast sums of donated money on endangered species nest protection and fitting of satelite tracking if that organisation either does nor monitor the birds post fledging in this case, or does not follow up with a press statement, to, simply say on whose land and exactly were each of these trackers stopped working.

    This does not prejudice any investigation, releasing it into the public domain may assist with witnesses.

    Come on RSPB, your public supporters want to know, have the courage of your convictions.

    • kevin moore

      Rob, the RSPB will not name and shame the landowner where these birds went missing, they are too scared of upsetting their friends in high places.

      Just a thought, I wonder how the additional 6 harriers that fledged from Bowland which were not satellite tagged are doing?, we will never know will we.

  • Tim Sarney

    Four harriers were tagged, two from each nest. We now know two have gone missing but two should still be being tracked. Check the following links for the most recent tracking information I could find on line. These tracks indicate the two which have gone missing (Sky & Hope) remained in the Bowland area.

  • john neill