Hen Harrier: was a golden opportunity lost by not satellite tagging all harriers at Langholm this season?

Already we have seen a number of this year’s young harriers leaving Langholm for pastures new. Annie one of two tagged harriers is reported to have flown 85 km across the border into Northumberland and is currently residing SW of Wooler. It appears that so far there has been no available data from Sid’s satellite tag, the second tagged harrier. We eagerly await to learn of the whereabouts of Sid in due course. What has been achieved at Langholm this year just goes to show what can happen when persecution is eliminated completely. No one,even members of the shooting industry, should have any lingering doubts about that. We do feel however that by failing to satellite tag all 47 Langholm chicks a golden opportunity has been missed.


Steve Murphy the National Hen Harrier Coordinator fitting a satellite tag to a hen harrier chick

With such a large group of fledged harriers to study this would have enabled scientists to reach a better understanding of the levels of persecution hen harrier were still facing. There is now little chance of establishing this information, because if high numbers of this years un-tagged harriers disappear we are left with assumptions, not knowing if any of these birds are dead or alive. Just think about it for one moment, had all 47 harriers been fitted with satellite tags we would have had an accurate figure of the percentage of harriers which had survived and a percentage of those that disappeared. Without a clear understanding of the threats faced by the 47 Langholm harriers after leaving their natal territories, together with the 10 birds in England, what will be the point of producing more hen harriers in the future if they then all disappear, presumed to have been shot? Addressing this critical issue first must be an over ridding priority, other wise we could could be wasting a lot of effort and money.

It is important we feel to ask the question why were only 2 of the 47 harriers reared at Langholm this summer fitted with satellite tags? It certainly can’t be for the lack of money, as £3.5 million was placed in the kitty to fund the work being undertaken at Langholm. Or is the bulk of this funding been spent on creating a Red Grouse moor and not for Hen Harriers or biodiversity? Remember if Langholm is to become the bench-mark model which all other Red Grouse moors estates adopt and follow, we would not want to see management which then only related to Red Grouse! 

Throughout the last few years we have seen many additional staff being brought in to work in association with the Langolm project. Machinery has been paid for,rent paid for houses on the estate, salaries paid, traps for killing vermin, guns & ammunition, fuel for transport, dead rats and chicks used for diversionary feeding, poisons for killing heather beetle and bracken spray, all add up but was additional funding acquired from land stewardship payments on top of the £3.5 million?

9,5 g satellite

A state of the art satellite tag, could this be the technology which could help the hen harrier? At £3400 each its not a cheap option but it just may help to pay dividends.

We do know the Langholm estate has no intention of loosing out. At the end of this 10 year project, birds of prey undoubtedly will once again be on the menu, removed to to ensure red grouse shooting days will be the priority. The Langholm community has also lost out because of the lack of initiatives to help them gain from the hen harrier project.

The RSPB may be lucky to come out of this with flying colours as harriers will  continue to be killed. Scottish Natural Heritage like their counterpart Natural England continue as puppets under the influence of two governments who have little interest in protecting or enhancing nature on behalf of our two nations.

How many ravens will be legally killed at Langholm next year for no reason?  Will anyone be told of the true outcome of the 47? With so little time left this project is being lost to the masses.

21 comments to Hen Harrier: was a golden opportunity lost by not satellite tagging all harriers at Langholm this season?

  • David Le Mesurier

    Why does he not hood the bird when fitting the Tag, it would be far less stressful on the bird?

    Editor’s Comment. Very good question David, one that we have been asked a number of times before. The reply is quite straight forward, Steve Murphy had no experience handling raptors prior to his appointment to his current role. He has only picked up experience as he went along. Everyone has to start somewhere. Because UK conservationist do not work with falconers, as they perhaps should now do, Steve would not know anything about the right or wrong way to handle stressed birds, not using a hood is an example

    • nirofo

      Reply to Editor’s Comment.

      I assume Steve Murphy as an inexperienced wild bird handler would have been accompanied by an experienced Schedule One licenced ringer to show him the ropes.

      I have been involved with ringing Raptors for many years and have never heard of the requirement to hood the birds prior to ringing. Perhaps it may be a good idea to make hooding a requirement of the licence if fitting radio tags is to become a common occurrence along with ringing.

      Editor’s Comment. Nirofo, ringers would not have even considered using a hood to reduce stress simply because most ringers would never have even thought about the benefits of using such a device.
      We certainly believe using a hood when fitting satellite tags would be well worth the effort

    • Falcoscot

      In my experience it’s better not to hood a young raptor when carrying out this kind of work as the fear factor makes them freeze and you can get the job done quicker while hooding just makes them struggling, generally speaking.

  • People should always remember that a large number of the recently fledged, very inexperienced harriers from Langholm will die from natural causes especially over their first winter e.g. by starvation,disease,predation by other raptors, flying into wind turbines, etc. Persecution is only one piece of a very complex jigsaw.
    As well as the large expenditure of tagging all these young harriers, monitoring, data collection and analysis would also greatly add to this substantial cost.
    However I do agree regardless of the money involved we had a unique opportunity to scientifically quantify the level of harrier persecution involved in this major long standing conservation conflict.

    Editor’s Comment. On the other hand, regardless of persecution, taking your very valid points about all the other hazards harriers face in their first year, had the birds been tagged these problems would also have been identified which would also have been invaluable.

  • Circus maxima

    I have to agree, everything we learn about the early life and their movements is valuable. We need to know where they go, what they feed on where they roost etc.And sadly where they die…however with the sat tag we can find the corpse quickly (how many non tagged corpses would actually be found?) and we can get info from PM’s. If the sat tag is recovered not all of its value is lost.

  • James Thomson

    regardless of the cost they could have made an effort to ring more than 2 birds out of 47.

  • paul williams

    We could ask Stephen Murphy from Natural England whilst he is on his rounds having tea and biscuits with Gamekeepers.

    • Extremely childish comment to make Paul with regards to someone who is extremely passionate and dedicated to harrier welfare/conservation.
      May I ask you the question which is obviously bugging you, what is so wrong with having ”tea and biscuits with Gamekeepers”?

  • paul williams

    Mike, I guess you were not involved with the Hen Harrier protest. Dr Mark Avery and Chris Packham were out protesting and not having tea and biscuits with gamekeepers. My bugbear is…Why does someone so dedicated to the cause of HH’s visit gamekeepers knowing full well the very gamekeepers he is conversing with persecute HH’s so blatantly. PS..It is not a childish comment. This was Stephen Murphy’s own words at a Hen Harrier lecture at Chipping Hall. Witnessed by myself and Kevin Moore.

    One last thought to consider, when Stephen first began his work in Bowland he was accepting ill-conceived advise from a number of keepers where he could go to find nests in Bowland. They sent him to watch and wait on top of a grit stone moor void of heather and harriers. So much for true cooperation. Gamekeepers will not tell you the truth, only what they want you to know. Stephen has learn some common sense since then.

    • Easiest thing in the world Paul to critise someone who is desperately trying their best in a very difficult conservation conflict/mess. Nobody is perfect. We have all put our trust in fellow humans at one time or another and been let down.
      Whatever has happened in the distant past is surely history. Rather than continually ridicule Stephen wouldn’t it be better if like minded people like yourself unite and support his honesty and passion towards helping harriers in their extremely difficult conservation plight?

  • Kevin moore

    Mike they kill hen harriers in Bowland and have continued to do so for many decades, which should be a good enough reason for most people not have tea and biscuits with a gamekeepers and be told a load of rubbish at the same time.

  • paul williams

    Stephen went from hero to zero in the great Hen Harrier Recovery Project….Zero Harriers in Bowland for 2 years…It that what all that tea and biscuits achieved….Zero???

  • paul williams

    And on the darker side…is that a result?

  • James the landowners who more or less run the show at Langholm,( the likes of RSPB, English Nature, SNH have only limited influence ) do not want any more harriers satellite tagged, other than the token 2, because they don’t want the backlash when most of them inevitably ” disappear” on grouse moors.

  • paul williams

    Honesty = The Truth the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth…. and Transparency Re- Hen Harrier persecution. Then I will unite to the cause.

    • nirofo


      Haven’t you realised yet, you’ll never get the truth, it’s blocked all the way down from the government to the RSPB. What you will get is downright lies, cover up, lame excuses and total F-ups. If all that doesn’t work they’ll just totally ignore anything that’s thrown at them, and that includes the law, they know full well that if they deny it long enough it will just go away.

      In other words they don’t give a s*** one way or the other.

      Editor’s Comment. Sadly Nirofo there is sense in much of what you say, politics and relationships with estates is most certainly restricting the protection of raptors here in the UK of red grouse moorland. We were asked in a recent twitter message why were only 2 out of the 47 Langholm hen harriers satellite tagged this year. This is the reply that was sent to Raptor Politics by a well known raptor conservationist from Scotland.

      James the landowners who more or less run the show at Langholm,(the likes of RSPB, English Nature, SNH have only limited influence) and do not want any more harriers satellite tagged, other than the token 2, because they don’t want the backlash when most of them inevitably ” disappear” on grouse moors.

  • paul williams

    Thank you Nirofo and Editor,

  • nirofo

    One of the main problems with all the emphasis on the plight of the Hen Harriers in the UK, which admittedly is dire, is the fact that it detracts attention from just how serious the situation is for the rest of our beautiful Raptors and the environment they attempt to live in. If nothing is done soon to curb these unscrupulous, habitual, law breaking Raptor persecutioners and environment destroyers on the grouse shooting estates, then there will be nothing left for future generations to see and admire. The only way this will ever stop is if the reason for this wanton destruction is removed from the hands of the people perpetrating it. A total ban on Red Grouse shooting in the UK !!!

    • kevin moore

      Correct Nirofo,a total ban on driven red grouse shooting is the only way to save the habitat and nature for future generations, so why are the RSPB refusing to back this and instead opting for a licensing system,which everyone including the RSPB already knows will never work.

      • nirofo

        The RSPB have their own rather bewildering agendas which are open to interpretation, unfortunately they don’t seem fit in with any logical explanation that is inline with their remit.

  • a langslow

    if we have no gamekeepers we will soon lose our red grouse