16/10/2015
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Scottish Hen Harriers satellite tagged in landmark project

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Two female Hen Harriers can be watched online as they travel, though - in a sign of the times - there will be a time-lag to prevent the birds from being found by those who would do them harm. Photo: Andreas Trepte (commons.wikimedia.org).
Two female Hen Harriers can be watched online as they travel, though - in a sign of the times - there will be a time-lag to prevent the birds from being found by those who would do them harm. Photo: Andreas Trepte (commons.wikimedia.org).
The public can watch the migration and movements of two endangered Scottish Hen Harriers as they are tracked with satellite tags.

The project is part of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project, which exists to better understand the threats the raptors face and identify the places where they are most at risk.

The satellite tags transmit the locations of the harriers on a regular basis, and members of the public will be able to follow the movements of two individuals on a new website launched today. For security reasons the information available online will be displayed with a two-week delay.

Hen Harriers used to be widespread in the British uplands but were pushed to the brink of extinction come 1900. Since then, numbers have slowly increased but there are still only around 505 breeding pairs in Scotland.

'Holly', one of the female harriers, had her satellite tag fitted in June this year by members of the Scottish Raptor Study Group (SRSG), and was one of three chicks from a nest located on high security MOD land at Coulport. She was named after a member of the production crew from BBC Scotland’s Landward programme, after appearing in a special feature about Hen Harriers and the threats these birds face from illegal killing. Holly fledged in August and has since left her nest area, moving east into the uplands of central Scotland.

'Chance is the another female named by RSPB Scotland, who was tagged in June last year by members of the SRSG. Chance has provided a wonderful example of how young birds spend their first year, as she travelled south from her nest in south-west Scotland to newly-opened Wallasea RSPB in Essex at the end of October 2014, before crossing the Channel to spend the winter in the Pays de la Loire region of western France. Chance came back to Britain in spring this year, but has since returned to France via Wales.

Bea Ayling, manager of the project, said: “Hen Harriers suffered 20 per cent declines across Scotland between 2004 and 2010, and urgent action is needed to help conserve this species. Illegal killing remains the main problem for these birds, despite them having full legal protection for many years. This is because their usual diet of small birds and voles may also include Red Grouse, and this brings them into conflict with gamekeepers. Several Hen Harriers have disappeared in recent months in northern England and one bird, named 'Annie', was found shot dead on moorland in south-west Scotland earlier this year.

“By fitting satellite tags to harriers we can track them accurately to see where they go, and find out which areas they’re getting into trouble. We can also gain valuable information on breeding sites, nest locations and, should the worst happen, be able to locate and recover the bodies of dead harriers far more easily. The timely recovery of dead birds may also assist the police and prosecutors in bringing the perpetrators of crimes to justice.”

The European-funded Hen Harrier LIFE+ Project was launched by the RSPB in July last year, and is unique in being the first truly cross-border, joint Scottish-English initiative aiming to achieve a secure and sustainable future for this species.

Scotland currently holds the bulk of the UK breeding population of Hen Harriers with most found in Orkney, the Hebrides and parts of the western mainland.
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