Shot Hen Harrier found on North Yorkshire grouse moor


A satellite-tagged Hen Harrier found dead on a grouse moor in North Yorkshire has been confirmed as shot. The young female harrier, named River, suddenly disappeared in suspicious circumstances in November 2018.

River was tagged in Lancashire in 2018 as part of the RSPB EU Hen Harrier LIFE project. In November 2018 she sent out her last transmission from a roost location on a driven grouse moor in North Yorkshire, within the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Her body was searched for by the RSPB and North Yorkshire police at the time, but no trace of the bird or tag was discovered.

Surprisingly, at the end of March 2019, River's tag gave off another signal, confirming that she was dead but also giving a precise location. The tags are solar powered and it's possible that the bird's body was disturbed, allowing the tag to reactivate and give off a signal. The longer and brighter days of spring may also have had an impact.

River's body was eventually retrieved from a grouse moor on 5 April and was found to contain two pieces of shot (RSPB).

With an exact location in hand, RSPB staff and police officers went to recover her body, finding it on Ilton Moor on the Swinton Estate on 5 April. She was just 3.7 km away from where her last transmission in November had come from, also on the same estate.

River's decomposed body was recovered and taken to be x-rayed by the police. On 10 July, RSPB's Head of Investigations, Mark Thomas, received confirmation that River's body contained two pieces of shot.

Mark Thomas commented: "We don't know precisely when or where River was shot, or who did it, but clearly she has been the subject of illegal persecution.

"All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail. However, Hen Harriers like River continue to suffer at the hands of people clearly breaking these laws, and clearly undeterred by the consequences.

"River is the latest Hen Harrier to be shot, adding to the evidence that these birds are being routinely illegally killed, often on land being used for driven grouse shooting."

The RSPB is calling for the licencing of driven grouse moors. With just a handful of breeding Hen Harrier pairs left in England, this is a species with everything to lose if the status quo continues.

If you have any information which might help identify who shot River, or if you know anything about birds of prey being killed in your area, you can contact the RSPB investigations team in confidence on 0300 999 0101.