Skylar is latest satellite-tagged Hen Harrier to go missing


Another satellite-tagged Hen Harrier has disappeared in a South Lanarkshire "black hole", according to RSPB Scotland.

The conservation charity is appealing for information from the public after the female harrier, known as Skylar, suddenly disappeared without trace close to a grouse moor near Elvanfoot.

Skylar was being monitored by the RSPB as part of their EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project. She had been roosting overnight in an area of rushes and rough grassland fringing a grouse moor a few miles south of the village for several days, before her tag abruptly stopped working on 7 February 2019.

The area where she disappeared has a history of similar cases centre upon illegal bird of prey killings. A Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl were shot and killed on a grouse moor in 2017, a few miles away from Skylar's last known location. Another tagged Hen Harrier, Annie, was found shot nearby in April 2015 and two other tagged Hen Harriers vanished in the area, one in June 2014 and another, named Chance, in May 2016, after she had spent two winters in France.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB's Hen Harrier LIFE Project manager said: "Skylar has been a fascinating bird to follow; we were amazed to see her make a brief, week-long sojourn to Ireland in autumn 2017 before she returned to winter in South Lanarkshire in 2017/18. She spent much of summer 2018 in Highland Perthshire, before returning to South Lanarkshire for the winter 2018/19 where she remained until she disappeared.

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"Her disappearance follows a depressingly familiar pattern. Her tag was working as expected, then suddenly stopped. There have been no further transmissions, and the bird's body has not been located. Had she died of natural causes, we would have expected the transmitter to continue working allowing us to recover her body. Sadly, we'll probably never know exactly what has happened to Skylar."

Skylar was fitted with a satellite tag in July 2017 just before she fledged from her nest in Argyll. Her mother, DeeCee, had previously been tagged as part of the LIFE project, allowing the project to easily locate the nest. Skylar's brother Sirius was also tagged, but died of natural causes in October 2017.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland's Head of Investigations said: "Yet again, a young harrier has disappeared close to a driven grouse moor, never to be seen or heard of again. This area of South Lanarkshire has been notorious for some years as a black hole into which protected birds of prey simply disappear.

"Skylar's disappearance comes at a time when the Scottish Government has commissioned an independent enquiry into grouse shooting, including looking at options for greater regulation. A step change is now urgently required, as current laws and enforcement measures are proving inadequate to deal with such systematic criminality, and the negative cultural attitudes towards birds of prey that remains in many grouse moor areas. The most intensively managed "driven" grouse moors should be licenced, with sanctions to remove licences to operate, where the public authorities are satisfied that wildlife protection laws are being routinely flouted."

Information about Skylar, or any illegal killing of birds of prey, can be reported to Police Scotland on 101 or the RSPB's Raptor Crime hotline on 0300 999 0101.