Young hen harrier vanishes on Deeside

Calluna was tagged earlier this summer. Picture: RSPB Scotland
Calluna was tagged earlier this summer. Picture: RSPB Scotland

A young tagged hen harrier has gone missing on Deeside.

Calluna, a female harrier, has disappeared in “highly suspicious” circumstances after being fitted with a satellite tag at the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge Estate earlier this summmer.

The bird’s last recorded position was on a grouse moor north of Ballater.

RSPB Scotland have been monitoring its progress as part of the charity’s Hen Harrier LIFE project.

The data showed the harrier had fledged from the nest in July and had been heading east across the Deeside moors. Transmissions ended on August 12.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, said: “This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting.

“The LIFE project team has fitted a significant number of tags to young hen harriers this year, with the very welcome help from landowners, including the National Trust for Scotland, who value these magnificent birds breeding on their property.

“The transmitters used in this project are incredibly reliable and the sudden halt in data being received from it, with no hint of a malfunction, is very concerning.

“We ask that if anyone has any information about the disappearance of this bird we urge them to contact Police Scotland as quickly as possible.”

David Frew, operations manager for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge Estate, said: “It is deeply saddening to learn that Calluna appears to have been lost, so soon after fledging from Mar Lodge Estate.

“Hen harriers were persecuted on Deeside for a great many years, and we had hoped that the first successful breeding attempt on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016 would signal the start of a recovery for these magnificent birds in the area.

““Only one month after fledging, and having travelled only a relatively short distance, it appears that we will no longer be able to follow the progress of our 2017 chick.

“We hope however that the data her tag has provided will help to inform a wider understanding of the lives and threats faced by hen harriers.”

A spokesman for the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) said: “The SGA would urge anyone who saw the bird or knows anything about it to contact Police Scotland.

“This is the first we have heard of this. Obviously any news like this is very disappointing.

“The SGA condemns raptor persecution and if any of our members are convicted of a wildlife crime they are removed from our organisation.

“We have learned from those monitoring tags that birds can move some distance away from where they were last recorded so it is important that, if people know anything, they alert the police immediately.”