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Suspicious disappearance of rare hen harrier

Arthur - Steve Downing

Published by May Norman at 12:27pm 12th November 2018.

Yet another hen harrier disappears in suspicious circumstances in North Yorkshire.

• This is the ninth tagged hen harrier in three months to vanish in similar circumstances in the UK
• Hen harriers have declined by a quarter since 2004 and are on the brink of extinction in England
• North Yorkshire is ‘worst county in the UK’ for bird of prey persecution, according to Birdcrime report

A rare hen harrier has suddenly disappeared in North Yorkshire, triggering an investigation by the police and the RSPB. This is the ninth bird to disappear in suspicious circumstances in the last 12 weeks.

The bird, named Arthur, hatched from a nest in the Peak District this summer. This was the first time hen harriers had successfully bred in the Peak District since 2015. Arthur, along with his sister Octavia, was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag by RSPB staff which has enabled the RSPB to track his movements since leaving the nest in July.

Transmissions from Arthur’s tag showed him  flying  north to Nidderdale, North Yorkshire in October. 

RSPB Investigations staff searched the area of the bird’s last known location but found no sign of either a tag or a body – prompting concerns that the bird may have been deliberately killed and the tag destroyed.

In August, his sister Octavia’s tag also suddenly cut out, with her last location coming from a driven grouse moor in the Peak District. No trace was found of her either. The police and the RSPB are appealing for information.

RSPB Assistant Investigations Officer Jack Ashton-Booth said:

“Arthur’s last location showed he was in an upland area close to several driven grouse moors. When tagged hen harriers have died of natural causes in the past, the tags and bodies of the bird are usually recovered. To find no trace of Arthur or Octavia is extremely concerning. Arthur is the ninth hen harrier to suddenly disappear in suspicious circumstances since August. This is gravely concerning given that the species is on the brink of extinction as a breeding bird in England.”

Over 30 hen harriers were tagged during June and July 2018. Of those, eight birds have since disappeared in suspicious circumstances, along with another bird, Heather, who was tagged in 2017.

The RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report showed that North Yorkshire is consistently the worst county in the UK for recorded bird of prey persecution, accumulating significantly more confirmed incidents in the last five years than anywhere else.

If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Yorkshire Police on 101 quoting crime reference number.

If you have information about people killing birds of prey in your area and would like to speak to someone in confidence, call the Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

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