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 Concerns over welfare of missing hen harrier

 04/10/2019

Concerns have been raised about the welfare of a satellite tagged hen harrier which has dropped off the radar in County Durham.

The signal from a young male hen harrier was lost while it was flying over the Bowes area on September 9. It is one of two which have gone missing recently in northern England.

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey. Like all wild birds, they are protected by law under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981.

Inspector Ed Turner, from Durham Constabulary, said: "The fate of these birds is not yet clear. Until we can rule out the possibility that a crime has been committed, we will be taking this matter seriously and bringing our increased knowledge and awareness to bear on it wherever possible."

Natural England Director, Rob Cooke, said: “We are extremely concerned by the unexplained disappearance of this young hen harrier.

“Restoring the hen harrier population to favourable conservation status across their entire range is one of Natural England’s key objectives, so any loss from such a small population is significant.”

A spokesman for Bowes Estate said: “We have been informed by Natural England that a satellite tagged hen harrier ceased transmitting on Monday, September 9 and the last known signal came from our moorland.

“Staff have been collaborating with Natural England on the ground to ensure the increase in hen harrier population as part of the Defra Hen Harrier Action Plan.

“We have a good relationship with Natural England fieldworkers and harriers, along with other birds of prey, are regular visitors hunting over the moor and frequently use roost sites on the estate. 

“We have been proactively scouring the large area on our land looking for any sign of the bird but have so far had no luck. 

“Satellite tags are not infallible and we very much hope that the harrier will start re-transmitting soon meaning the bird is safe and well.

“We want to stress that the estate and its management oppose all forms of wildlife crimes and are fully supportive of all efforts to restore the UK’s hen harrier population. 

“The police have stressed that there is no suspicion of any wrongdoing by Bowes Estate or its staff and the estate is fully cooperating with the police. We join the police in appealing for information.”

The North Pennines AONB Partnership said it would be supporting the police in the search for evidence and would encourage the public to share information or any sightings.

Director Chris Woodley-Stewart said: “Juvenile mortality in raptors is common, but the trackers on birds that have been killed by predators or died from other natural causes/accidents usually continue to give out a signal, facilitating their recovery.

“Though rushing to judgement isn't wise, and for now we still hope they turn up safe and well, as the police have said, there is also a possibility that crimes have been committed in relation to the missing bird.

“In mid-September we hosted a full day raptor crime training session with four police forces, aided by the RSPB, the North East Raptor Forum and a local estate that is also committed to ending raptor persecution.

“Should the birds be re-found alive, this would be great news. If they have died a natural or accidental death, this is sad but not uncommon. But if a crime has been committed, police are now better informed than ever and are eager to stamp it out.

“We urge people to keep a keen eye out for hen harriers in the North Pennines and report any sightings to the RSPB. If you have evidence of any illegal activity in this matter, we urge you to contact Durham Constabulary.”

Anyone with any information about the hen harrier’s disappearance should contact Durham Constabulary on 101, quoting incident number 87 of September 17.

Alternatively call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.