RSPB issue appeal for information after hen harrier illegally shot dead on Scottish Moor

The bird was illegally shot on remote moorland near to Daer Reservoir in South Lanarkshire, according to RSPB Scotland

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The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has issued an appeal for information after a post mortem confirmed that a rare bird of prey found dead on a Scottish grouse moor had been illegally killed.

According to RSPB Scotland, the young female hen harrier, which had been named “Annie” by conservationists and was fitted with a satellite transmitter, was illegally shot on remote moorland near to Daer Reservoir in South Lanarkshire.

Scientists first became concerned about the rare bird in March, when tracking data confirmed it had stopped moving. An extensive search by conservationists, recovered the body at the end of April, but only now have scientists confirmed that the bird was illegally shot.

The shooting in Scotland follows a string of hen harrier disappearances and nest failures in England this summer. These prompted fears that the endangered bird, which feeds on grouse chicks and is known for its beautiful aerial displays, is being targeted by “rogue gamekeepers” and is facing “extinction by persecution”.

Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland, said: “This case shows very clearly what happens to some of our hen harriers when they leave protected nesting areas and move around the UK’s uplands. This is just the latest incident of criminal persecution of this species, following the confirmed shooting of birds in Aberdeenshire, Moray and Ayrshire in the last two years. It is little wonder these magnificent raptors continue to be absent from large areas of our uplands.

Of all the UK’s protected birds of prey, the hen harrier is among the most heavily persecuted. The bird's population in Scotland is larger than in England however, which last year consisted of just four breeding pairs despite a Government study showing their is suitable habitat for 300 breeding pairs..

Annie found - Credit John Wright.jpg
Annie was found dead on the grouse moor in April

Chris Packham, naturalist and television presenter, told the Independent: “My reaction sadly is that I’m not the slightest bit surprised. There is no ambiguity in our claims that these birds are being illegally persecuted.”

On 9 August the Springwatch presenter led a protest for "Hen Harrier Day" to defend the embattled bird. He has backed called for a ban of driven grouse shooting and also backed calls for an extension to England of a Scottish law which allows for the prosecution of land owners if protected birds of prey are illegally killed on their land.

Mr Packham added: “This is one instance where we have the evidence and I’d like to see the owner of the land prosecuted and be publicly shamed to the extent that they became the social pariah they deserve to be for robbing us of a very valuable part of our natural heritage.”

According to the RSPB hen harrier numbers declined 20 per cent between 2004 and 2010, however the timing of the appeal, the day before the so-called Glorious Twelfth, the start of the grouse shooting season, is likely to be questioned by members of the shooting lobby.

Former cricketer Sir Ian Botham, who fronts You Forgot The Birds, a grouse-industry funded group which has been waging a war of words against the RSPB, condemned the illegal shooting of birds of prey but questioned the RSPB’s “news management tactics.”

He said: “What happened in April needs to be investigated carefully. However this bird died, some will wonder why the RSPB is announcing [its death] in time for the papers on 12 August.”