Birds of prey 'vanish without a trace' within months of hatching, raising suspicions of illegal killing
Three critically-endangered birds of prey have disappeared from the British countryside “in suspicious circumstances”, raising fears they have been illegally killed.
The young all “vanished without a trace” months after hatching, said the , which had tagged the birds with satellite trackers as part of a conservation programme.
Police are investigating the birds’ presumed deaths in Northumberland, the Peak District and North Wales.
“While we don’t yet know what has happened to these three birds, we do know that the main factor reducing the hen harrier population in the UK is the illegal killing of birds associated with the intensive management of moors,” said Cathleen Thomas, project manager of the RSPB’s Hen Harrier Life project.
She said tags attached to each raptor had “inexplicably stopped” working. The devices typically continue to send details of their location if a bird dies of natural causes.
Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest birds of prey, with only nine successful nests recorded in England this year despite sufficient habitat for 300 breeding pairs.
Illegal persecution linked to moorland grouse shooting is thought to be principally to blame for their low numbers.
Two of the three birds that recently vanished were last known to have been over land that was managed for driven grouse shooting.
A young female harrier known as Hilma was recorded at moorland near Wooler, , on 8 August, before going missing.
Another female, Octovia, vanished in the weeks later. She had hatched alongside three other chicks from a nest in the National Trust’s High Peak Moors in June, the first time the species had bred in the area for four years.