The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has revealed a hen harrier has gone missing in suspicious circumstances.
The RSPB have raised concerns after disappearance of Skylar near a grouse moor in South Lanarkshire, and described the area as a ‘black hole’ for birds of prey.
The RSPB say the satellite transmitter attached to the female stopped abruptly on February 7 this year. Skylar was fitted with a satellite-tag in July 2017 just before she left her nest in Argyll. The hen harrier was being monitored by the RSPB as part of an EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project.
Her last known location was roosting overnight in an area of rushes and rough grassland on a moor near Elvanfoot.
Dr Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project manager said: ‘Her tag was working as expected, then suddenly stopped. There have been no further transmissions, and the bird’s body has not been located.
‘Had she died of natural causes, we would have expected the transmitter to continue working allowing us to recover her body.
‘Sadly, we’ll probably never know exactly what has happened to Skylar.’
Scottish Land & Estates has questioned why it took so long for the alarm to be raised regarding the missing bird.
Sarah-Jane Laing, executive director, Scottish Land & Estates, said: ‘We support the appeal for information about the hen harrier, Skylar, whose satellite tag stopped working in February. Any missing protected species is a cause for concern and anyone with information should contact the police immediately. We wholeheartedly condemn any form of raptor persecution.
‘It is disappointing that it has taken three months for the alarm to be raised about Skylar.
‘Landowners in the area are surprised that this is the first that they have heard of any issues and stand ready to assist the police in any investigation that they may undertake. Our view is the sooner concern is raised the more assistance can be given to find the bird, and where a crime has been committed then it would surely help increase detection and prosecution.
‘This is why a more independent and transparent system of monitoring satellite-tagged birds should be established. We also question the presumption that grouse moor management is responsible without evidence to support it. That is a matter for any police investigation.’
But Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s head of investigations, added: ‘Yet again, a young harrier has disappeared close to a driven grouse moor, never to be seen or heard of again.
‘This area of South Lanarkshire has been notorious for some years as a black hole into which protected birds of prey simply disappear.
‘A step change is now urgently required, as current laws and enforcement measures are proving inadequate to deal with such systematic criminality, and the negative cultural attitudes towards birds of prey that remains in many grouse moor areas.
‘The most intensively managed “driven” grouse moors should be licenced, with sanctions to remove licences to operate, where the public authorities are satisfied that wildlife protection laws are being routinely flouted.’