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Appeal over missing hen harrier Calluna

Calluna, a satellite tagged female hen harrier, who appears to have been lost when transmissions from the tag abruptly ended on August 12. (RSPB Scotland/PA Wire)
Calluna, a satellite tagged female hen harrier, who appears to have been lost when transmissions from the tag abruptly ended on August 12. (RSPB Scotland/PA Wire)

A satellite-tagged hen harrier has vanished above a grouse moor, with conservationists calling the disappearance “very concerning”.

RSPB Scotland is urging anyone with information to contact police after the young bird disappeared on August 12, the start of the grouse shooting season.

The female harrier named Calluna was tagged this summer at a nest on the National Trust for Scotland’s Mar Lodge estate near Braemar in Aberdeenshire as part of the charity’s EU-funded Hen Harrier LIFE project.

Her transmitter’s data was being monitored by RSPB Scotland and showed that the bird fledged from the nest in July and left the area in early August, with the data showing her gradually heading east over the Deeside moors.

While the tag data showed it to be working perfectly, transmissions ended abruptly on August 12, with no further data transmitted.

Her last recorded position was on a grouse moor a few miles north of Ballater, in the Cairngorms National Park.

Ian Thomson, head of investigations at RSPB Scotland, said: “This bird joins the lengthening list of satellite-tagged birds of prey that have disappeared, in highly suspicious circumstances, almost exclusively in areas intensively managed for grouse shooting.

“We are pleased that the Cabinet Secretary for the Environment has commissioned an independent group to look at how grouse moors can be managed sustainably and within the law. We look forward to a further announcement shortly on the membership of this group, and we are committed to assist the work of this enquiry in any way that we can.

“The LIFE project team has fitted a significant number of tags to young hen harriers this year, with the very welcome help from landowners, including the National Trust for Scotland, who value these magnificent birds breeding on their property.

“The transmitters used in this project are incredibly reliable and the sudden halt in data being received from it, with no hint of a malfunction, is very concerning. We ask that if anyone has any information about the disappearance of this bird we urge them to contact Police Scotland as quickly as possible.”

Hen harriers are one of the UK’s rarest raptors and are struggling even in Scotland, their stronghold.

The number of breeding pairs in Scotland now stands at 460, a fall of 27% since 2004, with illegal killing in areas managed for driven grouse shooting identified as one of the main drivers of this decline, RSPB Scotland said.

David Frew, operations manager for the National Trust for Scotland at Mar Lodge Estate, said: “It is deeply saddening to learn that Calluna appears to have been lost, so soon after fledging from Mar Lodge Estate.

“Hen harriers were persecuted on Deeside for a great many years, and we had hoped that the first successful breeding attempt on Mar Lodge Estate in 2016 would signal the start of a recovery for these magnificent birds in the area.

“Only one month after fledging, and having travelled only a relatively short distance, it appears that we will no longer be able to follow the progress of our 2017 chick.

“We hope however that the data her tag has provided will help to inform a wider understanding of the lives and threats faced by hen harriers.”