Calls for Scottish Government to introduce licensing for grouse shooting after hen harriers vanish

Fingle is a male hen harrier Credit: RSPB

There are calls for the Scottish Government to act quickly and tighten the protection laws surrounding hen harriers.

Following the disappearance of another satellite-tagged hen harrier, RSPB Scotland is urging the government to introduce the licensing of grouse shooting.

The young male, named Fingal, has become the fourth satellite tagged bird to disappear from a Scottish grouse moor since the beginning of April. The young bird hatched from a nest in the Scottish Borders in summer 2019, and was fitted with a lightweight satellite tag as part of the EU Hen Harrier LIFE project which has allowed scientists to track his movements. 

This has become a depressingly familiar story. Yet again a satellite-tagged bird of prey has disappeared suddenly and inexplicably on a grouse moor and is presumed killed. These birds will continue to disappear until grouse shooting estates are licensed.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations
Grouse shooting bullet belt Credit: PA

Fingal remained in this area for the first few months before spreading his wings and making a tour of northern England, stopping at sites in Lancashire, South Yorkshire and Cumbria. After returning to Scotland he settled in Dumfries and Galloway for the rest of the winter.   

In mid-March this year, Fingal moved into the southern Lowther Hills.

The last location transmitted from his tag came on 19 May 2020 from an area moorland managed for gamebird shooting to the east of Thornhill, Dumfries and Galloway.  

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Hen harriers have suspiciously disappeared or been illegally killed in the UK since 2018. 

Police Scotland carried out a search of the area but found no trace of Fingal or his tag. It has not transmitted since. 

When a satellite tagged bird dies of natural causes the tag continues to transmit allowing the body to be recovered. Independent peer-reviewed studies have shown these tags to be highly reliable, so having four fail, in very similar circumstances, all on grouse moors, strongly suggests human interference. 

Self-regulation by the industry has demonstrably failed, and it’s long overdue that the Scottish Government introduce robust regulation where a right to shoot is dependent on legal management of the land.

Ian Thomson, RSPB Scotland’s Head of Investigations