The agency, which is tasked with the “conservation, improvement and management of the natural environment for the benefit of present and future generations”, has been criticized for a lack of transparency regarding the disappearance of three Hen Harriers marked with satellites.
The three birds were part of the 2020 cohort of nine chicks that were satellite-tagged as part of the controversial practice of “brood management” or “brood interference” as has become known to many opponents of the system.
The information about all three enforced disappearances was only obtained after a request for freedom of information from the conservationist Dr. Ruth Tingay, who runs the Raptor Persecution UK blog. This has led many to wonder why Natural England has stopped publishing the missing bird information.
One of the missing birds was originally removed from a nest in North Yorkshire and tagged on July 11, 2020. The last known fix of the day was on September 20, 2020, right next to a grouse in North Yorkshire.
Another, a young woman named “Fortune”, was tagged on June 15, 2020 at a nesting site in Northumberland. Her last day fix came from an undisclosed location in Northumberland that Natural England says is an important roost for Hen Harrier.
Hen Harrier, Copyright Dean Eades, from the Surfbirds Galleries
The third “missing” bird is “Harold”, who was tagged in the Yorkshire Dales in June 2020. His last permanent position came from a grouse between Kirkby Stephen and Ravenseat. This is the same place where a young chicken carrier named ‘Dryad’ went missing in September 2020. Oddly enough, Harold was given a satellite tag that had previously been identified as unreliable. This tag model was removed from the brood management trial at the urging of the Scientific Advisory Group.
Commenting on the disappearance, Dr Tingay wrote: “This information had to be extracted from Natural England via a freedom of information request.” And when ‘Harold’ disappeared, she asked, “Why the hell is Natural England still using this label on other Hen Harriers?”
Natural England made no substantial comment after the news of the missing birds. On Tuesday evening they tweeted a short message saying, “We are currently working with local police to investigate a missing chicken carrier in the Yorkshire area. Tracking birds of prey, including chicken porters, is a national priority for wildlife crime. We would like to urge anyone who has witnessed or suspected the persecution to contact the police. “
Natalie Bennett, former Green Chair and now an active colleague in the House of Lords, tweeted on Natural England asking, “Why did @naturalengland need a FOI to get this information?” They didn’t answer.
Derbyshire Wildlife Trust Director Tim Birch said on Twitter: “Now we’re back, tougher measures are needed. Our highlands are a death trap for our birds of prey and national parks offer no protection for them. Time to rethink what our highlands are for in 2021. “
The disappearance of these three birds means that 48 Hen Harriers have been “missing” or confirmed as illegally killed since 2018. Given that only the birds are known, it’s a really shocking number that again questions why Natural England continues to partner with an industry involved in what appears to be organized wildlife crime in the UK’s countryside.