Langholm harrier mystery death

The causes of hen harrier decline in the Southern Uplands are many and complex.
The causes of hen harrier decline in the Southern Uplands are many and complex.
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A BIRD of prey from a conservation project in the Borders may have been killed illegally.

The body of the tagged hen harrier, known as Blae, was found in Tweeddale after trackers noted there had been no movement for days.

The young bird was from the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project, a 10-year £3.5million project launched in 2007 to resolve the grouse management birds of prey conflict and restore the 19,000 acre commercial grouse moor while maintaining hen harrier numbers.

But in a blog about the moor, ecologist and educationalist Dr Cat Barlow revealed last week: “It has been a week or so since I have posted any data from Blae. Sadly Blae’s signal indicated that she had died south of Edinburgh about two weeks ago, her carcass was recovered and is undergoing a post mortem examination. Unfortunately, at this time I am unable to give any more information.”

Langholm Moor project manager Graeme Dalby told us this week: “The bird was moving around quite extensively within the Southern Uplands. When the movements stopped, a search was made following the protocol recently agreed with the Scottish Partnership Against Wildlife Crime, which means someone goes out to try and trace the body and there is a police presence requested to protect any evidence.”

No conclusions were through from the post mortem on Tuesday.

Mr Dalby said: “The timescale for results being released can vary from a couple of weeks to much longer depending on the lab’s workload.”

Harrier chicks have been satellite tagged on the moor as part of the project since 2010. Another young bird, Barry, also tagged with Blae as they fledged this summer, is currently in the Durham hills.

Last year one of the tagged birds was nicknamed McPedro for wintering in Spain but the other, a hen Langholm head gamekeeper Simon Lester had fed for 60 days, disappeared in the Moorfoot Hills.

Mr Dalby said of the moor’s raptors generally: “The hen harriers are breeding well. We don’t have a great number of them coming back each year. This year we had one nesting pair, 
we usually have two. We do get birds prospecting the area. It’s a bit of a mystery what they are looking for.”

Langholm Moor was once one of Scotland’s most successful grouse moors but numbers declined from 1975 when 5,200 grouse were shot to just 265 in 1996. Two years later owners Buccleuch Estates closed the moor and withdrew all keepers.

The moor project is run by a partnership of The Buccleuch Group, Scottish Natural Heritage, The Game Conservancy Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and Natural England.