RSPB fears for rare hen harrier 'River' missing in Yorkshire Dales

An investigation is underway after the disappearance of a rare bird in the Yorkshire Dales.

River, a Hen Harrier, was tagged as part of theHen Harrier LIFE project which enables the RSPB to monitor the birds after they fledge.
River, a Hen Harrier, was tagged as part of theHen Harrier LIFE project which enables the RSPB to monitor the birds after they fledge.

North Yorkshire Police and the RSPB say River, a Hen Harrier, went missing between Nidderdale and Colsterdale on November 14.

She was satellite tagged by the RSPB, as part of their Hen Harrier LIFE project last summer. The last transmission was from a driven grouse moor in the area. She was known to have been roosting and hunting in the area for a number of weeks.

However despite searches by the RSPB and police there have been no signs of River or her tag. There are concerns she may have been killed. The area is known to the RSPB as having a 'history of bird of prey persecution.'

Just nine nests of Hen Harriers were recorded in England last year, despite enough prey and habitat to support over 300 pairs. They have not successfully bred in North Yorkshire since 2007.

Mark Thomas, Head of RSPB Investigations UK, said: “Again we have news of a disappeared harrier, again in North Yorkshire, and again last known to be on a grouse moor. Hen harriers are barely clinging on as a breeding species in England. They should be a common and joyful sight over the moorlands of North Yorkshire, however the reality is most people only know them as being rare and persecuted

“The idea that this bird may have been deliberately targeted is incredibly worrying, especially in the context of eight others which have vanished in similar circumstances. When a tagged hen harrier dies naturally, we expect the tag to continue transmitting, enabling us to find the body. This was not the case here. Instead, there was no trace of the tag or the bird, which is highly suspicious. When hen harriers disappear like this over an area with a history of raptor persecution, it’s hard not to draw conclusions.”

The RSPB’s latest Birdcrime report showed that North Yorkshire is consistently the worst county in the UK for recorded bird of prey persecution, accumulating significantly more confirmed incidents in the last five years than anywhere else.

All birds of prey are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. To kill or injure one is a criminal offence and could result in an unlimited fine or up to six months in jail.

Over 30 hen harriers were tagged last summer in the UK. Between August and November 2018.

If you have any information relating to this incident, call North Yorkshire Police on 101. If you know about raptor persecution occurring in your area and wish to speak out in confidence, call the confidential Raptor Crime Hotline on 0300 999 0101.

If you find a wild bird of prey which you suspect has been illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form: