Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors

Megan Murgatroyd* (Corresponding Author), Stephen M. Redpath* (Corresponding Author), Stephen G. Murphy, David J. T. Douglas, Richard Saunders, Arjun Amar* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

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29 Citations (Scopus)
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Identifying patterns of wildlife crime is a major conservation challenge. Here, we test whether deaths or disappearances of a protected species, the hen harrier, are associated with grouse moors, which are areas managed for the production of red grouse for recreational shooting. Using data from 58 satellite tracked hen harriers, we show high rates of unexpected tag failure and low first year survival compared to other harrier populations. The likelihood of harriers dying or disappearing increased as their use of grouse moors increased. Similarly, at the landscape scale, satellite fixes from the last week of life were distributed disproportionately on grouse moors in comparison to the overall use of such areas. This pattern was also apparent in protected areas in northern England. We conclude that hen harriers in Britain suffer elevated levels of mortality on grouse moors, which is most likely the result of illegal killing.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1094
Number of pages8
JournalNature Communications
Early online date19 Mar 2019
Publication statusPublished - 19 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

Natural England commenced a Hen Harrier Recovery Project in 2002. This tracking study was funded exclusively by Natural England and is part of their on-going work on hen harrier conservation. We thank Hamish Smith and staff at the Hawk and Owl Trust for contributing data from four hen harriers they have tracked. We are grateful for the time of many volunteers in the field who monitored and searched for harriers: Pat Martin, Gavin Craggs, Pete Davies, Derek Hayward, Martin Davison, Mick Carroll, Paul Howarth, Ian Thomson, and Elsie Ashworth. We thank Judith Smith and Phil Skinner for sponsoring tags. Also we would like to thank the Wildlife Crime Officers in Lancashire, Yorkshire, Co Durham and Northumberland for their assistance. Thanks also to Jeremy Wilson and Pat Thompson for useful comments on this manuscript. We are grateful to staff at Microwave Telemetry Inc. and CLS France for data archiving.

The complete data sets analysed in this study are not publicly available due to the sensitivity of the locational data but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request and with permission of Natural England. The source data for Figs. 1 and 2 have been provided as a Source Data file.


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