A raptor expert says that at least 70 hen harriers have been killed or gone missing since 2018. And there’s a recurring pattern in each case: the proximity of grouse moors.


Raptor Persecution UK reported on 11 May that “70 hen harriers [are] confirmed ‘missing’ or illegally killed since 2018”. The blog, run by conservationist and Wild Justice co-founder Ruth Tingay, then goes on to list every one of these cases between February 2018 and May 2022. The list presents both grim reading and an indicting refrain: “‘disappeared’ on a grouse moor”.

Hen harriers are birds of prey, or raptors, that are red listed in the UK. That means their populations are rapidly declining and need major help. While there are many reasons birds end up on the red list, the reason for hen harriers’ presence on the list is clear. The Wildlife Trusts puts its bluntly, saying the birds are “severely persecuted for taking game species”.

Most recently, the Peak District Raptor Monitoring Group reported the “sudden disappearance” of two male hen harriers on 10 May. Two nests containing five eggs each subsequently failed. Raptor Persecution UK noted that both nests were on a grouse moor within National Trust land. A story by local paper The Star on 12 May quoted the National Trust manager for the region Craig Best as saying the reasons for the hen harriers’ disappearance “are not yet clear”.

Nonetheless, it’s the latest in a long line of deaths and disappearances for which no culprit has faced justice. Raptor Persecution UK notes that “Not one of these 70 incidents has resulted in an arrest, let alone a prosecution”.


The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT), a pro-shooting group, says the ‘conflict’ between hen harriers and grouse shooting estates arises from the birds preying on grouse, including chicks. It goes on to say gamekeepers and shoot managers “believe” this predation is widespread enough to make some shoots “no longer economically viable”. As a result they target hen harriers in order to maintain higher numbers of grouse stock for shooting.

A joint action plan was launched in 2016 to “contribute to the hen harrier population in England”. GWCT were party to this plan alongside DEFRA, Natural England, the RSPB and other pro-shooting organisations. And GWCT point to this plan as a way forward for revitalising the hen harrier population. Tingay, however, was critical of the plan from the outset. While the plan appears to have contributed to rising numbers of hen harriers fledging from nests, Tingay is quoted in a 2021 Guardian article as saying:

It doesn’t matter how many successful hen harrier nests there were this year if those young birds are subsequently shot, trapped and poisoned on driven grouse moors.

Raptor Persecution UK’s list also reveals that the number of known killed or disappeared hen harriers remained steady between 2018 and 2021. Between 15 and 20 birds are listed each year.


It’s not just hen harriers that face such persecution. This is illustrated by the recent Hunt Investigation Team exposé of Hilborough Estate. There, live pigeons were used as bait to attract other raptors such as buzzards to protect partridge shooting on the estate. 

Nonetheless, Raptor Persecution UK’s list provides a muster roll of what Tingay describes as the “systemic extermination” of hen harriers. And until the shooting industry is shut down, these birds may never be able to live free from persecution.

If you’re interested in the campaign to support hen harriers, Wild Justice recently announced Hen Harrier Fest. It will take place on 24 July at Adlington Hall, Cheshire.

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