Dr. Cathleen Thomas, RSPB’s Hen Harrier LIFE Project Manager explains that today we have more sad news about another bird, this time from the Hen Harrier Class of 2016.
The population of hen harriers on the Isle of Man almost halved between 2004 and 2010, dropping from 57 to 29 pairs. No one was quite sure why this might be, but one theory was that young hen harriers could be migrating to the UK mainland and not returning, so we hoped that putting satellite tags on birds born on the island would help us to solve the mystery.
In July 2016, we tagged a bird named Aalin, on the Isle of Man, in collaboration with Manx Birdlife. Aalin left the island that year, and spent the winter of 2016 in Shropshire, before heading to Wales in the spring of 2017. The regular transmissions we received from her tag showed that she stayed in north Wales, until the tag suddenly stopped transmitting on the morning of 9 February 2018 in an area of moorland around Ruabon Mountain near Wrexham. Our project team headed out to search for her, but no tag or body was found and she has not been seen or heard of since. Sadly her loss has shown us that some birds move away from the Isle of Man, never to return. We were hopeful that heading towards the breeding season Aalin would have nested in Wales and successfully reared chicks this summer, so her loss is also devastating for future generations of this rare and beautiful bird in Wales.
Aalin (Image by James Leonard) and the location of her tag’s last known transmission near Wrexham
A map of Aalin's final journey
Neil Morris, Managing Director at Manx Birdlife, explains what the loss of Aalin means to him, and the community on the Isle of Man.
It is with a heavy heart that I sit here writing this post.
In the last month, I have witnessed the best and worst of people’s interactions with wildlife. My Twitter feed is abuzz with news of disappearing golden eagles and hen harriers and is brimming with images of wildlife persecution. Thankfully, it is also peppered with stories of the tireless endeavour by many caring souls to protect, rescue, nurture, conserve – and to simply enjoy observing the antics of – the creatures that share our natural world. Every one of you deserves a medal.
The disappointment (dare I say outrage?) I feel at the continued loss of our wildlife and wild places came well and truly home to roost this month when I learned of the loss of Aalin.
Aalin was satellite-tagged in the summer of 2016 in the hills of the Isle of Man. She has been successfully tracked ever since. Having quickly gained her strength after fledging, Aalin left the island. A late summer sojourn took her past Blackpool, Manchester, Stoke-on-Trent and on into Wales. She took up residence in the north-east Welsh uplands for more than a year, surviving two harsh winter seasons.
This year, with her second summer season within reach, hopes were high that Aalin would settle to nest. After a brief dalliance with a potential mate last spring, it looked highly likely that she would stay to breed in Wales. Of course, there were a few of us that wondered (nay, hoped) she would return to her native uplands in the Isle of Man. What a fantastic story that would have been! And what a novel and valuable insight we would have gained into the behaviour of the island’s hen harriers.
As with so many bird of prey disappearances, the circumstances are worrying. The tags employed by RSPB’s LIFE Project are proven to be robust and reliable over long periods of time, so the sudden loss of signal is highly unexpected. And the pattern of disappearances in areas where grouse shooting takes place speaks for itself.
Everyone associated with Manx BirdLife is deeply grateful to the RSPB’s dedicated staff. It is our sincere hope that as the Hen Harrier LIFE project continues we can achieve our shared goals of learning more about the lives of these wonderful birds and how best to protect them.
If you have any information relating to this incident, please call North Wales Police on 101 quoting the reference WO28466. Alternatively, you can call the RSPB Raptor crime hotline confidentially on 0300 999 0101. All calls are anonymous.
If you find a wild bird that you suspect was illegally killed, contact RSPB investigations on 01767 680551 or fill in the online form: https://www.rspb.org.uk/our-work/our-positions-and-campaigns/positions/wildbirdslaw/reportform.aspx
My OS map shows several grouse butts on Ruabon Mountain. I didn't realise that there were many driven grouse shoots in Wales.
It is impossible not to be drawn to the obvious conclusion.
Eventually something concrete must happen.