Dryad joins the ‘disappeared’. From ‘tree spirit’ to dead in 90 days.

Dryad was a female Hen Harrier that was satellite tagged on 7 June this year in the Forest of Bowland. She was named in celebration of Dryad, the tree spirit who resembled a woman in Greek mythology, and she fledged a few days later. As with many of the other missing Hen Harriers, NERF members were involved with locating and monitoring her nest then ringing and satellite tagging her. The fact that Dryad has joined the ‘disappeared’ weighs heavy on the people involved.

The type of satellite tag fitted to Dryad is extremely reliable and prior to going off-line her satellite tag was functioning perfectly for three months. There are several descriptions of tag failures in these circumstances including ‘sudden stop’, ‘stopped, no malfunction’ and ‘catastrophic failure’, no matter how the failure is described they all trigger a land search in the area of the last know fix [LKF]. There is a function within the tag that continues to work after contact with the satellite is lost allowing a dead bird to be found. Highly trained RSPB Investigations staff, using very sophisticated equipment, searched the area, however perhaps not unexpectedly, the bird was not located. No matter how the inexplicable tag stoppage is described it means the same thing; Dryad has joined the ‘disappeared’, never to be seen again. Another young Hen Harrier’s life snuffed out in North Yorkshire. She had spent less than 3 months flying free. Free as a bird.

Whilst the matter has been reported to the Police we know that investigating this type of incident is notoriously difficult. Consequently, it is highly unlikely that there will be a successful outcome to their enquiries.

How unpredictably, cruelly prophetic would her name be? According to the satellite data her last know fix [LKF] was on the border of Cumbria and Yorkshire, just inside the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Whilst the LKF provided a What3Words location we can’t reveal the position of that 3m2 block where the tag failed because it is not NERF’s data to reveal. The words could be, perhaps should be, Dryad / 90-days / disappeared. Sadly those three words are closer than you may think to the actual What3Words.

Map showing the approximate location of Hen Harrier Dryad’s last known fix.

Dryad was the 44th satellite tagged Hen Harrier to join the ‘disappeared’ in the last 2 years. Where does that leave the shooting industry’s representative’s claim that they have zero tolerance of raptor persecution? Really, where is the evidence to justify that claim? Other than warm words there is a distinct lack of evidence to support it.

The RSPB press release was published on 15 September and a check of the leading shooting industry websites during the morning of 16 September revealed the extent of their public declaration for their zero tolerance policy:

  • The Moorland Association reminds us that it has been ‘a record breaking year for Hen Harrier breeding’ but there was nothing about Dryad
  • The National Gamekeepers Association mentions the 2020 Hen Harrier breeding success but there was nothing about Dryad
  • BASC, in common with the other industry’s websites, has plenty of advice about Covid-19 but there was nothing about Dryad
  • Countryside Alliance also carries the month old story that 2020 was a good year for breeding Hen Harriers but there was no mention of Dryad.

There have been ongoing discussions with the shooting industry representatives for years, in various forums, that are supposed to be attempts to address the continuing problem of Hen Harrier persecution, yet to date nothing has been achieved. Hen Harriers remain at risk, continuing to face oblivion as a breeding species in England. You will read countless words from the shooting industry about the improvement in breeding success in 2020, however these numbers are merely a snapshot from one year. Whilst NERF welcomes this increase in breeding success it is not a future predictor of population expansion.

Perhaps the industry’s press officers are overwhelmed at the moment by the urgent need to update their websites informing their members that the Covid-19 ‘mingling rule’ does not apply to them and shooting can carry on as normal in this time of a ‘new normal’. Perhaps they haven’t had time to write something about Dryad yet. Perhaps they will write something today. Then again perhaps they won’t.

Dryad was the 44th satellite tagged Hen Harrier to join the ‘disappeared’ in the last 2 years. Where does that leave Natural England’s Hen Harrier Action Plan? How many birds have to die or inexplicably ‘disappear’ before they admit that their Plan isn’t working? Without changes to legislation, the licencing of game shooting and rigid law enforcement nothing will change. Why is Natural England continuing with their Hen Harrier brood management scheme?

The Moorland Association et al are leading proponents of Brood Management claiming that it provides a ‘a safety net’ for the grouse shooting industry and builds trust which in turn will ensure that raptor persecution will not be necessary. The concept of building trust between criminals and conservationists who represent potential victims is alien to most people. The belief that the Brood Management concept would achieve the proffered result was naive at best, at worst the whole idea was ridiculous, it is not achieving the stated aim and should be abandoned with immediate effect.

Persecution is the most significant threat to Hen Harriers which, despite claims to the contrary, continues to face extinction as a breeding species in England. We know that to be the case because Natural England have told us so in 2 of their own published papers. In 2008 Natural England published a paper in which they said; “There is compelling evidence that persecution continues, both during and following the breeding season.” The paper went on to say “Persecution continues to limit Hen Harrier recovery in England”. [A future for the Hen Harrier in England 2008.]. After that pronouncement nothing changed over the next decade and in 2019 Murgatroyd et al used Natural England’s data and published ‘Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors’.

These two papers and continued criminal behaviour by some members of the shooting community are very instructive. The economist John Maynard Keynes famously said, ‘When the facts change, I change my mind’. The facts have changed and continue to change. It is time for the senior managers in Natural England who are wedded to Brood Management to read their own data, abandon the Brood Management Scheme and start to repair the reputational damage that it is doing to the organisation.


16 September 2020