Thursday 8 November 2018


On Monday, the SGA made the statement, below, regarding loss of transmission from satellite tags fitted to 4 Hen Harriers, communicated in a press release by RSPB Scotland.
We reiterate that any member with any information should contact Police Scotland immediately. 
We would also like to make it known the SGA has requested to Scottish Government on several occasions that tags be independently monitored in order to offer the general public, stakeholders, government and law enforcement agencies greater transparency over what is happening in incidents such as these, or indeed as much clarity as is possible without prejudicing important work.
The SGA understands that of 7 Harrier chicks tagged in Spring this year at Mar Lodge, 3 died within weeks whilst still on the estate at Mar Lodge, which is owned by National Trust for Scotland. This may be in keeping with studied research showing high natural mortality of Hen Harriers in year one of life (believed to be in the region of 70 percent, although this is debated in some quarters).
It is understood one of the tags stopped signalling for several days before reconnecting, with the likely explanation proffered being that the solar tag (presumably attached to a chick) was face down, making it unable to achieve sufficient power to send a signal. It was thought the carcass was perhaps then turned over by a predator, enabling a signal to be transmitted again, as the device then had sufficient light to re-establish contact.
Should a bird have come to an end, away from where it was originally tagged or was last signalling, it could be similarly difficult to locate, particularly if the tag loses the ability to transmit in the wild. If cached underground by a predator such as a fox, attempts to find any carcass is likely to be futile, as is widely and independently acknowledged. 
In SNH's satellite tagged eagle report, for example, the final signal of around 25 percent of the tags earmarked as being 'suspicious' were neither on- or near- grouse moors. Some were in the west of Scotland, many miles from grouse interests and in island areas where, again, there is no grouse shooting at all. 
In those cases- away from any grouse moors-, no birds or tags were found either, highlighting the difficulties associated with locating birds and recovering satellite tags using final fixes or signals. 
This was acknowledged by the RSPB themselves when Harrier Brian's last signal was recorded on one of their own Reserves at Insh Marshes but no body or tag was found, although no speculation regarding Brian was relayed to the media by RSPB. At that time, RSPB only stated, on a website blog aimed at its members, that final signal was only an 'indication' of where a bird was spending time but was not an actual indicator of where a bird may have died.
See their response to the disappearance of 'Brian', here: 

If anyone is out and about in the landscape, please look very carefully at the ground around them and report to Police Scotland, if anything should be discovered.
Birds or tags, if recoverable, may be many miles from the last known signal.
The SGA believes satellite tags should be monitored by neutral agencies in order for everyone to better understand what happens when a tag stops- and whether birds are being persecuted.  If they are, facts need to be known. This is in everyone's interest and the SGA has asked Scottish Government for this step towards accountability to be taken forward.
Using an evidence-based and transparent approach, appropriate action and steps can be taken by all.
The SGA has never, at any stage, stated that persecution does not exist. This is reflected in our policy in that, if an SGA member is convicted of a wildlife crime, they are removed from the SGA. 
Similarly, if an SGA member is proven to be responsible for the loss of transmission from these tags, we will act.
However, evidence and facts, rather than speculation, are important if further progress is to be made.

Responding to the RSPB press release on Monday, a Spokesman for The Scottish Gamekeepers Association, said: “Until the findings of satellite tags are monitored by independent experts or bodies, we will never fully understand what happens when tags lose transmission nor will anyone be any closer to being able to do anything about it.
“There could be many factors at play. Our understanding is that the majority of the 7 tagged Hen Harriers chicks at Mar Lodge this year have died in some circumstance or another, with one tag going off radar for some days before signalling again, so we are not going to speculate on cases.
“Around a quarter of ‘suspicious’ tags studied in SNH’s satellite tagged eagle report lost transmission away from grouse moor areas, including islands, yet the tags themselves were never recovered.
If anyone has any information, they should contact Police Scotland.”