Fears Sheffield harrier killed following sudden disappearance

Octavia. Picture: Steve Downing.
Octavia. Picture: Steve Downing.

A wildlife charity fears a young hen harries has been killed following its sudden disappearance from moorland near Sheffield.

The RSPB said that Octavia, which fledged from a nest in the Peak District this summer, was one of three such birds to suddenly disappear.

Dr Cathleen Thomas, hen harrier LIFE project manager at the RSPB, said Octavia was fitted with sophisticated satellite trackers, which normally keep transmitting and are found if the birds die due to natural causes.

She said: “Octavia hatched from a nest on National Trust’s High Peak Moors in the Peak District National Park in June. This was the first time the species had bred in this area for four years.

“Again, we had high hopes that the tables may have turned in favour of our hen harriers and we watched anxiously as she began to spread her wings.

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“Octavia stayed faithfully close to her nest, until August 22 when she moved onto privately-owned driven grouse moors near Sheffield. Her tag was transmitting regularly when it suddenly and inexplicably stopped.

“Her last known fix on August 26 showed she was over an area of land managed for driven grouse shooting at Broomhead.”

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Bob Berzins, who was one of the volunteers protecting the nest and author of a report for Sheffield Green Party earlier this year titled Report from the Front Line: What’s Happening on Moors near Sheffield , said: “Yet again we are seeing a sadly familiar pattern.

“Octavia’s tag stopped transmitting just four days after she left the immediate area of her home nest, and the last known location was over an area of land managed for driven grouse shooting at Broomhead. It is a similar story with the other two missing harriers.

“There should be 300 breeding pairs of hen harriers in England, yet this year there were just nine and already we are seeing loss of the young birds from those nests.

“Sheffielders are being deprived of the opportunity to see these magnificent ‘sky dancers’ and our uplands depleted – removing opportunities too for small businesses and communities to benefit from the tourism they would attract.”

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Natalie Bennett, former Green Party leader who lives in Sheffield, said: “I’ve joined campaigners including Chris Packham and Mark Avery for several years now in calling for a ban on driven grouse shooting.

“This is an industry that’s linked to the illegal slaughter of raptors, but also the vast legal but highly disturbing slaughter of mountain hares and corvids, stouts, weasels and foxes, all to produce maximum numbers of grouse for shooting on and after the Inglorious Twelfth of August.

“Driven grouse shooting is also associated with land management practices that increase the risk of flooding and reduce carbon storage. We are all paying a high price for this so-called sport that a few engage in.”