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‘Persecuted’ Scottish osprey reappears in Morocco, raising further issues with satellite tags

Ruth Tingay, from RPUK, and Mark Thomas, from the RSPB’s investigation team, love using the phrase ‘disappeared in suspicious circumstances’.

It is their blanket term they throw out to accuse the upland keepering community of criminal behaviour when zero evidence exists. In the RSPB’s latest bird crime report the phrase appeared seven times.

The accusations of ‘suspicious circumstances’ arise the moment a GPS tracking device signal is lost. The problem is of course that a satellite tracking device loses signal far more often than is widely recognised, as the plight of ‘Glen’ the osprey demonstrates.

Glen was being tracked by Conservation Without Borders (CWB), when he landed on the roof of a fruit factory between Nazaré and Péniche in Portugal. Then no further signal or indication of movement was received, and so called experts assumed he had been ‘injured’. Diane Bennett of the Tweed Valley Osprey Project saying they had ‘feared the worst’ after no signal was received from what was a good GPS area, we thought that he had been injured. Local police were called and instructed to join the search to track him down, without success.

However she said Glen ‘surprised them all’ when his tracker pinged back data from Morocco.

It is by no means the first-time satellite tracking devices have become unreliable.

In 2019 two hen harriers released by Natural England suddenly lost transmitting signal. The usual critics quickly sought to blame the disappearance on the upland keepering community in North Yorkshire, with vindictive blogs and social media seeking to demonise the nearby gamekeepers.

Unbeknown to these hell-bent critics, the gamekeepers of the Yorkshire Dales had been working closely with the police and Natural England as soon as the tags stopped working to assist in locating the birds. The search however was soon called off after the bird’s satellite transmitter resumed transmissions and the hen harriers were found to be safe and well.

Afterwards one community member said, “this is the second hen harrier tagged by Natural England that was reported as missing because its tag had stopped working that is now back transmitting again in the past two weeks. The information received from the tags have proven somewhat unreliable and inconsistent. It begs the question how many more tagged birds that have been reported as disappeared in suspicious circumstances are actually fit and well and the technology is at fault, nothing more sinister than that”.

News has also been reported to us more recently of two hen harriers that had been reported, once again, as going ‘missing in suspicious circumstances’ this year now being spotted in the North West of England. Efforts are currently being made to secure the identity of the two birds, that had been recorded as killed or disappeared in suspicious circumstances by the usual suspects.

Glen the osprey and his Moroccan adventure is just the latest reminder that the tracking technology is known not to be as reliable as the RSPB tell us and next time we hear the phrase ‘missing in suspicious circumstances’ from Ruth Tingay we should take it with a big dollop of scepticism.


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