Rare bird of prey vanishes near Sandringham estate

Chris Packham
Picture: Jo Garbutt/Flickr
Chris Packham Picture: Jo Garbutt/Flickr

A rare bird of prey which starred on BBC TV’s Autumnwatch has “suspiciously” vanished near the Queen’s West Norfolk retreat.

Sally, a Montagu’s harrier, who was part of one of only four breeding pairs of the bird in the UK, was last recorded, via a satellite tagging system, seven miles from the Sandringham estate, which regularly hosts bird shoots.

But, despite proximity of the bird’s disappearance to the royal residence detectives are not planning on interviewing estate staff.

TV wildlife expert Chris Packham has described Sally’s disappearance as “devastating” and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) said it is “highly suspicious”.

Mr Packham added: “I have an incredible fondness for these birds. We cannot directly accuse the shooting fraternity of illegally killing this bird but the fact it disappeared under such mysterious circumstances is enough to raise suspicions.”

Sally and her mate Roger were the only pair of Montagu’s harriers left in eastern England and are both birds are tagged so that the RSPB can monitor their every movement via satellite.

RSPB senior investigations officer, Mark Thomas said: “Even if a tag is face down when a bird dies it will transmit a signal for several days until the battery runs down.

“Sally has become a ‘catastrophic failure’ statistic and Norfolk Police have been informed. It is highly suspicious. We have had nothing from Sally.”

The Montagu’s harrier, who was described as the ‘poster girl’ for harrier conservation was released by presenter Martin Hughes-Games on BBC Autumnwatch last July.

And she has been followed ever since as she migrated to Africa and back to the UK.

A spokesman for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said: “Tagging birds is a good way of monitoring activity, but tags can fail. Critics are often quick to blame shooting when it appears as though a bird has disappeared. However it is important that people have sound evidence before hurling accusations.”

Killing a protected bird of prey carries a six-month jail sentence or a £5,000 fine.