A new study reveals that hen harriers are being killed at an alarming rate on U.K. grouse moors. Scientists found that gamekeepers are eliminating these birds, which are on the verge of extinction in England because they hunt red grouse.

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Conservationists have been tagging hen harriers in the U.K. for several years and discovered that 72 percent of the birds involved in studies have come up missing. The researchers believe the majority of these birds were killed illegally.

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Sadly, 83 percent of juvenile hen harriers in this region do not make it through their first year. In comparison, 65 percent of juveniles do not survive in other areas of the country. In areas completely devoid of grouse moors, those numbers drop to less than 50 percent.

According to The Guardian, hen harrier numbers have dropped dangerously low in the U.K., despite the fact that there are acceptable habitats for large numbers to survive with ease. Not only is there plenty of food for the birds of prey, but there are also few predators with which to compete. Even still, only seven of the 58 birds in the study were alive by the end of 2017.

Five of the deceased birds uncovered in the study, which spanned a decade, died naturally. Four others sustained injuries consistent with hunting and were considered to be illegally killed. The great majority of the missing birds, however, vanished without a trace. Only a small percentage of these disappearances can be attributed to malfunctioning tags; the rest are believed to be victims of hunting.

“Carcasses were rarely recovered, presumably due to suspected illegal killing and carcass disposal,” the study revealed.

In order to boost population numbers, a new program was just passed to rear juvenile hen harriers in captivity. Researchers with Natural England plan to find juvenile birds in the wild, raise them in captivity and later release them far from grouse moors.

The new hen harrier plan has been met with some resistance by conservationists, though a court just ruled in favor of its legality.

Via The Guardian

Image via Rob Zweers