Red kite disappears

Another red kite vanishes in suspicious circumstances in problem area

RSPB Investigations Unit press release

  • Three birds of prey have disappeared in the same area of the North Pennines since October 2019
  • The birds were wearing satellite tags to allow experts to monitor their movements
  • The RSPB is concerned the birds may have been illegally killed


Two red kites and one hen harrier – one of England’s rarest breeding birds – have vanished suddenly and unexpectedly in the same area of the North Pennines AONB since last October.

The birds, all which are protected by law, were wearing satellite tags to help experts understand more about their lives after leaving the nest.

The most recent of these, a young red kite named ‘BB’, vanished in the Derwent Gorge in June 2020, triggering a police appeal for information.

BB was fitted with a satellite tag near Gateshead in June 2019 by Friends of Red Kites (FoRK) with NERF support. It has been monitored since by the RSPB.

BB’s tag had been functioning reliably and as expected when it suddenly stopped on 7 June 2020. Police have been conducting enquiries including a search of the area of the bird’s last fix, between Muggleswick and Castleside, where the bird had been present for the previous month, but found no trace of the bird or the tag. BB has not been heard from since.

Two further birds have suffered similar fates. In April 2020, another red kite, KK, which hatched last summer also near Gateshead, suddenly stopped transmitting on a grouse moor near Derwent Reservoir. And in October 2019, a rare hen harrier named Ada vanished after similarly sending her last transmission from a grouse moor, east of Allendale in Northumberland, also within the AONB.

All of these birds were tagged in the summer of 2019 and were under a year old when they disappeared. It is believed the birds may have been illegally killed.

Howard Jones, RSPB Investigations Officer, said:

“There is a distinct pattern emerging of satellite-tagged birds of prey vanishing without a trace on or near land managed for driven grouse shooting in this area.

“BB, KK and Ada’s disappearances are categorised as a ‘sudden stop’. These are reliable tags which continue transmitting even after a bird has died. To cut out suddenly like this strongly suggests human interference.”

Birds of prey are legally protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act (1981) which makes it an offence to deliberately kill or injure one. Those found to have done so could be given an unlimited fine and/or a prison sentence.

The persecution of raptors including red kites is a national police wildlife crime priority. Red kites, which are mainly scavengers, went extinct in England in the early 1900s largely down to persecution and egg collecting. Reintroduction programmes in recent decades have been a huge success in the UK, yet red kites remain listed as globally-threatened by the IUCN/BirdLife International.

Harold Dobson, spokesman for the Friends of the Red Kites, said: “It is with a combination of sadness, frustration and anger that we have learned of yet another red kite disappearing under suspicious circumstances. Red kites were re-introduced in the Lower Derwent Valley between 2004-2006. They continue to fare well in the valley itself but they are being prevented from naturally expanding their range due to human persecution. Since 2010, seven red kites have been found poisoned or shot near the Derwent Gorge and surrounding Durham moorland. We fear that this may be the tip of the iceberg and that many more persecuted kites are never found.”

Inspector Ed Turner, from Durham Constabulary said: “It is sad that, within a matter of months, I am appealing to the public for information again regarding another red kite that has disappeared without explanation in the same area of the North Pennines. The fate of this bird is not yet clear. Until we can rule out the possibility that a crime has been committed, we will continue to take this matter very seriously.”

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said:

“I’m immensely disappointed that we’re back here again having to ask for information on missing birds of prey in this part of the AONB. We never jump to conclusions about single satellite-tagged birds going off-line – there could be several reasons for that and we always want to get to the bottom of why it’s happened, where possible – but there’s a pattern here, and this part of the North Pennines has been a problem location for 10 years or so now with shot, poisoned and missing birds. Please come forward if you can help locate this bird or know what happened to it.”


For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact: Jenny Shelton, RSPB investigations liaison officer, on 07701372952 or email

Photographs and radio interviews:

For further images or to arrange an ISDN broadcast-quality radio interview please contact Jenny Shelton.

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Editor’s notes:

  1. The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, inspiring everyone to give nature a home. Together with our partners, we protect threatened birds and wildlife so our towns, coast and countryside will teem with life once again. We play a leading role in BirdLife International, a worldwide partnership of nature conservation organisations.
  2. The red kite is an unmistakable bird of prey with long wings and forked red tail. The UK now has an estimated 15% of the world red kite population following expansion of the native red kite population in Wales and successful reintroduction projects since 1989 in other parts of the UK.
  3. Birdcrime 2018 was published on 29 August 2019, detailing the incidents of raptor persecution reported to the RSPB during 2018 and the wider problem of bird of prey persecution in the UK. For more information go to:
  4. Patterns of satellite tagged hen harrier disappearances suggest widespread illegal killing on British grouse moors was published in Nature Communications in 2019 and can be viewed here.
  5. The Raptor Persecution Map Hub is the most complete, centralised set of known confirmed raptor persecution incidents in the UK. Use it to quickly and easily see where crimes have taken place and find out more about them. Search by year or location at:

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