The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Mystery as birds of prey disappear from tycoon’s land
18 rare Scots hen harriers feared dead
HE is Scotland’s largest landowner and has vowed to use his vast wealth to protect the country’s wildlife.
But Anders Povlsen’s attempts to introduce the UK’s most persecuted bird of prey to his estates have suffered a setback – after a number of them either died or vanished in mysterious circumstances.
The Danish billionaire, who owns more than 220,000 acres across the Highlands, funded a project to tag hen harriers.
He hoped the birds would disperse across the country before possibly returning to his land to breed.
But Mr Povlsen has been left ‘disappointed’ after data suggested that none of the 18 tagged birds is still alive.
His conservation director said it seems they ‘don’t come out of’ certain areas.
Wildland, the custodian of three Highland estates, said three birds tagged last year had ‘tragically’ stopped transmitting within only months of fledging.
Two vanished on grouse moors in the Cairngorms National Park, and the other was found dead in a garden in Aberdeenshire. Wildland has been careful not to make any accusations about the fate of the harriers, but campaigners claim birds of prey suffer ‘appalling persecution’ on driven grouse moors.
Thomas MacDonell, the conservation director for Mr Povlsen’s venture, said: ‘We have been tagging harriers on Wildland Cairngorm for four years and it’s been a pretty tragic story – only one of our previous 15 birds survived more than one year.
‘There appear to be areas where these birds go and pretty much don’t come out of. We don’t know what happened to all of our birds – we know what happened to some – but there is certainly an issue with persecution. We are all disappointed – we were hoping some might come back, set up territories and rear chicks. We are a breeding ground where harriers are successfully fledging chicks yet the success rate is zero when it comes to longer term survival.’
Mr Povlsen, 47, tops Scotland’s rich list with a reported fortune of £4.73 billion. He took over the clothing chain Bestseller, founded by his parents in Denmark, at the age of 28, and is a leading shareholder in fashion retailers Asos and Zalando.
The businessman fell in love with Scotland during a fishing holiday with his parents in the 1980s and has been buying land since 2006.
Last year, Mr Povlsen and his wife Anne thanked the people of Scotland for their ‘words of comfort’ after three of their four children were killed in a terrorist attack in Sri Lanka in April.
The hen harrier project has cost the tycoon around £2,000 per tag plus the bill for monitoring and research.
A study in 2016 found there were only 460 territorial hen harrier pairs in Scotland, although it is estimated there is the capacity to support more than 1,500 pairs.
Dr Ruth Tingay of the Raptor Persecution UK blog, said: ‘The disappearance of two more hen harriers on driven grouse moors will come as no surprise to those who know anything about the appalling persecution of this threatened species.
‘Even after all these years of suspicious disappearances and a mountain of compelling scientific evidence, the Scottish Government is still doing nothing.’
‘They don’t come out of some areas’