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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 May 2006, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK
Rare bird missing as shots heard
Hen harrier
Hen harriers are among England's rarest birds of prey
One of England's rarest birds of prey has been shot illegally in Northumberland.

A pair of hen harriers had successfully laid eggs in their ground nest on a patch of moor close to Corbridge.

The female left the nest on Friday afternoon to go hunting. Shortly afterwards four shots were heard and the female has not been seen since.

The birds are protected by law and anyone caught disturbing or injuring them faces a fine or prison.

'Fantastic opportunity'

The English population of hen harriers consists of a handful of breeding pairs and there are fears the species will become extinct as a breeding bird within the next few years.

Steve Downing, from the National Wildlife Crime Unit, said it was devastating news as the birds had been making good progress.

He said: "We've watched their behaviour and know they were on eggs.

"It is a wonderful area for them, with a supportive landowner who is very keen to see the birds nesting.

"This is a devastating blow not only for the birds, but for the people of Northumberland who had a fantastic opportunity to see these rare and wonderful creatures on their doorstep."

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