The River Tyne supports an important breeding population of around 800 pairs of Kittiwakes. You can find out about the birds, how to see them and efforts to protect them.
The Kittiwakes that breed alongside the River Tyne nest on man-made structures, often on old buildings, which provide a similar environment to the sea cliffs that they normally use. In the past they have sometimes been displaced when old buildings were knocked down or redeveloped.
One of the Kittiwake colonies is on, and around, the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle / Gateshead quayside, which is the furthest inland colony in the world. Newcastle is almost unique amongst world cities in having a seabird colony in its centre. We think it is fantastic that local people and visitors are able to experience this amazing wildlife spectacle against the iconic landmarks of the Tyne bridges, the Sage and the Baltic art gallery. We also feel it shows that wildlife and humans can co-exist, but like all relationships, it takes a bit of getting used to – unfortunately not everyone appreciates the noises, smells and detritus of a seabird colony in full swing!
The Tyne Kittiwakes Partnership has formed to ensure that the Kittiwake population along the Tyne is safeguarded and to work together to improve our understanding of the birds and their conservation needs. The Partnership includes the Natural History Society of Northumbria, RSPB, Northumberland and Durham Wildlife Trusts, Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside and South Tyneside Councils, Newcastle University and individual researchers and ornithologists.
In recent weeks, a number of kittiwakes have become trapped in and behind netting on buildings on the Newcastle Quayside. The Tyne Kittiwake Partnership shares the concerns of local people and is keen to ensure the future safety of nesting kittiwakes.
The Partnership includes the RSPB, Natural History Society of Northumbria, Durham Wildlife Trust, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, neighbouring Councils, Natural England, Newcastle University and independent ornithologists – including one who has been monitoring the Tyne kittiwakes for 25 years.
The Partnership was formed to safeguard the Tyne kittiwakes by raising awareness of this species, improving our understanding of kittiwakes in an urban environment and taking action when their nest sites are threatened. In this urban environment, the noise and mess created by kittiwakes has resulted in some property owners installing deterrents such as netting which, although legal, can result in serious problems for the birds if not installed or maintained correctly. Where possible, we try to ensure that property owners carry out this work appropriately and make them aware of their legal responsibility to prevent harm coming to the birds.
The Tyne kittiwakes are surrounded by human activity and are often in the vicinity of building works. The Partnership has been particularly active in preventing and reducing harm and disturbance to breeding kittiwakes from these activities and developments. We also provide advice on creating alternative nest sites where possible, for example when development is likely to result in the loss of ledges.
Whenever the Partnership receives a report of a trapped bird, we pass it on to the RSPCA. In recent weeks, we have been liaising with their inspectors. When possible, we’ve also contacted the property owners and undertaken visits to the Quayside to better establish the location of trapped birds and enable us to provide additional advice.
We would urge any of you who spot trapped birds to contact the RSPCA immediately and, where possible, alert the property owner.
There are instances when a rescue may appear to be delayed, but that is not necessarily the case; such operations require careful thought to minimise disturbance to neighbouring breeding birds and ensure that the netting is left as safely as possible (removing netting during the breeding season, upon which nests have been built, is not an option). Kittiwakes nest in hard to reach places that usually require a cherry picker or the Fire Brigade’s assistance.
The Tyne kittiwakes are here to stay and we need to make their home safe. We hope that the demonstration of public support for the kittiwakes will help to bring about positive change. We plan to meet with businesses and property owners this autumn to develop and agree on plans which will prevent future trappings and, should any occur, ensure swift and effective responses.
The Tyne Kittiwake Partnership has been working with organisers to ensure the success of the Exhibition does not come at a cost to kittiwakes nesting along the Tyne. This is the most inland kittiwake nesting colony in the world, a unique and special feature of the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside which should be celebrated through the Exhibition.
Kittiwakes nesting in an urban environment is a relatively new phenomenon, bringing these seabirds much closer to human activities not encountered on the remote coastal cliffs where they usually breed. We have, therefore, taken a precautionary approach seeking to reduce and, where possible, avoid potential negative impacts on these birds from the both the opening ceremony and Exhibition as a whole. The Exhibition starts in the middle of the kittiwake breeding season, when eggs will be starting to hatch. Our involvement has guided the development of various activities and we thank organisers for their cooperation. Two aspects of the Exhibition, and steps taken to reduce the risks to kittiwakes, are explained in more detail below.
Loud, powerful fireworks have the potential to startle nesting kittiwakes causing them to take sudden flight from their nests and discourage them from returning to protect their eggs/chicks. As such, the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership advised that only low-level pyrotechnics be used in the vicinity of the river and nest sites. Organisers located a site set back from the Tyne from which to launch all louder fireworks in a single session during the opening ceremony. This will allow the display to be enjoyed by people on the Quayside, whilst drastically reducing the noise disturbance to kittiwakes.
The Water Sculpture
An installation in the middle of the river downstream from the Tyne Bridge will shoot jets of water (25m – 50m high) during the opening ceremony and throughout the Exhibition until it closes in September. There is the potential for kittiwakes nesting on the Tyne Bridge to move through this area as they travel up and down the river. With the organisers, we have developed a warning system to encourage kittiwakes to fly around the water sculpture before the display starts. One low level (in pressure and height) primer jet will be released within 5 seconds of the display from three locations of the installation (one at each end and one in the middle). These will be visible to kittiwakes flying along the river with the intention of causing any heading towards the installation, to change course. The gap between jets during the display will be a spilt second reducing the likelihood of kittiwakes flying in the space once underway. The operators will have in place 24 hour surveillance of the water sculpture with a procedure in place to it shut down if required (e.g. if there is evidence that it presents a danger to the kittiwakes) while investigations take place.
The Tyne Kittiwake Partnership has advocated for the best available options for kittiwakes under current legislation, stressing to the Exhibition’s organisers the significance of this unique nesting location and the importance of these birds to local people. We will be observing the kittiwakes during the opening ceremony, and the duration of the Exhibition, and will continue to advise the organisers as necessary. Should members of the public have any concerns relating to kittiwakes, these can be reported to the Organisers via Exhibition volunteers present throughout activities and celebrations. We hope that through the Exhibition, more people will see and learn about these amazing birds in the heart of Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside.
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There have been some queries about the use of netting so here are a few notes which the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership hopes will help.
The installation of bird deterrents, such as netting or spikes, outside the breeding season (September to February) is not illegal and, if done correctly, should not present a hazard to kittiwakes. It is the responsibility of the property owner to ensure that deterrents are legal and fit for purpose. Birds can become accidentally entangled and trapped. If you notice any trapped kittiwakes, please alert the property owner and RSPCA.
The Partnership recognises that the use of deterrents is likely to result in kittiwakes being displaced and having to find alternative nest sites. We are working to safeguard the Tyne kittiwakes and provide additional nesting sites where practical. We welcome your support in helping to look after these beautiful seabirds, and will continue efforts to raise awareness and understanding of this unique and very special river nesting colony.
A blog containing a more in-depth description of the Tyne kittiwakes current situation can be found here, courtesy of RSPB Northern England.
The Kittiwakes return to Newcastle Gateshead quayside in mid-March and usually depart in August.
You can watch them live online via the Baltic Art Gallery/Durham Wildlife Trust webcam, click here.
You can get excellent views of nesting birds from the paths on and below the Tyne Bridge, from the viewing area on the 4th floor of the Baltic art gallery and at the Kittiwake Tower downstream from the Baltic.
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To find out more about the Tyne Kittiwakes and the work of the Partnership, please follow the links below.