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Threats to Tyne Kittiwakes

Unfortunately not everyone likes Kittiwakes. Find out about threats to the Tyne Kittiwakes.

Kittiwakes, McNulty Site 2009 © Dan Turner

Kittiwakes are a true-seabird that normally nest on sea cliffs. Why they choose to nest so far inland on buildings along the River Tyne is a unique phenomenon that is not fully understood. They feed at sea and will make trips of over 100 miles to find food for their young (they do not feed in the river or on human waste). They are only present in urban areas to breed, from March until August – when they use buildings to nest on. The rest of the year they spend at sea, sometimes wandering as far as Greenland.

A Kittiwake colony can be noisy and like all creatures they produce excrement. This can lead to complaints from the property owner or from adjacent businesses and residents. Sometimes this can result in people taking action against the Kittiwakes.

In 2016 Kittiwakes were added to the UK Red List of Birds of Conservation Concern due to a dramatic decline in their population in parts of the UK. The Newcastle Biodiversity Action Plan aims to secure or create nesting habitat for Kittiwakes along the River Tyne to enable existing colonies to expand or move; and ensure existing kittiwake sites are protected.

When the Kittiwakes are nesting they are legally protected and it is an offence to disturb the nesting birds, their nests and eggs or chicks.

The Kittiwakes along the Tyne have been intensively studied since the 1950s. During this time they have been repeatedly displaced from buildings, mainly due to demolition in the post-industrial era but also, in some cases, in attempts to exclude them (eg by netting). In all cases the Kittiwakes have simply moved to adjacent buildings (or other parts of the same building). Kittiwakes are colonial nesting birds and have an incredibly strong instinct to nest within the colony – for this reason displacing them from one building (or part of a building) will not make the Kittiwakes go away.

Kittiwakes on the Guildhall © NHSN

The reason that so many Kittiwakes are nesting on and around the Tyne Bridge is because they have been moved from other buildings without much thought as to where they would go. However in the scheme of things they cause less nuisance there than if they were nesting on other properties in Newcastle quayside.

The issue of Kittiwakes nesting around the Newcastle quayside in not a new one, they began nesting there over 40 years ago. In 2012 a Tyne Kittiwakes Partnership was formed to try and find a long-term solution to this issue and to raise awareness of the importance of the Tyne Kittiwake colony and the need to protect it. This Partnership includes representatives from Newcastle, Gateshead, South Tyneside and North Tyneside Councils, Newcastle University, Natural History Society of Northumbria, RSPB, Northumberland Wildlife Trust, Durham Wildlife Trust and individual researchers and ornithologists including one of the world’s leading experts on Kittiwakes.

We believe that if there is a need to prevent the Kittiwakes nesting on the Tyne Bridge then the solution is to create a new nesting site for the Kittiwakes, in a location where they will not conflict with businesses and where they can be enjoyed by the public. The Kittiwakes would need to be attracted to this new site, which in the long-term would replace the birds nesting around the bridge. A similar project has been trialled successfully before and so it should be feasible but it would require land, money and political will to make it happen. Efforts are underway to see if this is possible.

Kittiwakes on the Tyne Bridge © Allan Watson

In November 2015 the Vermont Hotel in Newcastle submitted an application to Newcastle Council to prevent Kittiwakes nesting on three sides of the north abutment of the Tyne Bridge. They also took matters into their own hands and put spikes on nesting ledges without any permission. There was considerable public outcry and opposition to this action. Newcastle Council are to be commended for rebutting the application and removing the spikes from the bridge.

The Tyne Kittiwakes Partnership is happy to work with and advise property owners or people effected by the birds to try and find solutions that have a positive outcome. Contact 0191 208 2790 or nhsn@ncl.ac.uk