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Tyne Kittiwakes Get A Helping Hand

18th July 2013

One of the River Tyne’s best-known birds is getting a helping hand thanks to a new partnership between the regions’ leading nature conservation charities, local Councils, academics and ornithologists.

The Tyne Kittiwakes Partnership has been formed as a means to ensure that the Tyne Kittiwake population is safeguarded, as well as to improve our knowledge of the birds so that they can be enjoyed by local people. The Partnership includes the Natural History Society of Northumbria, the RSPB, the Northumberland and Durham Wildlife Trusts, Newcastle and Gateshead Councils, Newcastle University and individual researchers and ornithologists.

The kittiwake, a type of gull, has bred on buildings along the River Tyne since 1949. The Tyne colony brings a seabird spectacle, usually only found on remote coastal cliffs, right into the heart of the Quayside. This special part of the cityscape is thought to be unique on a global scale as the birds are not known to nest so far inland anywhere else in the world.

Over the years, the Tyne’s breeding kittiwakes have faced mixed fortunes; instead of cliffs these inland birds breed on man-made structures and their nest sites are destroyed when these buildings are redeveloped or knocked down. This year has been no different, with some kittiwakes returning in spring to find their nests lost to development.

However, kittiwakes around the Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside seem to be doing well and the first chicks began hatching last week.

Through the Partnership, work is underway to safeguard kittiwake nest sites along the Tyne for the long-term so that these birds are not continually shifted from building to building. One plan is to find out whether they can create a new artificial nesting cliff for the birds in the quayside area, which could also reduce complaints of mess and noise caused by the birds.

Funding from the Roland Cookson Fund (Community Foundation North East) has recently been secured by the Northumberland Wildlife Trust so that the Partnership can print new material about the Tyne Kittiwakes for visitors to the Quayside. The partnership has also created a new website to host information about the Tyne Kittiwakes and are organising events so that people can learn all about these fascinating and graceful birds.

Good views of the Kittiwakes on their nests can be gained from the viewing area in the Baltic Art Gallery and from the Tyne Bridge. The birds can be easily identified by their distinctive “kitti-waaake” call and black wing tips which look as if they have been dipped in ink. Kittiwakes also have a small yellow bill, grey backs and are white underneath with short black legs.

James Littlewood, Director of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, and current Chairman of the Partnership says “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 Tynebridges, the Sage and the Baltic art gallery. It should also be a great example of how wildlife and people can live side-by-side.”

Gateshead Council cabinet member for the environment, Cllr John McElroy, said “The Tyne’s kittiwake population are a unique part of our urban landscape. We are looking forward to working with the other partners in this new group to safeguard the kittiwakes for the future and help more people enjoy these special birds.”

Helen Quayle, Marine Conservation Officer for the North East for the RSPB says “The kittiwakes breeding along the river Tyne are unique on a global scale and should be celebrated as part of the region’s special cityscape. These graceful birds travel great distances to nest here and we hope that by working with other organisations and local people we can help to safeguard their future.”

A free talk by leading Tyne Kittiwake researchers and practitioners will take place at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle on Wednesday 24 July at 7pm. There will be a free Kittiwake Walk on Tuesday 23 July starting at 5.20pm at the Baltic Art Gallery. The Partnership is also running Kittiwake watching at the Sunday quayside market.