In recent weeks, a number of kittiwakes have become trapped in netting on buildings on the Newcastle Quayside, which has caused lots of concern locally.

Helen Quayle, the RSPB’s Marine Conservation Officer and Chair of the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership, explains how the RSPB and the Partnership have been working to protect kittiwakes and how people can help.

It’s been extremely upsetting for me to see these kittiwakes getting trapped and tangled in netting which is meant to act as a deterrent. Over the past few years I’ve been working hard to try and ensure this kind of thing doesn’t happen to these beautiful birds.

Tyne kittiwake flying, Dan Turner

Tyne kittiwake flying, Dan Turner

At the RSPB we help kittiwakes, at their nests and out at sea, through our network of coastal reserves and by lobbying for greater protection of our seas.

In Newcastle, we work as part of the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership, which was formed to safeguard the Tyne kittiwakes. The Partnership’s role is to raise awareness of this species, to improve our understanding of kittiwakes in an urban environment and to take 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.

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. Through the Partnership, we’ve been particularly active in ensuring that these activities and developments don’t harm or disturb breeding kittiwakes. We also provide advice on creating alternative nest sites where possible.

A few years ago there were calls to remove the kittiwakes from the Tyne Bridge as they were seen as a barrier to the regeneration of the Quayside. Through the Partnership we successfully prevented the kittiwakes from losing this important nest site.

Recently, we provided extensive advice and support to organisers of the Great Exhibition of the North to reduce and prevent the risk of disturbance from their opening ceremony and celebration events.

Nesting Tyne kittiwakes, Dan Turner

Nesting Tyne kittiwakes, Dan Turner

Over the years, we’ve engaged a range of planning applications that had the potential to affect the kittiwakes, including objecting to the use of deterrents on the Tyne Bridge.

During the breeding season, the RSPB attends Newcastle Quayside market to inspire and educate local people and visitors about the birds.

Unfortunately, it’s not only the kittiwakes on the Tyne that have become trapped in netting.

We’ve also been providing advice to Scarborough Borough Council for a number of years in relation to kittiwakes and last winter we played an integral role in the removal of a dangerous section of netting on the Grand Hotel. Remaining netting will be removed at the end of the breeding season.

While we work hard behind the scenes to help kittiwakes, the RSPB is not set up to actually rescue trapped birds. We simply don’t have the resources to undertake this work.

Fortunately, the RSPCA - as an animal rescue and welfare charity - has the expertise and knowledge to undertake this work and has been busy rescuing the trapped kittiwakes.

For our part – through the partnership - we have been passing on reports of trapped birds to the RSPCA and liaising with their inspectors. When possible, we’ve also contacted the property owners to remind them of their legal responsibility to ensure the safety of the birds. At times, we have been extremely frustrated by the lack of action from the property owners.

Tyne kittiwakes, Dan Turner

Tyne kittiwakes, Dan Turner

We would urge any of you who spot trapped birds to contact the RSPCA immediately and alert the property owner – you have the power to make a difference.

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, which nests have been built on top of, is not an option).

Kittiwakes nest in hard to reach places that usually require a cherry picker or the Fire Brigade’s assistance.

The need for any rescues could and should be avoided by property owners ensuring that all netting is correctly installed, fit for purpose and maintained.

Whilst the use of netting as a deterrent is legal – so long as it is installed outside the breeding season before nest building has commenced – the property owner has a responsibility to take action to release trapped birds.

When a net is known to be a hazard and to trap kittiwakes, the property owner must take action to ensure that it is safe and fit for purpose the following breeding season. Failure to remove or make safe such netting, would effectively be leaving a trap in place which could constitute a criminal offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as amended).

Ahead of the next breeding season, we’ll be continuing work on kittiwake guidance for property owners and hope to meet with businesses and property owners.

While this has been an upsetting time, I’ve felt heartened by the huge amount of support that has been displayed for the Tyne kittiwakes. I hope property owners on the Quayside have taken notice of how much these birds are valued by the people of Newcastle and beyond.

Anonymous
  • Hi John a lot of birds will have found natural food at this time of the year

  • Where are all the birds gone we have had one sparrow in two weeks have not seen anything else ,the bird feeders are still full the food on bird table is uneaten .

  • It's a sad state of affairs I’m afraid and the RSPB don’t come out well in this. No organisation has really helped as the previous post says, and it wasn’t until Chris Packham gave his interview on Radio Newcastle that I have some hope that action will be taken.

    Regards,

    Ian.

  • I've been following this on Twitter and I'm afraid no-one comes out of this sorry saga with any credibility other than those that have spent days pleading for help, it seems help only arrived when Mr Chris Packham got involved pushing the story on local radio.

    It has been totally distressing watching people pleading for someone to help the Kittiwakes with both the RSPCA and the Fire service at one point refusing to help.