The power of “innovation and intervention”. As our Friends of Coquet Island and regular giving supporters will know, continuing the breeding success of kittiwakes on Coquet Island required thinking outside of the box, or rather ledge. Northumberland Coast Site Manager, Paul Morrison, explains more about this project to help these coastal birds. 

Kittiwake pair displaying on their nest - Andy Har (rspb-images.com)
Kittiwake pair displaying on their nest – Andy Hay (rspb-images.com) 

 

Kittiwakes traditionally like to nest on cliffs in colonies. The cliffs on Coquet Island are quite low and not very extensive. Over the years since the first kittiwake nested here, back in 1991, they have taken advantage of small rough outcrops in the sandstone cliff to build their rather impressive nests. But with the unexpected expansion of the colony here in recent years, the kittiwakes ran out of natural cliff ledges.  

 

Two years ago, to give them more space we carved about 50 extra ledges into the cliff face at the end of the season – the following year they were all occupied, boosting the population to 453 pairs in 2020. They were occupying ledges quicker than we could carve them, so the idea was suggested by one of our team to create artificial ledges. We were confident the kittiwakes would use them, as they already nest on the air vents on two of the lighthouse doors! Luckily for us, we have a blacksmith artist, Stephen Lunn, among our long-term volunteer ‘Coqueteers’ and we worked with him to design bespoke ‘hammocks’ out of stainless steel, which would be easy to install and last for years to come.  

 

Two kittiwake chicks perched on one of the artificial stainless steel ledges installed by the Coqueteers - Ibrahim Alfarwi (PhD student and Resident Warden)
Two kittiwake chicks perched on one of the artificial stainless steel ledges installed by the Coqueteers - Ibrahim Alfarwi (PhD student and Resident Warden) 

 

DIY ledges: how they’re made  

The point of the artificial ledges is to create extra places for kittiwakes as efficiently as possible, and not spend hours trying to chisel a rock cliff face. The fact that the cliffs are very low makes it easy to fix them in place. This is done with two steel rods that pin the hammock to the cliff using epoxy resin – they are cleverly designed to accommodate this feature. It takes just a few minutes to bore two 12mm holes and bond the hammock in place on the cliff. 

 

Volunteer, Stephen Lunn, building an artificial nest
Volunteer, Stephen Lunn, building an artificial nest 

 

Seabird colonies are under threat and in decline in many cases, the Coquet kittiwakes are bucking the trend, thanks to your support and the innovation and intervention of the RSPB Coquet team. This season proved successful for the new hammocks, quickly being taken up by breeding pairs. 

 

Kittiwakes on Coquet  

Coquet Island is renowned for the depth and quality of its monitoring programme, set against a background of minimising disturbance for its breeding birds. Coquet is actually designated as a ‘Sanctuary Site’ rather than a nature reserve, thanks to a Sanctuary order established in 1978. This means birds come first and any research and monitoring must follow strict guidelines that require a direct conservation benefit to the birds that nest there. This is one of the reasons that Coquet Island now supports some 70,000 nesting seabirds on a tiny landmass in the North Sea of just over eight hectares. 

 

If you would like to support the Coqueteers and the wildlife they protect you can become a Friend of Coquet Island, receiving updates twice a year through out regular giving magazine, Impact. 

 


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