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29 October 2014

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Declining Kittiwake population endangered by netting of Tyne Bridge?

Soaring Kittiwake
The black legged Atlantic Kittiwake

The Kittiwake, a small seagull, could be driven off its nesting sites on the Tyne Bridge by Newcastle City Council.

Kittiwake nesting tower
Kittiwakes nesting on purpose built site
The birds are at sea feeding on fish offal discarded by trawlers and when they return in the spring to nest they may find that the City Council has netted off their nesting sites on the Tyne bridge.

They used to nest in the Baltic Flour Mills but have been driven off by the cultural aspirations of Gateshead. Gateshead Council provided a nesting tower but this has been moved down river.

Nesting Kittiwakes
Nesting Kittiwakes
As the residential development of the river banks gathers pace; "move on and take your mess and noise with you", seems to be the message to these unfortunate birds.

There is now an international awareness of the plight of the Kittiwake.

The poor breeding success of the Kittiwake, has been used as a trigger to close part of the North Sea’s sandeel fishery in a move which is long overdue, says the RSPB.

One of the very few urban nesting sites in the world. Newcastle should celebrate its Kittiwake colony

Dr Mark Tasker
Head of Marine Advice
Nature Conservation Committee

A succession of bad breeding years, a shortage in sandeels combined with an increase in their main predator, the great skua, has meant the number of Kittiwakes has almost halved in the last 17 years.

In Northern Scotland the number of breeding pairs has dropped from 54,600 in 1981 to 23,000 in 1998 according to a report by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee in Aberdeen, published in the journal 'Atlantic Seabirds'. If this trend continues the species could disappear within the next 20 years.

Baltic flour mills
Baltic flour mills
The renovation of the Baltic Flour Mill on the Gateshead side of the Tyne took away access to a Kittiwake breeding site on Tyneside.

Now, in response to complaints from local residents about the mess and noise from Kittiwakes, Newcastle City Council is considering netting the Tyne Bridge to prevent nesting.

Kittiwakes first scouted the Bridge as a potential nest site in 1996. In 1997 two nests on the bridge produced two young birds. In 1998 there were 13 successful nests on the Bridge, this figure increasing to 39 in 1999, and to 82 in 2000.

Tyne Bridge
The Tyne Bridge is an important urban nesting site for the Kittiwake

It is clear that the Bridge has become an important breeding site for these birds. Whilst there are of course much larger breeding colonies in the UK, the Tyne Bridge is the furthest inland breeding site for Kittiwakes in the world.

The netting of many other local nest sites by their private owners makes it increasingly important that the Tyne Bridge site remains available to nesting Kittiwakes.

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