Let’s talk about the Tyne Kittiwakes

If you live in the North East, doubtless you have noted the recent, and entirely justified, outcry surrounding the unfortunate deaths of a number of Kittiwakes (a globally threatened, predominately oceanic and entirely harmless species) caused by entrapment in bird deterrent netting erected on Newcastle’s Quayside. The issue has been everywhere this week, highlighted by passing birdwatchers on Twitter before spreading to other social media platforms, the pages of petition websites, environmental news outlets and the personal profiles of myriad well-known activists. It is an issue that rears it’s ugly head every year which now, only appears to be getting worse.

A current petition aiming to have the offending netting removed from Quayside buildings can be found here if, like many others, you would like to add your voice. Or find the sight of moribund birds dangling helplessly above your head as you wine and dine in any way distasteful.


Now, while some (myself included) find it both distasteful and unethical to deter nesting kittiwakes, the fact remains that the process is entirely legal. Whether we approve of it or not, businesses have a right to erect legal forms of deterrence in order to prevent birds ‘fouling’ their property. Or, in the case of the Newcastle Guildhall, from ‘damaging’ listed buildings.

What businesses do not have the right to do, however, is to roll out poorly maintained or inappropriate forms of discouragement. Something which, with so many birds finding themselves trapped and tangled, may well be the case in Newcastle today. They are also obliged to take all possible action to ensure the safe release of any birds unfortunate enough to find themselves trapped. Have these considerations been applied in this case, despite the granting of planning permission? I will let you make up your own mind.

Currently, the both the RSPCA and fire brigade are being called out with increasing frequency to free both adult birds and chicks ensnared in netting. They are doing a fine job too; though it would be foolish to think that they can save each and every bird. And in some cases, reports of entangled birds have come too late for rescue. Meaning that healthy birds, vital to the survival of a species teetering on the brink due to myriad, far-reaching factors, are dying in unnatural circumstances. As a direct result of human actions and ignorance, no less. This is unacceptable in the modern age and surely, at the very least, highlights the need for action. Particularly, for sufficient monitoring of deterrents so to ensure their compliance with the law and potentially, the erection of new breeding sites to allow extirpated birds to disperse absent harm. It also highlights a need to take action against businesses not operating to the required high standard.


For those unaware, the River Tyne is home to nearly 1,000 pairs of kittiwake, including a colony of over 700 pairs on the Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside. This is the furthest inland breeding colony of kittiwakes in the world and, in the eyes of many, forms a unique part of Newcastle’s wild heritage.

Globally, kittiwakes are thought to have declined by around 40% since the 1970s and were added to the Birds of Conservation Concern Red List in 2015. Later upgraded by the ICUN from a global species of  ‘Least Concern’ to Vulnerable in 2017. In the UK, kittiwake numbers have crashed, particularly in Orkney and Shetland where breeding birds have declined by 87% since 2000, and on St Kilda in the Western Isles where as much as 96% of the breeding population has now been lost. With such declines, to a lesser but still significant extent, mirrored at colonies elsewhere.

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Cover photograph by Oscar Dewhurst

For more from the author, you can follow his personal blog at commonbynature.co.uk or join him on Twitter at @CommonByNature

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James Common
James is a nature writer, conservationist, blogger and birder; holding an MSc in Wildlife Management and working previously in the fields of ecology and practical conservation. He maintains a popular natural history blog at commonbynature.co.uk, writes regularly for Northumberland Wildlife Trust and, as its managing director, runs New Nature - the youth nature magazine.
James Common

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