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Safeguard our sea life

Find out what we're doing around the UK's coasts to help protect our wonderful sea life
  • Tyne kittiwakes: What’s the RSPB doing?

    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.

  • 2000 miles of seabirds – day three at Coquet Island

    RSPB’s senior policy officer Gareth Cunningham is back with another tale of his seabird journey. In this blog post, Gareth braves the elements to see eider ducks.

    After an exciting day in St Bees Head, I was looking forward to my visit to Coquet Island. The third day started with a relatively straightforward trip complicated only by the weather. A strong wind was blowing in from the East which although dry, meant a possible trip around the island on a boat was looking unlikely.

    But the prospect of seeing on of England’s biggest colonies of eiders nestled along the Northumbria coast was not something I planned on missing!

    A short time later, passing by Hexham and Newcastle, I arrived in Amble and met the RSPB Northumberland Coast Site Manager Steve Morrison, and Marine Conservation Officer Helen Quayle. Taking full advantage of Steve’s generous hospitality, we escaped to his loft and filmed some interviews, hoping the wind would drop enough for the boat to be able to get out of the harbour.

    After an amazing lunch in the local fish and chip shop, we donned out waterproofs and life jackets and left the harbour to find some eiders. Sadly, the weather had swept the sea up into some pretty choppy water and the harbour mouth was well and truly alive! But while the turbulent waters prevented us from getting closer to Coquet, they did provide some spectacular views of diving terns feeding in the mixing waters.

    Eiders are the UK's heaviest duck and the males have this handsome black and white plumage

    The harbour itself did not disappoint, and before long I was looking at eiders aplenty. Their almost sarcastic call echoed round the harbour as groups of males chased females. Coquet Island is owned by the Duke of Northumberland, and managed by the RSPB for its important seabird colonies.

    Eider ducks nest on the island and then make their way to the Coquet estuary, where they form crèches supervised by non-breeding females called ‘aunties’. The area is also used by eiders in the winter so a great place for all year round duck viewing. However, the eider are currently lack protection when they leave the island.

    Thankfully the UK Government’s tranche 3 MCZ consultation (for a bit of background, have a look at my earlier blog) has recognised this gap and is proposing a new site that not only includes the eiders of Coquet, but also those of the Farnes. This is great news and if designated the site will provide year-round protection.

    You can watch the short video of my visit below.

    After a cup of tea and a slice of cake (thanks Paul!), I headed South towards Whitby. Traversing the traffic of the Tyne tunnel, I passed through my old haunts of Middlesbrough and Guisborough before heading up into the North Yorkshire Moors towards my accommodation for the evening, another YHA in Boggle Hole.

    Of course, I didn’t head straight there! Taking the opportunity of another fine evening, I traversed the moors in search of birds and was rewarded with some spectacular views of the sun setting across the heathland.

    Keep up to date with the latest news on all things marine (including the tranche 3 MCZs) via twitter and the blog pages. In the meantime our friends at the Wildlife Trusts have launched an online action giving people the chance to have their say and support these new MCZ's. Please help by signing and get these special sites protected.

  • 2000 miles of seabirds – day two at St Bees Head

    RSPB’s senior policy officer Gareth Cunningham is back with another tale of his seabird journey. In this blog post, Gareth visits the beautiful St Bees Head in Cumbria.

    Back in May I travelled across England to visit a few of our best seabird sites. Some of these we asked to be included in the Government’s proposals to protect current Tranche 3 Marine Conservation Zone consultation (for a bit of background, have a look at my earlier blog).

    The planned route across England for the first week

    The good news is two of the sites I visited have been included in the proposals; St Bees Head and Coquet Island. But the work doesn’t stop there as we need to make sure these sites move from just proposals to being fully designated. Only then will the fantastic wildlife that lives and breeds here be fully protected.

    It was serendipitous then that St Bees Head was the first seabird site I reached on my journey. I had, by a stroke of luck, managed to pick one of the hottest and driest weeks of the year so far. The chance of riding for hours in soggy gear was slim so I set off knowing my biggest challenges would be the tedium of motorways and making sure to stay hydrated.

    The roads were quiet, and heading towards St Bees Head, it’s easy to see why the Lake District is such a popular place with walkers and other tourists. Rolling hills, wooded glades and picturesque streams greeted me at every turn. Soon St Bees Head loomed, home to England’s only nesting black guillemots.

    The stunning cliff views from St Bees Head

    Currently the land at St Bees Head is protected for its significant seabird colony - including nearly 10,000 common guillemot and lesser numbers of fulmar, kittiwake and puffin. However, the waters around the colony have no legal protection even though they are essential during the important breeding season.

    This is why the site has been suggested as one of the amended Marine Conservation Zones in the Defra Tranche 3 consultation. We hope that it is given formal protection to ensure that this thriving seabird colony is safe whilst at sea as well as on land.

    You can watch the short video of my visit below.

    Waving goodbye to St Bees Head I hit the road once more, travelling east towards Hexham. Eventually I found my accommodation for the evening; The Sill was an amazing YHA located in Northumberland just a stone’s throw from Hadrian’s Wall. As would become the norm for my trip, the evening consisted of downloading videos, charging batteries and checking the map.

    Keep up to date with the latest news on all things marine (including the tranche 3 MCZs) via twitter and the blog pages. In the meantime our friends at the Wildlife Trusts will soon be launching an action giving people the chance to have their say and support these new MCZ's. Check here for updates.