The local papers and TV reports have all reported on the recent suggestion by Newcastle City Council that a consultation process about Quayside Regeneration had "revealed growing concern about the environmental impact of Kittiwake nesting sites" and that "creative thinking was needed to encourage the Kittiwakes to move to a less sensitive site."
Kittiwakes have been breeding in the quayside area since 1965, around the same time as my parents brought me into the world. They have survived the first 'regeneration of the Quayside that saw them evicted from the Baltic Flour Mill and have been coped with, appreciated and seen by residents, businesses and millions of visitors over those years. So why is there now 'growing concern'?
Whilst the implication is that the concern has been expressed by local residents and businesses (and that may be partly true I have not seen the actual study and details of respondents) I suspect that there is more to this than a single study.
As the Kittiwakes have spread from the Tyne Bridge onto surrounding buildings such as the listed Guildhall, Newcastle City Council have recently begun to take actions to prevent this, most notably they lined the window ledges with spikes. The Kittiwakes took this into their stride and managed to build nests atop the spikes with these probably helping to provide greater stability to nests than the previous bare ledge, a rather amusing own goal. Now I can perfectly understand that the council has a responsibility to preserve a listed building and that the accumulated guano if not removed would eventually create issues. Over the last 12 months though this desire appears to have turned into something more sinister in that the council appear to want all the Kittiwakes in the area moved.
My suspicion is that the origins of this plan stem from the current recession. It was notable last year that quayside businesses were experiencing a significant drop in trade. In today's blame culture some of the cause for this was laid at the City Council's door with claims that the pedestrianisation of Dean St was one of the primary causes. Keen to defend against a call (by the various bars and restaurants) for the cobbles to be ripped back up and traffic access reinstated David Slater Newcastle's Executive Director of Environment & Regeneration was quoted last July as saying "Fashions change and the trend for drinking and nights out reflect that... a complex range of factors from seagull mess to how and where bar owners invest"
It is also obvious that at a time when the council is required to make savings and cuts from its budget, the costs involved in cleaning up after the Kiitwakes to appease those that find a bit of guano unpalatable are no doubt an easy cost saving if only the Kittiwakes could be moved.
The other key player in this report is 1NG a private 'development company' established by Newcastle & Gateshead Councils but whose board and senior management team is predominantly property developers and ex-bankers. It's notable that in a 114 page report on the future development of NewcastleGateshead from 1NG, that our 'wildlife' warrants a single less than notable mention as follows: "The river is a valuable asset in it's own right, for leisure and recreation and as wildlife habitat, but there is very little activity on the water." Hardly a ringing endorsement of their concerns about biodiversity and the city's wildlife.
It is apparent that between a city council who wishes to minimise costs and protect buildings and a development company who exist to see the creation of wealth, and the usual mantra of growth and economic development the Kittiwakes are in for a tough time. Whilst the council would not be foolish enough to attempt any move so close to this year's breeding season I have no doubt that if no action is taken their fate may be sealed by this time next year.
Perhaps the best thing that could happen in coming months is for the individuals involved in this to be sent a clear message that the Tyne Bridge Kittiwake Colony is an asset to the city, a unique colony in world terms in that it is the furthest inland of any Kittiwake breeding colony and that a a policy of tolerance and respect for these creatures sharing our streets for a few months of the year is required. Frankly the mess left behind by us on any one weekend night of the year throughout the city centre must exceed any damage the Kittiwakes are doing tenfold.
Jim Mcintyre Chief Executive at 1NG can be contacted at email@example.com
Barry Rowland Newcastle City Councils Chief Executive can be contacted using the form here