The following document has been submitted by Wild Intrigue on 11th January 2023, to members of North Yorkshire County Council and Scarborough Borough Council, in response to the recent work undertaken to displace Kittiwakes on the Spa Bridge, Scarborough.
The displacement of 270 pairs of red listed, critically endangered Black-legged Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) is a misinformed and unacceptable action taken by North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), which undermines the continued overwhelming local support of this urban Kittiwake colony.
The recent (December 2022) installation of bird nest repellents (optical fire gel pads) on the Spa Bridge, Scarborough, has been shared nationally and internationally through media outlets and online platforms – causing an uproar amongst many living in Scarborough and beyond.
To date, there has been very limited public response by NYCC, or by Scarborough Borough Council (SBC), regarding their reasoning for this displacement. So we have undertaken some research to better understand the SBC/ NYCC reasoning for removing a red listed species from an area in which they cause no evident harm.
Following from this research, we are even more appalled by NYCC’s decision to displace this colony for the following key reasons:
- Only one public consultation has been undertaken on urban gulls in Scarborough, in 2015, the questions of which were highly leading, indicating a heavy negative bias for all gulls in Scarborough (Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes) by SBC
- Despite this, the consultation identified that 77.3% of respondents had no problem with Kittiwakes.
- In the following years, an urban gull workstream has continued within SBC, which has faced highly under-resourced staffing. The results of this have been a negligible outreach/ education programme, detailed by external consultants as being vital in preventing misinformation about the birds.
- The only education/ outreach to take place has focussed on Herring Gulls, and has been undertaken in partnership with a pest control firm as opposed to ornithologists/ naturalists.
- There is a lack of true understanding of real Kittiwake ecology within the council, leading to a negligence in educating the local public about this critically endangered, urban wildlife.
- One of NYCC’s key reasons to displace the Spa Bridge colony is ‘public concern’ regarding issues that are largely non-existent, and have not yet been confirmed with evidence from NYCC or SBC. If public concern were in fact a key component of this decision, it highlights SBC and/ or NYCC’s negligence in providing substantial education and outreach in the near 10 year period of the urban gull workstream.
Ultimately, the decision to remove access to urban wildlife, and to displace a successful colony of red listed, critically endangered Kittiwakes, should not be the decision of North Yorkshire County Council alone. Despite the stated approval of Natural England, this Kittiwake colony (and all wildlife) ‘belongs’ to us all, those who live, work and visit Scarborough in particular here.
The NYCC action to remove the Spa Bridge Kittiwake colony, in spite of overwhelming public support for Kittiwakes following the prior consultation, and ongoing current online support, is counter to the purpose of Scarborough Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council representing their constituents. It not only defies democratic decision making, but contributes to the already-uncertain future of our natural heritage, and sets a worrying path forward for how we coexist with wildlife during a climate and biodiversity crisis.
Following our online research and correspondence with council representatives (shared below), we call on NYCC to remove the nest deterrents prior to the 2023 breeding season, and to reinstate this nest site for a valuable urban colony of critically endangered Kittiwakes.
At the end of 2022 (December), Kittiwake nests were removed from the Spa Bridge in Scarborough, and optical fire gel pads installed by an external contractor to prevent Kittiwakes from nesting in the 2023 season (which begins by start-March).
The decision to displace the colony has been that of North Yorkshire County Council (NYCC), as stated by Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) on social media, and confirmed through NYCC press releases. The following statement  was shared by NYCC on 4th January 2023, by Karl Battersby, NYCC Corporate Director for Business and Environmental Services:
“The work on the Spa footbridge in Scarborough came in response to concerns raised locally about the environmental impact of birds nesting and roosting on the bridge and the damage their excrement was causing to the iconic bridge, which is a listed structure.
“Before beginning the work, we commissioned an independent habitat regulations assessment, as we are rightly required to do, and consulted Natural England. The assessment concluded that recent population decline in local colonies and across the UK was likely the result of a decline in foraging resources, primarily sandeels, and not the lack of potential breeding sites.
“The availability of numerous colonies in the wider area suggests that birds displaced from Spa Bridge could find alternative nesting sites nearby.
“Filey Coast Special Protection Area, which is about 5km south-east of Spa Bridge, is designated for supporting breeding kittiwake with a cited population of 44,520 pairs.
“The work was scheduled to avoid a time when birds would be present on the bridge. It involved cleaning off old nest material and excrement, treating with disinfectant and placing small pots of optical gel on the ledges. The same treatment has previously been used elsewhere in Scarborough.
“The optical gel provides a visual deterrent designed to prevent birds from nesting there when they return from sea at the start of the next breeding season. The gel is not harmful to birds. This method was chosen over netting or electrical deterrents, as netting risked entangling birds, as well as being unsightly.
“We will monitor the impact of the work.”
Following on from this statement, hundreds of people have requested more information on the facts around this decision online, all of which continue to be ignored by NYCC and SBC.
Mr Battersby’s statement implies that NYCC are reacting to the wishes of those living and working locally in the Scarborough Borough. However, following our (extensive) online research into meetings dating back from 2014 to the present day, it is clear that NYCC’s decision to displace the Spa Bridge colony of red listed Kittiwakes defies the majority local public opinion to maintain Kittiwakes in Scarborough.
This has primarily been highlighted in a public ‘consultation’ on the ‘nuisance’ of urban gulls by SBC in 2015 (detailed below), whereby 77.3% of respondents expressed their support for Kittiwakes. This (being the only public consultation undertaken), along with an outpour of support to redeem the Spa Bridge nest site on social media this past month, must exhibit that NYCC have undertaken work which does not correspond with their purpose:
They (NYCC Councillors) are active at the heart of their local communities, listening to your concerns and responding to the needs of the public, to deal with the issues that are important to you where you live.
Neither does it conform to one of the key NYCC values of “making sure that we have honest and open discussions with local communities”.
The information shared throughout this document from online sources (SBC meeting, FOIs and email correspondence) details that the intended displacement of Kittiwakes on the Spa Bridge are part of a wider SBC agenda to remove urban Kittiwakes from Scarborough, despite the wide-reaching public support for the Spa Bridge colony.
AN OVERVIEW OF OUR RESEARCH
In 2014, Scarborough Borough Council (SBC) commissioned a report (by ornithologist Mark Pearson) on nesting kittiwakes, whereby recommendations were recognised by SBC as being: better education and public outreach work, and the use of more effective and humane methods to deter nesting where sites are inappropriate.
Following from this, in July 2014, SBC identified that a ‘review’ was required to “address the issues” of “public nuisance” caused by the local gull population. The majority of (SBC) decision making around Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes has been made through this ongoing ‘scrutiny review’ led by SBC’s ‘Gulls Task Group’, and submitted to SBC’s Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee.
The objective of the review was, “To identify some practical, effective, affordable and sustainable measures to reduce the nuisance caused by herring gulls and kittiwakes in the Borough.” 
Questions to be addressed were:
- Can the Borough Council do more to reduce the public nuisance caused by herring gulls and kittiwakes in the Borough? If so, what?
- Can local businesses, food and non-food establishments, residents, tourists, property owners and commercial developers do more to reduce the public nuisance caused by herring gulls and kittiwakes in the Borough? If so, what? 
It is worth noting that throughout this (100 page) review document, the use of language throughout is highly indicative of an overarching objective of SBC being to remove Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes throughout the town, by means within the law .
Following on from the submission of this review document, SBC launched a survey in 2015, “inviting residents and businesses in the Borough of Scarborough to give their opinions on the problems associated with herring gulls and kittiwakes along the Yorkshire coast.”
Already, the language used in this consultation encourages a negative perception of Kittiwakes.
Between 2015 and now (2023) this has been the only public consultation undertaken by SBC and/or NYCC regarding Kittiwakes in Scarborough. The full results of the 2015 survey can be found here, with key findings of the survey (in relation to Kittiwakes) as follows:
- 73.7% of respondents claimed Kittiwakes were not a problem (compared with 66.6% of respondents who claimed Herring Gulls were a problem)
- Based on publicly available location information, over 80% of respondents who live/ work in Scarborough stated that Kittiwakes were not a problem.
- The remainder of the consultation referred to “gulls” thereby combining Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes, and any perceived/ real issues, together.
- Question 6 featured highly leading answers, further highlighting SBC’s bias against ‘gulls’- Kittiwakes included. In response to the questions, “What do you perceive to be the nature of the problem?”, the preselected options were available:
- Noise caused by calling gulls and their heavy footsteps
- Mess caused by their droppings fouling washing, cars, gardens, people and walkways
- Damage to properties caused by gulls picking at roofing materials and by nests which block gutters or hold moisture against the building structure
- Birds dive bombing and swooping on animals and people
- Gas flues can become blocked by nesting materials which can have serious consequences (sometimes these can be fatal) if gas fumes are prevented from escaping correctly
- Mites and other insects can get a hold in houses from the old, abandoned nests once the chicks have fledged
- The risk to Public Health due to the diseases that they carry
- 22.2% of respondents made additional comments to state there was “no problem”, and enquired why the questionnaire was biased against Kittiwakes, by not including the absence of issues as an option.
- The overwhelming majority of responses to Question 6 relate to Herring Gull behaviours (in particular food scavenging, ‘mobbing’, territory defence behaviours)
- In response to Question 8, “Which of the following do you think would assist in reducing the nuisance caused by Kittiwakes?”, quantitative feedback was highly indicative of respondents not having enough information available to decipher between Kittiwake and Herring Gull ecology, with many referring to bin management and scavenging behaviours (neither of which relate to Kittiwake ecology).
- Much of the remaining comments were split between a cull of all gulls, and respondents re-emphasising that Kittiwakes were not a problem in Scarborough.
The results of the survey should have been enough to indicate to SBC and NYCC that urban Kittiwakes were not perceived to be a problem to the majority of the responding local public. Additionally, it is clear that an education/ outreach programme was essential to reduce the misconceptions of Kittiwakes replicating the more detrimental (human-caused) behaviours of Herring Gulls.
Following conclusion of the survey, a final report was submitted by the Gulls Task Group to the Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee for SBC, entitled: Review of Local Gull Populations and Public Nuisance  .
Within Section 4: Findings and Assessment the author highlights that the issue (of urban gulls) “divides public opinion”, however fails to acknowledge that much of the public opinion was that no action should be taken with regards to deterring/ removing Kittiwakes, particularly from respondents in Scarborough.
An action plan is developed following the results of the survey, and submission of the final report in March. All points of the action plan can be found here, These included the suggested establishment of a public education programme to help local people distinguish between Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes.
Another target was to proof all of SBC’s properties against nesting Kittiwakes, and to directly contact all other property managers (in Scarborough) to encourage effective nest-proofing methods, alongside a “coordinated displacement programme of Scarborough’s urban nesting Kittiwakes back to Castle Headland” .
In the review of the Action Plan in 2017, a comment is added under the Action of ‘Education/ awareness in primary schools’:
“Due to limited resources we (SBC) were unable to arrange visits to local schools. However SBC staff and members, in partnership with NBC Environment (a “national pest control company”), held a total of 5 public information days to raise awareness of the project and promote our key message of ‘don’t feed the gulls’ and ‘don’t drop your litter’.”
Following email correspondence between Wild Intrigue with the SBC coordinator of the gull work programme in Scarborough (on 9th January 2023), this additional information was shared:
- A number of display stands were manned in Whitby, Filey and Scarborough, “to speak to passers by about our seagulls project”. During this time a local contractor was employed by the council to carry out targeted Herring Gull egg removal – this (‘pest removal’) contractor also co-hosted display stands with SBC, and “displayed a range of birds of prey”.
- 3 rounds of display stalls were hosted between 2017 and 2019 (May to August) – no others have been hosted.
- 2 local primary schools (one in Whitby, one in Scarborough) were visited in July 2019, co-led with the aforementioned contractor (pest removal) “who did aerial displays of their birds of prey”. No other education has been delivered.
It is apparent that public education to better inform local residents about the migratory Kittiwake has been insufficient, and largely highly irreverent in relation to sharing information on Kittiwake ecology. It is understood that staff resource within SBC has been the primary cause of this with the following SBC staff statement (9th Jan 2023):
“Due to limited time – I am mostly the only person involved in coordinating this project – I have not had more time to develop other potential avenues of education or outreach.”
From the last education phase in 2019, misconceptions about the Kittiwake have continued to circulate not just within some members of the local public, but between council members themselves, with Kittiwakes continuing to be brought into the wider discussion ‘urban gull control’ despite the overwhelming public support for the species (in 2015 and to date).
The SBC “Seagulls advice and information” webpage highlights the council’s objective to remove urban gulls, with any encouragement, advice or guidance on coexisting with Kittiwakes completely absent. SBC has an annual budget of £36,000 to spend on it’s “Seagull public nuisance project”, whereby residents/ businesses can apply for 50% the costs to gull proof their building (up to £2000) . As the lack of staff resource has been stated by SBC (9th Jan 2023) to be the cause of inadequate public outreach and education, it is questionable as to why a proportion of this budget could not have been directed into public outreach to reduce confusion between Herring Gulls and Kittiwakes over the years.
CONCLUSIONS AND ACTIONS
NYCC’s decision to displace the Spa Bridge Kittiwake colony is a complete contradiction to the wishes of the local public, and many others, and has been done so with an internal bias to remove all urban nesting Kittiwakes. It is an insult to the local public that the NYCC reasoning for this decision has been ‘public complaints’, which – were there any shared evidence of any – would primarily be a result of the inadequate education SBC/ NYCC put in place, despite recognising this as an essential aspect of the urban gull work programme.
Staff resources are understandably very limited within councils, however SBC’s urban gull work programme has rolled on for almost 10 years, with discussions circulating within SBC and very little relevant outreach actually being been undertaken.
The perceptions that people have about wildlife are open to being misled, with confusion and negativity around species (gulls, in particular) emphasised in the press, leading to misunderstandings of true species (i.e. Kittiwake) ecology. At Wild Intrigue, we discovered this during our 2022 Tyne Kittiwake Week , which provided opportunities to speak directly with residents and visitors about Kittiwakes. Opinions on certain matters such as faeces on footpaths remained the same, however negative views were considerably lessened when the seasonal ecology and conservation status of the species were shared.
NYCC’s continued resistance to acknowledge actual public feedback (i.e. 77.3% public support for Kittiwakes) emphasises the steady reduction of democracy we face in government-led decisions about our shared natural heritage, with ill-informed decisions being made behind closed doors, to the detriment of our wildlife and local communities.
In the 4th January statement by Mr Karl Battersby, one of the reasons for the removal of the Spa Bridge Kittiwake colony was, “the damage their excrement is causing to the iconic bridge, which is a listed structure”. To date, there is no evidence to indicate that Kittiwake nests, faeces or behaviours have a negative impact on stonework.
Aside from ground maintenance in some (not all) areas underneath nesting Kittiwakes, the Spa Bridge colony is in an ideal location to support the red listed Kittiwake, whilst offering ample opportunities to inspire and educate people about this migratory seabird which lives in Scarborough for only part of the year.
As Images 1 and 2 (from Google Maps) show, the Kittiwakes nest neighbouring the North Sea, with nests positioned in such a way that footpaths which are used by the public are away from the main area of falling detritus/ faeces. Nest sites are above grass or traffic islands, not footpaths or roads.
Image 1. Kittiwakes nesting on stonework of Spa Bridge, Scarborough – eastern aspect, showing close proximity to the sea. Credit: Google Maps.
Image 2. Kittiwakes nesting on stonework of Spa Bridge, Scarborough – eastern aspect, showing locations of nests above grass and road islands. Credit Google Maps.
At the time of the initial SBC review in 2014, Kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) were on the Amber list of Birds of Conservation Concern (BoCC). In December 2015, in the 4th BoCC review, Kittiwakes were added to the red list, and have continued on the growing red list throughout the 5th review of BoCC in 2021 .
The Kittiwake is now classified by the IUCN as a Critically Endangered species  and at risk of global extinction. Since the first baseline surveys in 1986, Kittiwake numbers have declined by at least 50% overall in the UK .
In addition to this, in 2022 we witnessed the terrible spread of Avian Influenza decimate many of our seabird populations – the exact impacts of which are still unclear for migratory species such as the Kittiwake. These true seabirds, which spend winters out on the open ocean, are faithful to their nest sites, and their displacement on the Spa Bridge does not guarantee them a ‘space’ within cliff-nesting colonies, additionally, Kittiwake productivity (chick rearing) reduces whilst colonies resettle.
The current vision enforced by NYCC is one in which residents and visitors lose part of their urban natural heritage, and a critically endangered species faces another challenge during one of the most trying times for seabirds, and all wildlife.
Alternatively, Scarborough Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council have the time (over one month at the time of writing) to organise the removal of optical fire gel pads on the Spa Bridge. Allowing the Kittiwakes to nest on the urban Spa Bridge in 2023 would enable the residents and visitors of Scarborough to welcome this red listed species to their summer home, in a highly suitable location (for people, and Kittiwakes).
Opportunities for public outreach, education and consultation on the Spa Bridge Kittiwake colony are varied and exciting. With another year to better understand the real public perception of this critically endangered gull Scarborough could have new opportunities for sustainable, well-supported nature connections and wildlife-based tourism. If SBC and NYCC are supportive in maintaining this colony, Wild Intrigue would be available and more than willing to provide support in education and outreach, to remedy the lack of SBC staff resource.
- Report to the Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee: Gulls and nuisance (Scarborough Borough Council, 09/03/2015)
- Agenda and minutes: Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee (Scarborough Borough Council, 22/09/2014)
- British Birds: The Status of our Bird Populations the fifth birds of conservation concern in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man and second IUCN Red List assessment of extinction risk for Great Britain (Stanbury, A et al, 2021)
- JNCC Black legged Kittiwake (Rissa tridactyla)
- Appendix A – Review of Action Plan in 2017 – Reducing public nuisance from the local gull populations (Scarborough Borough Council)
- FOI (11/07/22): Seagull Proofing Scheme (Scarborough Borough Council)
- Wild Intrigue Tyne Kittiwake Week blog (2022)
- Statement about the Spa Footbridge in Scarborough, (Karl Battersby, North Yorkshire County Council 04/01/23)