The Tyne Kittiwakes are an icon of the Newcastle-Gateshead Quayside. After facing winter out on the open ocean, our Geordie seafarers return each spring to breed and raise families, redefining the riverside architecture of bridges and buildings into inland cliffs, blending the bustling Quayside into an urban seabird Mecca.
This is the most inland breeding colony of Black-legged Kittiwakes in the whole world – we can burst with pride about that, because we welcome the spectacular sights, sounds (and smells!) of this Red Listed, declining species to their summer home along the Tyne each year.
Often dumped into the category of “seagull”, the delicate behaviours and fascinating ecology of our Tyne Kittiwakes are often lost. For example, where Herring Gulls have cleverly adapted to take advantage of ‘human’ food – the Tyne Kittiwakes remain entirely dependent on fishing trips out in the ocean, i.e. no chip nicking!
To celebrate our urban seafarers this year we put together a brand new Tyne Kittiwake Week to share information and intrigue about the species, as well as opportunities to hear from people who’s work involves, or is inspired by, the Tyne Kittiwakes.
A weeklong exhibition, and collection of talks and events, were hosted between 29th June and 5th July 2022 from The BottleWorks in Ouseburn (Byker, Newcastle). All of which were free to access thanks to the gratefully received support of incredible North Shields band Hector Gannet.
Featured in this blog:
- Launch Event
- Photography & art exhibition
- Evening talks
- Drop in with Newcastle City Council
- Events and workshops
- Community feedback about Tyne Kittiwakes
We kicked off the exhibition and week of events with an evening launch event, inviting as many people as possible who have worked to help conserve the Tyne Kittiwakes, and opening up a few tickets for members of the public. We were delighted to have this special launch event (and week) supported by a generous discount on Allendale Brewery’s From the Notebook Kittiwake ale, thanks to Graeme of From the Notebook and Stephen from Northumbrian Gifts.
We also had a stack of books from Northumberland author John Miles of Chickbooks, who very kindly shared free copies of his wonderful Kitty the Toon books with us to share with children and families. By the end of Tyne Kittiwake Week, every single one (hundreds!) had been snapped up – sharing the joy of our Tyne Kittiwakes with countless people.
Huge thanks to everyone who joined to support us for the launch event.
Each day throughout Tyne Kittiwake Week an exhibition of beautiful photography and artwork was available to explore, with contributors including Ben Andrew, Oscar Dewhurst, Alan Hewitt, Sarah Farooqi, and a collection of our own photography and film. We were also treated to a last-minute contribution from spoken word artist Will (@Dub_Birder) on Twitter, who shared his connection with the Kittiwakes, which you can watch here.
The exhibition enabled visitors to see the detailed characteristics of Kittiwakes, enabling them to determine delicate differences between Kittiwakes and other gulls. The collection was curated to demonstrate how the urban collision of natural, cultural and architectural heritage along the Tyne offers opportunities for immersion in an unsual, inspirational wild beauty in the heart of our city.
Throughout the week we hosted a series of evening talks, with the first delivered by local ornithologist and long-standing Tyne Kittiwake Partnership member, Daniel Turner, who has surveyed Kittiwakes along the Tyne for over 30 years – with a life-long passion for Kittiwakes and other local birds to boot. Whenever we hear one of Dan’s talks, there is new information to be enjoyed and absorbed. With near-daily observations of the Tyne Kittiwakes through the breeding season, Dan enthusiastically shares his insights into Kittiwake life, such as breeding success, changes in nest sites and intriguing Kittiwake behaviours. This annual research is vital in helping to monitor and understand local, national and global factors which can influence trends in Kittiwake populations.
The next evening event was delivered by Dr Helen Wilson (Associate Professor, Durham University) and Alan Hewitt (Wildlife Photography & Freelance Writer), who shared fascinating insights into researching and filming for their upcoming Seabirds in the City documentary. This will be an important contribution in helping people understand what the future holds for Kittiwakes along the Tyne and beyond, and will explore the possibilities (and limitations) of urban relationships between Kittiwakes and people.
Our final evening event was a discussion with a man who almost merged into myth…
Kit Jewitt, or @YOLOBirder on Twitter, is another humble, local legend who prefers to keep away from the limelight – but who we managed to lure out into it just a little. Kit is the curator of Red Sixty Seven, a “book which shouldn’t exist”, a heartfelt collection of artwork and words on the 67 Red Listed Birds of Conservation Concern from contributors including Chris Packham, Gill Lewis, Patrick Barkham and many others equally passionate about reversing this rapid decline.
To date, Red Sixty Seven has raised over £40,000 for the British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) – a staggering achievement, made possible by a group of people brought together through the concept of one man. Who said one person can’t make a difference..?
The iconic Tyne Bridge on which many Tyne Kittiwakes nest carries around 60,000 vehicles a day, and is now due for some essential TLC in the form of a maintenance programme, including repainting and refurbishment. We were delighted to welcome Natalie Rutter, Newcastle City Council Ecologist, who hosted a drop in to discuss considerations being made for the bridge nesting Tyne Kittiwakes during the works. We really appreciated Natalie’s time and openness in these discussions, which she encouraged with members of the local community.
Through the weekend we invited families to come and Make a Kittiwake with us (however after seeing our display model, we had quite a few adults come along for the workshop too!) We’re so thankful to Tormod Amundsen from Biotope for sharing his wooden, hanging Kittiwake design with us – everyone, including us, had a brilliant time making them.
As for watching the Kittiwakes themselves, we hosted lunchtime Kittiwake Watches along the Newcastle Quayside for people intrigued by our urban seafarers to spy on them through a scope or binoculars, and to share their thoughts on our urban colony. A couple of our Kittiwakes & Doughnuts and Sunset Kittiwake Safari Mini Exped dates coincided with Tyne Kittiwake Week too, so we enjoyed getting out and about throughout the week to catch up with the Kitti’s ourselves.
Throughout Tyne Kittiwake Week, we spoke directly with over 400 people who came into the exhibition space or joined an event. There is so much pride bubbling in the local community for the Tyne Kittiwakes, but also a few misconceptions that can, over time, contribute to a species decline. Of course, we all have individual interests, so the Tyne Kittiwakes aren’t for everyone! And we are so grateful for those who have concerns about the Kittiwakes (largely their poo!) for sharing these with us.
We heard such an array of opinions, memories and questions about our Tyne Kittiwakes throughout the week, and encouraged people to note these in a book where we posed one question:
“What do the Tyne Kittiwakes mean to you?”
Here are the 47 responses, typed as they were written….
- However much they cover our streets with droppings, humans are doing much worse to nature all over the world… we need to co-exist <3
- Against the odds, always here.
- Noise… smell… home!
- I moved to Newcastle in April 2022, the same time that I learned what a Kittiwake was. My knowledge of the Kittiwake is in tandem with my knowledge of Newcastle and it forever crystalised with that, now, Kittiwakes feel like home.
- They’re so beautiful and resilient. A real icon of the Tyne.
- Family. Care. Music.
- Iconic and beautiful A pleasure to draw!
- Charming little birds.
- The spirit of the wild ocean in the heart of the city!
- The true Urban ‘Sea Gull’ – a magnificent creature!
- Resilient, determined survivors, an integral part of the city’s fabric.
- Wildness in the city.
- It is our responsibility to protect these birds. Help them for our children.
- When I think of the Kittiwakes in Newcastle I feel privileged that they have chosen our town as their home.
- Beautiful birds that really enhance the region. We are so lucky to have them!
- Living on the Quayside the Kittiwakes are our neighbours and we like them. But I do understand why some people are not keen on the poo!
- Would be very sad to be without these beautiful birds on our river. We must make sure we learn to live alongside each other always.
- Stunning images of the bird with the friendly eye!
- Only been living in Newcastle one month but the sound and smell of the Tyne Kittiwakes already feel like home 🙂
- Of all the Gulls, Kittiwakes are a favourite of mine. We need to learn to adapt to each others needs.
- The bird of Newcastle.
- I like seeing our wee Kittiwakes about the Toon, and I hope they have found their long term home here 🙂
- Fascinating observing the wildlife integrating to the urban life! Even better seeing the openness and willingness to understand them and live with them.
- Dodging poo, but wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂
- When I think of the iconic Newcastle bridge, I think of the Kittiwakes, the both are interlinked.
- It is lovely that the Kittiwakes still come back to Newcastle.
- Inspiring to see wildlife in the centre of Newcastle!
- Really good exhibition and lovely people. We need to take more care of our environment and those animals and birds we share it with.
- They are my friends. (child)
- This is a lovely exhibition and a lovely idea, with lots to learn and understand.
- I love photo(s) I’ve seen!
- I like the Kittiwakes because they are cute and are my friends. (child)
- We love that nature continues to thrive in such a built-up environment. Beautiful!
- Lovely when I see these beautiful birds when visiting the Baltic!
- Fabulous asset to Quayside.
- The Kittiwakes are Newcastle. Power to the Kittiwake! The City wouldn’t be the same without them.
- It’s great to see the Kittiwakes fly off the Baltic and then back to their nests.
- The smell, the noise… it’s definitely home when you see the Kittiwakes! A northern joy!
- Lovely exhibition. Makes me proud of our beautiful birds. C’mon – get them as the NUFC Ladies mascot!
- Amazing photos and knowledge… people need to know more.
- Didn’t even know the bird existed (I thought they were seagull) until I came here.
- Amazing, loved all the art work, staff so informative. Thank you.
- Was walking along, saw this and now I have a new favourite bird and a lovely place to visit. (child)
- I love hearing them and feel lucky to be able to see them in town. “Kittiwake” “Kittiwake”.
- Good exhibition, good information.
- The Kittiwakes bring a lot of their own wildness to the Quayside, which can be pretty wild and noisy and smelly anyway, so they fit right in.
- They are a welcome burst of wildness in the urban environment.
We can’t wait to bring back Tyne Kittiwake Week, bigger and bolder, in 2023.
Although Tyne Kittiwake Week was organised and hosted by Wild Intrigue, it takes many voices to truly appreciate and protect our wildlife. Tyne Kittiwake Week was made possible thanks to the support of North Shields band Hector Gannet, and the attendees of our joint Tyne Kittiwake Celebration gig in August 2021. We are incredibly grateful for Hector Gannet’s ongoing support of our work, and of wild things across the North East. We are also incredibly thankful to all contributors throughout the event who shared their photography, artwork, words and work to inspire others. Thank you also to From the Notebook and Northumbrian Gifts for making the week extra tempting with a discount on their Kittiwake ale, and to John Miles for sharing his wonderful children’s books, Kitty the Toon, with hundreds of visitors throughout the week.