Dispossessed and distressed: kittiwakes kicked off a bridge in Scarborough

UPDATE: The latest news is that the kittiwakes are fighting back and building nests, despite the so-called “gull-proofing” efforts of the local council! See report by Scarborough Birders here, and below.

A count on 9th May revealed a total of 101 part constructed nests, over 200 birds around the bridge. The latest from the bridge is that 97 birds are seemingly incubating eggs, and still lots of construction of nests taking place.” (Scarborough Birders 23 May 2023) Link here.

This is my original blog:

Today (17 April 2023) I went along to see how the kittiwakes were coping with having all of their nests removed from the Valley bridge in Scarborough. For those who may not be familiar with them, black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) are a Red listed species facing a high risk of global extinction. Scarborough is one of the few locations where numbers are increasing.

Juvenile kittiwake stretching its wing on a nest with an adult.

However, North Yorkshire County Council took the decision to remove Kittiwake nests from the Victorian bridge (sometimes called the Spa bridge) because they said, bird excrement was damaging the listed footbridge (see links below). Clearly, building conservation takes precedent over wildlife conservation in their minds. This action will affect hundreds of the endangered sea birds which have built their nests on the bridge and raised chicks, year after year.

Valley bridge (or Spa bridge) above Valley road in Scarborough, North Yorkshire, UK

Bird deterrent gel has also been added to the ledges (see below) because, it seems, over concerns that the bird’s excrement was damaging the Grade II-listed Spa Bridge. North Yorkshire County Council said that it had consulted Natural England, which found it would not harm the birds’ wider habitat, whatever that means! It will certainly disrupt (i.e. obliterate) their local nesting sites.

BEFORE REMOVAL OF NESTS: Black-legged kittiwakes (Rissa tridactyla) on Valley Bridge 17 May 2020. Scarborough

Apparently, it was mooted that birds displaced from the bridge could find alternative nesting sites nearby, or 5km away in Filey Coast Special Protection Area (see York Press article). That’s a long way for them all to fly off to, and I would suggest, things don’t work like that. The birds may find alternative nest sites in the long run, but the act of removing an established nest, built up over many years, is a highly disruptive event for the birds, and they will not, I think, give up easily on this established nesting site. Anyway, so I went along to see what was happening. What were the birds doing? Some were sitting on the gel-covered ledges; others were flying around; and another large group were resting on a nearby roof.

AFTER REMOVAL OF NESTS: Valley bridge on 17 April 2023

Although kittiwakes are now a protected species, there was a time when they were killed in large numbers (in the 19th century), and as a result they only nested on high sea cliffs, over 80m tall (Coulson, 2011). As human exploitation declined in the 20th century, they started to nest on lower cliffs and moved nearer to human habitation, eventually occupying Man-made strucures. For example, nesting on riverside buildings near the mouth of the river Tyne at North Shields.

AFTER REMOVAL OF NESTS: Valley bridge on 17 April 2023

Kittiwakes make no distinction between natural and artificial, or Man-made cliffs (Coulson, 2011). Any vertical surface with a narrow ledge, high up and safe from ground-based predators, will do.

In the 20th century, once they felt safe around humans again, they started making use of some of the suitable ledges we had created all around the towns near to where they nested on cliffs. However, I think I am right in saying, that they did not start doing this until 1994 in Scarborough. Since then, their numbers have steadily increased, and thanks to the efforts of the Scarborough Birders (who count them every year) we know that there are about 1,000 nests in the town. The birds nest in the town, despite the determined efforts of some householders and landlords to deter them, such as on this hotel (see below).

Kittiwakes on the Travelodge hotel, Scarborough
Kittiwakes on the Travelodge hotel, Scarborough

With time, kittiwakes build up their hests so that they are above the protruding spikes placed (in an attempt) to deter them.

Kittiwakes on the nearby Grand hotel, Scarborough (despite the spikes!)

It is understandable that not everyone wants to live with nesting kittiwakes on their windowsills, even if they are kittiwake lovers like myself! However, the Valley bridge seems to me to be a rather good site for them, as there are only cars passing below.

Another building which is amazingly well suited to them, is the Grand hotel (below). There are wonderful ledges and well-protected nesting sites all over this magnificent pile, although efforts have been made to deter them. I always think of it as the most desirable residence for kittiwakes in the town, and there must be stiff competition for these prime nesting sites. I expect that the resident birds (nest owners) have to get back early each spring to reclaim their sites!

Kittiwakes on the nearby Grand hotel, Scarborough
Kittiwakes on the nearby Grand hotel, Scarborough

Talking about reclaiming nest sites, this is exactly what the 270, or so, pairs of birds, which previously nested on the bridge are unable to do. The nests have been prised off and a form of optical gel has, I understand, been applied to the ledges, to deter them from nesting again. Perhaps it is too early to tell whether or not this will work, as the Council hopes, but there were some pairs – nothing like the numbers that there were before – sitting on the ledges (see below).

Valley Bridge Scarborough 17th April 2023

However, a large number of birds have clearly been displaced, and many were sitting together on the roof of a nearby building (see below).

Displaced kittiwakes Valley Road Scarborough 17th April 2023

Many more were also flying around the bridge, clearly trying to work out what to do, having presumably nested there for many years.

Valley Bridge Scarborough 17th April 2023

Whether these homeless birds now move off to nearby cliffs, or to other ledges in the town, remains to be seen. In my opinion, many will probably colonise sites in the town which are perhaps, less suitable than the bridge.

Displaced kittiwakes Valley Road Scarborough 17th April 2023

It’s hard not to feel very sorry for these displaced birds. Those in other sites – on the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle – have been given alternative accomodation! However, kittiwakes are incredible resilient and adaptable, so I hope, and pray, that they will rise to the challenge, and find other sites to nest on. Or better still, recolonise the bridge!


BBC News – Scarborough kittiwakes: Nests removed from Spa Bridge




Tyne Kittiwakes


Coulson, J. (2011). The kittiwake. A&C Black.

Previous blogs on kittiwakes







One comment

  1. As you mention, there are also kittiwakes nesting here on the Tyne in Newcastle and Gateshead. Not everyone loves them but I and many others are immensely proud of ‘our’ kittiwake colony so far up the river. The Tyne Bridge is one of many buildings and structures used by the birds (including a couple of purpose built towers on the Gateshead bank) but the possibility of preventing them from nesting on the bridge was raised a few years ago in a report looking at economic regeneration options for the area. Fortunately this has not been implemented but it is ironic that the authors of the report focused on mess and smells caused by the birds as a deterrent to visitors and revellers who themselves leave a charming trail of vomit and half eaten take-away meals after a Saturday night’s carousing.
    Some buildings have netting to prevent the birds accessing ledges and each year there are birds that get trapped in this netting where, if they cannot be rescued, they die lingering deaths.
    I am sorry to hear what is happening in Scarborough. I stayed there a few years ago and was rather pleased to be woken in the morning by kittiwake calls from my window ledge. Hopefully the eviction will be limited to the bridge. Kittiwakes are, of course, protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act .

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