Safeguard our sea life

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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
  • Threat to Tyne Kittiwakes

    Kittiwakes on the Tyne

    The River Tyne is now home to an important breeding population of nearly 1,000 pairs of kittiwake, including a colony of over 700 pairs on the Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside. This is thought to be the furthest inland breeding kittiwake colony in the world and is a unique part of the cityscape enjoyed by many local residents and visitors. Kittiwakes are a truly oceanic seabird usually breeding at remote coastal locations and even those nesting within the city travel out to sea to feed.

    Along the River Tyne, kittiwakes nest on man-made structures, including various buildings and the Tyne Bridge, which can bring them into conflict with business operators. Over the years, kittiwakes have nested on different sites shifting as buildings are demolished or exclusion measures are installed. This continual movement of birds from one building to another – intentional or otherwise – does not solve problems for local people it simply transfers them and is not sustainable for the birds or businesses.

    Planning application threat

    The RSPB is objecting to the Gainford Hotels’ application to prevent kittiwakes nesting on the north abutment of the Tyne Bridge.

    A successful application would lead to the displacement of more than a hundred pairs of kittiwakes next breeding season. These birds would either move to other nearby manmade structures, potentially causing issues for other local businesses, or they might even fail to nest. This is particularly worrying as the kittiwake has recently been recognised as a species of high conservation concern.

    We also have concerns about the proposed use of netting; poor management of this deterrent could cause birds to become trapped, potentially resulting in injury or death.

    Most worrying of all, the application might have wider implications for the whole colony as it could set a harmful precedent, leading to further displacement of kittiwakes nesting elsewhere on the Tyne.

    We are unhappy that Gainford Hotels has shown such little regard for both its neighbours and a bird, which many regard as an integral part of the character of the Newcastle Gateshead Quayside.

    We believe Newcastle and Gateshead Councils need to urgently develop a kittiwake strategy that considers the colony as a whole and seeks to find long-term solutions that meet the needs of both the birds and local people. We would be keen to feed into this process as part of the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership.

    You can object to this application by commenting on it here. Please note, you’ll need to register and submit before 16 December.

  • Fishing and Filming in Filey Bay

    The RSPB has been working with salmon netsmen in Filey Bay, Yorkshire, to tackle seabird bycatch in their fishery. I’m pleased to present a guest blog by Rory Crawford from the BirdLife International Marine Programme, who introduces (and stars in!) a film showcasing this work and the stunning wildlife of our Bempton Cliffs reserve.

    Some of you will be familiar with our work in Filey Bay, Yorkshire, including that we hired our first ever seasonal member of staff to liaise directly with local fishermen on seabird bycatch. The Filey salmon fishery is one of the few gillnet fisheries in the world where technical modifications to the fishing gear have been adopted to try and reduce seabird bycatch. This is of particular interest to me, as we are currently trying to find ways to reduce the deaths accidentally caused by this type of fishing – estimated to stand at 400,000 seabirds annually.

    A quick internet search will uncover that relationships haven’t always been so friendly in Filey – but thanks to open minds from fishermen, the RSPB’s regional staff and the Environment Agency, a good working relationship has been established to try and better understand seabird bycatch and minimise it. This collaborative approach is the beating heart of our Albatross Task Force (ATF), working in South America and southern Africa, and our emerging work in Filey is definitely in this spirit of direct fisheries engagement! Indeed, we are making headway elsewhere, with BirdLife Europe recently launching the Seabird Task Force, which has gillnet-specific element working with fishermen in Lithuania.

    While we’re still some way from finding a definitive answer to the gillnet bycatch problem, the building blocks of collaboration with fishermen are being established. Fishermen have a strong understanding of their gear, how it works, and how it might be tweaked to solve problems – they need to be closely involved in finding mitigation measures to prevent seabird bycatch. Rex Harrison, one of the Filey netsmen, has helped spearhead the interventions that are thought to have played a key role in bringing down the levels of bycatch in Filey Bay in recent years. I joined Rex on a trip to our Bempton Cliffs reserve (just round the corner from Filey) to take in some of this wildlife spectacle on his doorstep and talk a bit about collaboration and saving seabirds.

    Luckily, someone was there to catch it all on camera – so sit back and enjoy this short film, showcasing one of our finest nature reserves and some of the joint efforts being made to protect the seabirds it hosts.


  • Can marine planning deliver protection AND prosperity?

    This is a copy of a blog post I've done for our EU partners in BirdLife Europe, examining how spatial planning at sea can deliver for the environment and economic prosperity, particularly renewables and meeting our climate change targets. Remember to add your voice to over 250,000 others calling for the Nature Directives mentioned below not to be opened up by clicking here.


    1979 was a year to remember. It was when the first ever piece of EU nature legislation was adopted, the Wild Birds Directive. Then came the Habitats Directive in 1992, and together the “Nature Directives” were born, underpinning nature protection in Europe. 1979 was also the same year that the eminent fisheries biologist H.A. Cole asked…

    What is wrong with the conception of sea areas managed with particular objectives as priorities? ... It has long been accepted that the use of land must be planned and its management controlled with human welfare as the dominant interest; why is it so difficult to accept this view when considering the sea?”

    Cole worried that human conflicts in the sea were harming marine resources, especially fisheries. At the time, marine spatial planning (MSP) was developing in conservation areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, and he wondered how it could be expanded to include all activities and areas.

    MSP was then forgotten for a while, but has just come back with a bang and is being seen as the key to unlock economic growth in Europe, so much so that it now has a Directive of its own (the “Maritime Spatial Planning Directive”). Why all the sudden interest? Two words: offshore wind. The development of offshore renewable energy in the last 15 years has been a game changer for MSP in Europe. Several EU countries have used MSP to find areas for wind energy, and more recently wave and tidal energy.

    This is great news, but it also comes at a time when the Nature Directives are under attack and in danger of being opened and weakened, threatening the way in which protected sites are designated and managed in Europe. Some people have claimed that the Nature Directives are hindering economic “Blue Growth”, a favourite Brussels buzzword. But it’s important to remember that the background for both MSP and the Nature Directives are shared, arising from the need to stop further environmental decline, by protecting the best sites and managing the rest carefully, to help allow marine ecosystems to recover.

    This is somewhat of a contradiction to the EU’s vision of using MSP to drive economic growth first and foremost. That is, if properly implemented, both the Nature Directives and MSP can improve environmental quality and investment certainty at the same time. The truth is that the Nature Directives are not a burden to human activity or renewables development. When the UK questioned this in 2012 they discovered “implementation of the Directives is working well, allowing both development of key infrastructure and ensuring that a high level of environmental protection is maintained.” Delays or costs in sustainable development come not from the existence of the Nature Directives, but precisely the opposite! It is because they have not yet been fully implemented in the marine area, even after 36 years in the case of the Birds Directive.

    And you could say the same about MSP. The absence of a clear system for allocating human uses at sea led to a free-for-all attitude which caused the overexploitation of resources that H.A. Cole described. In theory at least, MSP can support the Directives in restoring the environment, by reducing the impacts on wildlife that this human conflict causes. By considering the environment when allocating areas for renewables, developers have more certainty that their projects will succeed, while a clear set of protected areas with proper management measures means that activities know exactly what they can and can’t do in these areas.

    Evidence is a key tool to unlock this potential. For example, work we have done here at the RSPB is showing how seabirds are interacting with wind farm areas during the breeding season (see below for example). We know more about interactions between activities and the environment than ever, and we can use this information to be more careful about where activities should or shouldn’t take place.

    Foraging tracks from the EU-funded FAME project, conducted by the RSPB, show how birds interact with, in these cases, wind farm zones in the UK part of the North Sea. 

    As we move into a new generation, we must channel the original aims of both MSP and the Nature Directives, to safeguard the ecosystem as a basis to encourage sustainable use. Consideration of the ecosystem does not have to limit development, and can in fact proactively encourage it in the right places.

    H.A. Cole’s vision is coming true, and it’s up to us to make sure it delivers for wildlife, both now and into the future.


    The original article can be found at and is part of a special forthcoming marine issue of BirdLife's Europe and Central Asia newsletter.