Vulnerable UK tunas fall to bird hotels

Built from galvanized steel and plywood, the latest hotel to open in Lowestoft, Suffolk, boasts a sea view and promises plenty of privacy. Guests traveling to the main seaside spot should be fine: black-footed cattle looking for a nesting spot.

The kittiwake hotel opened in March, offering artificial nesting sites for the seabirds. Like albatross, sparrows spend most of their lives at sea, but traditionally they nest on slivers of cliff between March and July.

Experts say artificial nesting sites could support wildcats as they face increasingly unpredictable weather due to climate change, limited prey due to overfishing of sand eels in some areas, and the construction of more wind farms. offshore.

A kitten and her chicken in a nest on the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne. Blackfin tuna are classified as vulnerable on the IUCN red list. Photo: Ann and Steve Toon/Alamy

The three structures at the port of Lowestoft site could house up to 430 breeding pairs of black-legged gannets, which are classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN red list of threatened species. Worldwide, wild boar numbers have fallen by 40% since the 1970s, with around 380,000 pairs in the UK, according to the Wildlife Trusts.

Energy companies Vattenfall and ScottishPower commissioned the Lowestoft project to mitigate the impact of planned offshore wind farms. The design was led by consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV in collaboration with Natural England, RSPB, East Suffolk council and the Marine Management Organisation.

Dave Tarrant, marine environmental consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, says the hotels were designed to “hide nicely” behind an existing four-metre-high wall to “allow the harbor staff to do their business without the risk of interfering with each other” .

Aspect, sunlight, wind direction and the size of the ledge were taken into account to make the hotels as attractive as possible, with a fence at the base and a suspended roof to protect the sparrows from predators such as foxes, rats, voles and seagulls

Each nest can be accessed from inside the structure via a hatch for biweekly surveys and ringing.

The Lowestoft hotel is not the first in the UK – the first high-rise tower was built in 1998 at Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, to offset any bird displacement during the re-construction of the Waltham Center for Contemporary Art. A few years later, the tower was relocated to a council site called Saltmeadows along the River Tyne.

A second tower, billed as a “kitty zoo”, has just been installed in Gateshead by German energy company RWE. The designer, Nathalie Stevenson, spent three years studying 91 urban and coastal colonies, including ones on Middleton Island in Alaska, and in France and Norway, to develop a prototype.

Stevenson, director of renewable environmental consultancy Shoney Wind, says coastal vanes usually arrive en masse in March, but a heavy, lone bird sometimes arrives in February in urban settings, possibly to nest. it is better to get, before others arrive.

The early birds are in the sweet spot – they are in the penthouse suite

Nathalie Stevenson, designer of the thrust towers

“The ones that come first in the spot are sweet; if you study their breeding success, they are in the penthouse suite compared to the ones that come later and they don’t do as well in the decent hotel,” says Stevenson.

The choice of nest sites on coastal cliffs is relatively limited in terms of features and exposure, but urban environments offer a greater variety of nest sites, with more stable temperatures.

“Since the population in urban areas is growing quite rapidly, this is likely [trend for more kittiwake hotels] will continue. One of the few options we have is to provide alternative accommodation,” says Stevenson, who is developing more hotels with marine ecologists in Norway.

As well as providing a safe haven for the sparrows, the developers of the hotel in Lowestoft also hope it will keep some of the birds out of Lowestoft town, where they are not universally loved by the residents. Vattenfall is funding a five-year annual grant of £50,000 so that the Lowestoft Kittiwake Partnership can provide advice and support to local businesses on dealing with the birds and money for clean-up operations.

Dr Helen F Wilson studies how leeches are moving into urban areas in Lowestoft, Scarborough and along the River Tyne. In Newcastle, the world’s most inland population of breeding sparrows is “bucking the trend” and thriving, says Wilson, associate professor of human geography at Durham University and chair of the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership.

But when people see lots of loud and messy seabirds, it’s hard to explain that they’re vulnerable, she says. “When we think of climate change and displacement, we think of absence and disappearance, but in this context it’s not,” says Wilson.

Related: ‘I feel I’ve made my mark’: the man who built homes for 60,000 barns

The design of the towers is gradually changing as the success or failure of different constructions comes to light. With space for 200 breeding pairs, the Stevenson tower, at 12.5 meters high, has an internal staircase so that ornithologists can easily ring birds.

“If we could tag these birds, we’d get more information,” says Stevenson, who designed his tower to be modular, replaceable and recyclable. Another joint can be placed on top, and nest box configurations can be changed with a simple Allen key to optimize the design.

“If the skunk population continues to buck the trend in urban environments,” she says, “we’re going to need more cave hotels or artificial nesting structures, almost like a skunk sanctuary.”

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