Police probe Tyne Bridge kittiwake killings

Police investigate claims that kittiwake chicks died after being pushed off Tyne Bridge ledge

Ian Cook Kittiwake and chick on the Tyne Bridge ledge, pictured by Ian Cook
Kittiwake and chick on the Tyne Bridge ledge, pictured by Ian Cook

Police are investigating claims that chicks from the Newcastle-Gateshead kittiwake colony have been killed after being pushed off nesting ledges.

They have received reports that on at least two occasions a long stick was used to push young birds to their deaths off the ledge running just below the road deck of the Tyne Bridge.

It is believed the birds were dislodged from the ledges on both sides of the bridge.

James Littlewood, director of the Natural History Society of Northumbria, was on the Newcastle Quayside to run a public kittiwake watching session when he found a pile of dead chicks at the base of the bridge tower.

The birds nest around the Tyne Bridge and on the Baltic arts centre on the Gateshead side of the river in what is the most inland kittiwake colony in the world.

The society and the RSPB hold regular Sunday kittiwake watch sessions from a stall with telescopes on the Newcastle Quayside.

Mr Littlewood said: “Apparently someone with a long stick has been flicking the chicks off their nests to be killed by the fall to the Quayside.

“It is appalling. It is also a criminal act as under the Wildlife and Coutryside Act it is an offence for anyone to intentionally disturb or destroy the eggs or chicks of wild birds.”

The birds nesting on the bridge ledges are often the subject of photographs, some of which have won awards.

“It is an important kittiwake colony and these are iconic birds for the Newcastle and Gateshead quaysides. A lot of people take pictures of the birds,” said Mr Littlewood.

“They are treasured by many local people and are a tourist attraction.

“Sometimes some people confuse the birds with other gulls which eat discarded food, but kittiwakes don’t touch human food and fly to the sea and cover up to 100 miles to gather food for their young.

“There are very few cities which have a seabird colony at their heart and at the same time as the Government is encouraging an increase in biodiversity, the Tyneside colony was showing how people and wildlife can live side by side.”

Colony of Kittiwakes with chicks nesting on the Baltic
Colony of Kittiwakes with chicks nesting on the Baltic

Meanwhile, bird feeders at a Newcastle nature reserve have been emptied and used to fashion pipes for drug-taking.

Staff at Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s St Nicholas Park reserve in Gosforth, where the organisation has its base, found half a dozen feeders which had been used for inhaling drugs.

A waterproof bag, believed to contain drugs, was also fished out of the reserve pond.

The incident is the latest in a long line of acts of vandalism at the reserve.

Staff have found burnt mattresses and empty bottles of cider on the site, and their activity centre has been daubed with graffiti.

There have been attempts to scorch the building and to start fires on the boardwalk.

Planks on the boardwalk have also been pulled up and used to start fires underneath the building.

A new bench which has only been in place for three weeks has been damaged for the second time.

First it was daubed with graffiti and now an attempt has been made to burn it.

“It is absolutely ridiculous that these people are using bird feeders on our site for their own drug use,” said Ian Bush, Northumberland Wildlife Trust health and safety officer.

“The feeders are there to provide food for the variety of birds visiting our nature reserve, and apart from it being illegal and disgusting to damage our property, there are a number of avian-related diseases that humans can contract through people smoking drugs with the feeders.

“We hope these people will think twice before attempting something so reckless and damaging again.”

Trust chief executive Mike Pratt said: “The recent incidents of vandalism and illegal drug taking and other anti-social behaviour at our site is disturbing to the trust, where we try to portray enjoyment of nature and wildlife in a positive way to young people and children.”

Tracy Evans, the trust’s people and wildlife officer, said: “Hail, rain or snow, our Wednesday Gardening Group turns up to maintain our St Nicholas Park, so you can imagine how angry they are becoming with these vandals effectively sticking two fingers up at their efforts.

“But they are a resilient team so it will take more than a bit of vandalism to beat them.”

A police spokeswoman said: “Police received a report of a person having been seen disturbing kittiwake nests containing chicks under the Tyne Bridge. Police also received a report of damage to St Nicholas Park Reserve in Gosforth.

“Officers attended the scene where burnt mattresses were found at what may have been used as a den on the site.

“Extra patrols were carried out in the area as well as a letter drop urging residents refrain from discarding litter in the reserve.”

Anyone who witnesses any incidents should contact police on 101, extension 69191.


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