It was by chance how I came to start writing these children books. I was walking down the Newcastle quayside in February 2011 with a friend looking at sites for my 'Hadrian's Wildlife' book which came out a year later. We were amazed to see 2 Kittiwakes already inspecting their nest under the famous bridge. We carried on to look at the information board placed to inform locals and visitors some of which would be walking the now famous 'Hadrian's Wall footpath'. This goes along the quayside right passed the also famous breeding Kittiwakes! Across the river several Herring Gulls were sitting on the glass structure called the 'Sage'. For some silly reason I thought what a great slide for the gulls and Kittiwakes once they arrived on mass. And that was how the story was born!
Even 5 years ago there was talk of trying to remove the birds due to their droppings. One experiment to try and make them breed on a structure designed for them over the river in Gateshead caused death when a top section fell onto nesting birds below! This winter another company are trying to remove the birds without offering even an alternative. Vermont Hotels have applied to the council to remove the birds and this is what I wrote to the council to try and prevent this from happening...
I write children's books about birds, many of which are under threat from human activities like Peregrine Falcons killed on Red Grouse moors, Swifts with nowhere to nest on buildings, Song Thrushes poisoned by slug pellets in the gardens, and now I find that Newcastle City Council have received a planning application from Gainford Hotels, owners of the nearby Vermont Hotel to install bird netting, angled sill plates and an avishock system to the North tower of the Tyne Bridge to remove Newcastle's famous Kittiwake colony. Amazing to see that Gainford Hotels previously made its money in 'health care' which is what the Kittiwakes can do to people without taking any drugs!!
Of course I am talking about 'Kitty the Toon' my first children's book. What is unique about these birds is that they nest 12 miles inland in Newcastle city centre. This is the only location in the world where they do this normally nesting on sea cliffs and in harbours. The plumage of the juvenile are the colours of Newcastle United. A team going through a depressing stage of their long history. What a time to make Kitty the emblem of Newcastle itself. The bird is a traveler (not like United and its stay at home Magpie which is not even black and white, loosing 6 - 1 and 5 -1 already this season!) with birds located in the Baltic, Bay of Biscay, Iceland, Greenland and even new research off Newfoundland in Canada. The city should be proud of the Kittiwake especially its wonderful call and by announcing the bird as its emblem bring hope to the football team and the city itself.
With a few articles in the press and TV coverage an amazing 1000+ letters were sent to Newcastle City Council most of them against the hotels application. A recent poll in the Newcastle Journal paper was around 50% for and against. Not one mention of 'eco-tourism was mentioned and the value of the birds to the city. Recent work on House Martins nesting on buildings have installed platforms under the nest to catch the droppings so that house holders do not get droppings on their windows. The House Martin often nest above windows because the escaping heat from the house helps to dry their mud nests and make it secure! If people want the best of both worlds then an answer can easily be found if they put their heads together!
Poor old Kitty! If only more people were aware of nature and its value to them especially in helping health and local economies. Why couldn't people look out of the window of the hotel to see Kitty nesting right there on the window sill with warm and smiling faces just like the children in the book! Surely this is the way forward. The hotel chain probable don't have Swifts nesting as well in their buildings with a 50% crash in their population in the UK or Peregrines to remove the messy feral pigeons which are there all year round not like the Kittiwakes which are there for around 5 months.
Time to vote with your feet and come and see the famous Kittiwakes in Newcastle and make sure the city council know you are coming!