Built from galvanized steel and plywood, the latest hotel to open in Lowestoft, Suffolk boasts sea views and promises plenty of privacy. Which should satisfy the guests who flock to the sea’s prime spot: black-legged lockflies looking for a place to nest.
The kittiwake hotel opened in march and offers artificial nesting sites for seabirds. Like albatrosses, kittiwakes spend most of their lives at sea, but traditionally nest on cliff ledges between March and July.
Experts say the artificial nesting sites could support kittiwakes as they face increasingly unpredictable weather conditions due to climate change, limited prey items due to sandeel overfishing in some areas and the construction of more offshore wind farms.
The three facilities at the Lowestoft harbor site could house up to 430 breeding pairs of kittiwakes, classified as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species. Globally, three-toed numbers have fallen by 40% since the 1970s, and there are around 380,000 pairs in the UK, according to the Wildlife Trusts.
The Lowestoft project was commissioned by energy companies Vattenfall and ScottishPower to mitigate the impact of planned offshore wind farms. The project was led by consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV in partnership with Natural England, RSPB, East Suffolk Council and the Marine Management Organisation.
Dave Tarrant, marine environment consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV, says the hotels have been designed to “hide well” behind an existing four-metre high wall to “allow seagulls and dock staff to go about their business without the risk to disturb each other”. .
Exposure, sunlight, wind direction and ledge size have been taken into consideration to make the hotels as inviting as possible, with base fences and an overhanging roof to protect the kittiwakes from predators such as foxes, rats, peregrines and seagulls.
Each nest is accessible from inside the structure via a hatch to allow fortnightly surveys and ringing.
The Lowestoft hotel is not the first in the UK: the first high-rise tower was built in 1998 in Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, to compensate for any movement of birds during the reconstruction of the Baltic Center for Contemporary Art. A few years later, the tower was relocated to a council owned site called Saltmeadows along the River Tyne.
A second tower, billed as ‘kittiwakery’, has just been installed in Gateshead by German energy company RWE. The designer, Nathalie Stevenson, spent three years studying 91 urban and coastal settlements, including those on Alaska’s Middleton Island, as well as France and Norway, to develop a prototype.
Stevenson, director of environmental renewables consultancy Shoney Wind, says coastal kittiwakes tend to arrive en masse in March, while in urban locations a lone bold bird sometimes arrives in February, perhaps to secure the best nesting site. before others arrive.
The birds that arrive first are in the right spot: they’re in the penthouse suite
Nathalie Stevenson, designer of the kitten tower
“Those who arrive first are in the right spot; if you study their breeding success, they’re in the penthouse suite compared to the later arrivals and not doing as well in the budget hotel,” says Stevenson.
The choice of nesting sites on coastal cliffs is relatively limited in terms of aspect and exposure, while urban environments offer a greater variety of nesting sites, with more stable temperatures.
“Given that numbers in urban areas are growing quite rapidly, this is likely to be the case [trend for more kittiwake hotels] Will continue. One of the very few options we have is to provide alternative accommodation,” says Stevenson, who is developing multiple hotels with marine ecologists in Norway.
As well as providing a safe haven for kittiwakes, the builders of the hotel in Lowestoft also hope it will keep some of the birds out of the town of Lowestoft, where they are not universally loved by residents. Vattenfall is funding an annual five-year grant of £50,000 so that Lowestoft Kittiwake Partnership can provide advice and support to local businesses on how to deal with birds and money for cleanups.
Dr Helen F Wilson studies how tridactyids are moving into urban areas in Lowestoft, Scarborough and along the River Tyne. In Newcastle, the world’s innermost population of kittiwakes is “bucking the trend” and thriving, says Wilson, an associate professor of human geography at Durham University and chair of the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership.
But when people see lots of noisy, messy seabirds, it can be hard to explain that they’re vulnerable, she says. “When we think about climate change and extinction, we think about absence and disappearance, but that’s not what it is in this context,” Wilson says.
Related: ‘I feel I’ve left a mark’: the man who built homes for 60,000 swifts
Tower design is gradually evolving as the success or failure of various constructions becomes clear. With room for 200 breeding pairs, the 12.5m high Stevenson’s Tower has an internal staircase so birds can be easily ringed by ornithologists.
“If we could tag these birds, we’d get more information,” says Stevenson, who designed his tower to be modular, repositionable and recyclable. Another section can be added on top and nest box configurations can be changed with a simple allen key to optimize the design.
“If gulls continue to buck the trend in urban settings,” she says, “we’re going to need more kitty hotels or man-made nesting structures, almost like a kitty shelter.”
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