Scarborough Spa Footbridge Kittiwake exclusion

This story was published 4 January 2023

In December 2022 we carried out works to exclude nesting gulls, including Kittiwake, from the Spa Footbridge in Scarborough.

Spa footbridge in Scarborough

The work involved cleaning off old nest material and excrement, treating the structure with disinfectant and placing small pots of optical gel deterrent on the ledges. More than 600kg of excrement and rotting nest material was removed from the bridge.

The works have attracted attention locally and from the wider birding community. Below are responses to some of the questions we are being asked. You can view the  habitats regulations assessment screening report (pdf / 3 MB) which informed this project. Please be assured that wildlife welfare was given significant consideration before any action was undertaken on the Spa footbridge.

Works on the bridge were undertaken directly in response to local concerns and in order to protect the listed structure. Consideration of removal of the birds was recommended in the bridge’s previous principal inspection as the presence of nesting birds and the build-up of their excrement inhibited proper inspection and maintenance. Their excrement is known to be damaging to stonework and the number of birds nesting on the bridge was found to be increasing year-on-year.

Our bridges team were asked to consider options for excluding the nesting gulls by our executive.

We considered a number of available options such as netting, spikes, electrical shock systems and physically altering the bridge to deny the gulls ledges to nest on. Ultimately the use of optical gel deterrent pots was chosen as it was thought to be a humane option, is visually unobtrusive compared to other options and has been used successfully at nearby sites

The works were scheduled for this time of year when the birds would not be present on the bridge. By undertaking the works whilst the Kittiwake were out at sea, we have avoided any interaction with live birds.

The fact that Kittiwake are red listed meant we would not have disturbed the birds if by doing so we would have had a detrimental effect on the overall population. Before beginning the work, we commissioned an independent habitat assessment, as we are rightly required to do. 

Natural England were consulted on the findings of the report and the conclusion of this assessment was that the action would not be detrimental to the birds’ wider habitat.

We did not ascertain it necessary to provide the birds with alternative man-made nesting sites such as a tower as many have suggested, due to the abundance of nearby natural alternatives.

In addition, such mitigation would require planning permission and funding to be identified. Doing so would likely have resulted in not being able to undertake the exclusion this year. As the number of Kittiwake on the bridge is increasing year on year, delaying action would have led to the removal of a greater number of nests at a future date.

We and our successor organisation will work with local groups to determine whether the exclusion has been effective and where the Kittiwake have been dispersed to. 

it is not our intention to remove the gel in order to allow the birds to return to the bridge.

it would have been an offence under the wildlife and countryside act 1981 to interfere with the gulls, their nests or eggs while they are nesting on the bridge but not if the work was undertaken with the due diligence and scheduling that we undertook.

Discussions are ongoing with regard to potential future actions to protect Kittiwake. Any action must form part of a wider strategy of urban gull management, be effective and good value for money. The forthcoming creation of a unitary authority provides an opportunity for a joined-up approach to managing Kittiwake in Scarborough and other towns along the North Yorkshire coast.

The likely effect of excluding Kittiwake from Spa Footbridge will be their dispersal to nearby available nesting sites of which we are fortunate to have many. Filey coast special protection area, which is about 5km south-east of Spa Bridge, is designated for supporting breeding kittiwake with a cited population of 44,520 pairs.

Corporate director for business and environmental services, Karl Battersby, said:

“The work on the Spa footbridge in Scarborough came in response to concerns raised locally about the environmental impact of birds nesting and roosting on the bridge and the damage their excrement was causing to the iconic bridge, which is a listed structure.

“Before beginning the work, we commissioned an independent habitat regulations assessment, as we are rightly required to do, and consulted Natural England. The assessment concluded that recent population decline in local colonies and across the UK was likely the result of a decline in foraging resources, primarily sandeels, and not the lack of potential breeding sites.

“The availability of numerous colonies in the wider area suggests that birds displaced from Spa Bridge could find alternative nesting sites nearby.

“Filey Coast Special Protection Area, which is about 5km south-east of Spa Bridge, is designated for supporting breeding kittiwake with a cited population of 44,520 pairs. 

“The work was scheduled to avoid a time when birds would be present on the bridge. It involved cleaning off old nest material and excrement, treating with disinfectant and placing small pots of optical gel on the ledges. The same treatment has previously been used elsewhere in Scarborough.

“The optical gel provides a visual deterrent designed to prevent birds from nesting there when they return from sea at the start of the next breeding season. The gel is not harmful to birds. This method was chosen over netting or electrical deterrents, as netting risked entangling birds, as well as being unsightly.

“We will monitor the impact of the work.”