Unlike other gull species, the hardcore kittiwakes do not scavenge, and spend the entire winter at sea, hunting increasingly rare sandeels in the maelstrom of the wild North Atlantic Ocean, where overfishing is impacting birds’ vital food supplies.
After a brutal winter, some have now returned to land in the spring, only to find netting strung up to block access to vital nesting sites.
Footage of birds trying, and failing, to reach ledges to nest, has drawn a critical response on social media, with the RSPB describing the situation as “heartbreaking”.
The organisation is calling on businesses and tenants in Lowestoft in Suffolk to remove the netting and to allow the rare birds to nest on the coastal buildings.
Among the buildings clad in netting are the premises of a Papa John’s pizza outlet, and a BT building.
Kittiwakes have a red conservation status, meaning they are “globally threatened”, and numbers are collapsing due to soaring human pressure on the natural world.
The UK is home to some of the most significant nesting sites for the species, and in global terms kittiwakes are amongst the UK’s most important birdlife.
The RSPB’s Martin Fowlie told The Independent: “Lowestoft is home to one of only two kittiwake colonies in Suffolk.
“Kittiwake numbers have decreased by 40 per cent globally since the 1970s, and Lowestoft provides a vital home for these globally vulnerable birds on both a local and national scale.
“It is heartbreaking to see so many buildings in Lowestoft covered in netting to prevent these wonderful rare birds from nesting and raising their young.
“We cannot keep trying to squeeze nature into smaller and smaller spaces or demanding it fits in with our plans when we are in a nature and climate emergency.”
He added: “This is why the RSPB is calling on building owners and tenants of Lowestoft, including BT and Papa Johns to remove the nets on their property and give the kittiwakes the space to raise their young.”
Springwatch presenter and naturalist Chris Packham said: “What on earth are you playing at @PapaJohnsUK @BT_UK?
“We’ve had this conversation before! Kittiwakes are a red listed species, you should be delighted to have them nesting on your building!”
The RSPB also said they can offer advice on how the nets can be removed safely.
But BT told The Independent they needed to prevent birds from nesting on the building, but were now “exploring other options” after speaking to the RSPB.
A BT spokesperson said: “We have a legal responsibility to ensure the 999 network stays operational at all times, as well as other critical networks. Sadly, if we don’t prevent birds from nesting on the building we would be unable to gain access to the roof space for maintenance - not only of the building fabric but also satellites and antennas that provide those vital network services.
“However, we have had positive discussions with the RSPB and are exploring other options at our site to support the kittiwakes.”
However, a Papa John’s spokesperson indicated the company was keen to have the nets taken down.
In an email to The Independent they said: “The netting that surrounds our Lowestoft store was installed following clear guidance from the council to ensure that no birds are harmed, and that we’re adhering to food hygiene standards to ensure the health and safety of our customers and staff members. We are looking into an alternative solution as a priority and are keen to work alongside the RSPB to reach a solution.”