Newcastle United sponsor Sela's Baltic light show leaves campaigners 'in shock' over kittiwake fears

Around 200 pairs of kittiwakes have been known to nest on the Baltic art gallery
-Credit: (Image: ChronicleLive - Craig Connor)

A huge Quayside light show organised by Newcastle United sponsors Sela could cause major stress for Tyneside’s protected kittiwake colony, campaigners fear.

Magpies fans have been urged to flock to the riverside on Saturday night for a “spectacular” display that is set to be projected onto the side of the Baltic art gallery, which the Saudi events company has been teasing this week and says will “celebrate the club, the fans and the city”. But the plans have left a conservation group “in shock”, amid fears that the projections could distress the hundreds of kittiwakes that are nesting on the Baltic and elsewhere around the Quayside.

Paul Buskin, of volunteer group Kittiwakes upon the Tyne, has called for the show to be called off and told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) that it comes at the “worst possible time” as the seabirds are incubating eggs and chicks are beginning to hatch. GMC Events, which has been contracted by Sela to organise the show, said it had worked to lessen the impact on the kittiwakes and would not be using lasers in the display, while Newcastle and Gateshead councils said they had been “assured that measures are being implemented that will minimise disruption and avoid any significant impacts on the birds”.

The Baltic can have around 200 pairs of kittiwakes nesting on it, while more than 2,000 pairs can be found at locations along the Tyne – making it the largest inland colony of kittiwakes in the world. Airing concerns about the Sela projections, Mr Buskin said it was “shocking to me is that it is happening at the Baltic, which is at the heart of the kittiwake colony”.

He told the LDRS: “We aren’t just talking about the kittiwakes on the Baltic, but all of them around the Tyne – on the Tyne Bridge, the Guildhall clock tower, the High Level Bridge. They will all be impacted by the light pollution. The colonies are so close together that if one gets stressed then they all get stressed.

“We are in a time where the kittiwake season is running later than usual and they are just starting to lay eggs. Some chicks will have hatched already. Wildlife is very susceptible to stress and an event like this will stress them out.”

He added: “The main concern is the stress during the time that most of them will be sitting on eggs and some will be starting to lay eggs. It is the worst possible time. It is insensitive because these birds are red-listed. The coastal colonies of sea birds have dropped massively and that has been accelerated with avian flu. We should be helping our colonies on the Tyne instead of allowing things like this to happen.”

Nesting kittiwakes at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.
Nesting kittiwakes at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. -Credit:Craig Connor/ChronicleLive

Helen Wilson, who chairs the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership, said that any event with the potential to cause harm to the colony "is concerning and should be taken seriously by all those involved". She added: "Since becoming aware of the event, we have been in touch with the councils to raise our concerns and remain in conversation.”

The light show was teased earlier this week with a projection on the Baltic referencing the Wor Flags ‘BMX for sale’ banner displayed at St James’ Park before matches. That advert contained a phone number which gave callers a message inviting Newcastle fans to assemble opposite the Baltic from 10pm on Saturday night for the full display.

A spokesperson for GMC Events, organising Saturday evening’s event on behalf of Sela, said: "The Baltic is a popular landmark for events, displays and illuminations and we look forward to delivering a spectacular free event on Saturday evening, on behalf of Newcastle United’s lead sponsor, Sela. We’d like to reassure everyone that based on testing, our show’s light levels will be less than half that of an average UK sunset and five times less than average daylight levels.

"We’ve worked closely with Newcastle City Council & Gateshead Council and all required permissions are in place. The show consists of projectors and lights only and there are no lasers or other similar sfx in the show. To ensure natural surroundings are respected and preserved, we have worked with an expert ecological consultant to minimise any potential impact on local wildlife. This includes a kittiwake mitigation policy, with constant monitoring through cameras."

A spokesperson for Newcastle and Gateshead councils said the authorities were aware of the concerns for the kittiwakes. They added: “We are in discussions with the organisers and have been assured that measures are being implemented that will minimise disruption and avoid any significant impacts on the birds. This includes the preparation of a risk assessment and method statement, and the monitoring of the kittiwakes nesting on the Baltic for the duration of the event by a qualified ecologist.”