The iconic Futurist Theatre on Foreshore Road in Scarborough is being demolished this spring. This has been a controversial decision for many reasons, but planning permission was granted last autumn for the clearance of the site and stabilizing the steep cliff slope behind it, to pave the way for future development on the site.
This post will not explore the issues around the campaign to save the historic building, but it will focus on how nesting birds – in particular Kittiwakes, which have used the building’s ledges to nest upon in recent years, will be protected from harm as the process of taking down the complex of buildings proceeds.
The lead contractors, Willmott-Dixon take pride in doing their job carefully and correctly, staying within all legal obligations. Knowing that the structure has offered nest sites for the seabirds and that the engineers’ schedule for carefully dismantling the building requires that the demolition, commencing soon, will extend into the Kittiwake breeding season they have sought specialist services to make every effort that the gulls will not attempt to begin nest building on the Futurist. It is anticipated that the birds will seek nest sites on other nearby buildings; there are many seafront buildings in Scarborough already colonised by Kittiwakes.
Estimates by the contractor’s ecologist put the number of nests last season at around a dozen, though the total number of old kittiwake nests currently on the building – remaining from past seasons is several times that figure. A confirmed number will be gained as they complete de-nesting prior to netting the building.
Kittiwakes return from the ocean in mid to late Feb and begin gathering in ‘rafts’ on the sea, before the nesting instinct draws them to seek suitable ledges. Pairs which nested on the Futurist before will no doubt come back looking to get access, but if they commence building a new nest – or more typically adding to an existing old one, then their nest becomes protected by law from removal or destruction. Naturally this presents a headache for the contractors as it would mean that demolition of the part of the building with a nest on would have to halt until the nest was vacated at the end of the season.
An array of measures will be deployed by the contractors to dissuade Kittiwakes from landing on and starting to build nests on the old building. This is perfectly legal and humane, but technically challenging, hence multiple approaches will be used, a ‘belt and braces’ plan if you like. Chief among them is the removal of all the old existing (unoccupied) nests and the shrouding of the building in fine mesh netting, fitted by specialist and tensioned in two directions. The aim is to complete this by mid February. Regular routine inspections of the netting follow, both to check its integrity and its safety with respect to the birds. If any bird should become entangled, an emergency response team, paid by the contractor will be on call to attend and release the animal before it suffers injury. This is very important and an obligation not universally followed by premises with exclusion netting installed – see the earlier post sharing an RSPB blog on this very topic.
In addition a number of solar powered sonic deterrents will be deployed. These are devices which mimic the Kittiwakes alarm calls and will hopefully persuade them to relocate to other nearby buildings out of range of the sound. A special ‘olfactory / visual’ bird deterrent gel applied to ledges will also contribute to the proofing measures. The bird gel is said to reflect UV light in such a way that birds won’t approach it. A similar ‘fire gel’ product has been successfully employed for some years on the Rotunda Museum nearby.
Another approach the contractors are employing is that operatives patrolling the building can deter birds which despite all these measures do land on the Futurist with a special optical device, akin to a laser pointer. Apparently gulls legs, being cooler than their general body temperature are very sensitive to warmth. A spot of light played across their legs when perched will cause them to take off again. Finally there will be ‘hawk on a string’ bird-scarers flying near the building, such as may be seen on some farmers fields.
Willmott-Dixon plans to display an information notices on the hoardings around the building site, illustrating how to recognize Kittiwakes and providing an emergency phone number to call in the unlikely event that, despite all these measures a Kittiwake, or any other bird does become entangled in the netting. It is really pleasing to work with a contractor which takes its responsibilities so seriously and has gone out of its way to do everything practically possible.
The proposed Kittiwake protection plan has been shared with representatives from the recently formed Yorkshire Urban Gull Partnership, including RSPCA Inspector Geoff Edmond, SBC Ecologist Tim Burkinshaw and Scarborough Birders’ representative Nick Addey. Scarborough Birders will collaborate in monitoring the colony in the town, as they have done for some years now, and advise on whether the loss of the small number of nesting ledges on the Futurist appears to have any impact going forth on the numbers of active nests elsewhere in Scarborough. In future years, when the site is finally developed, we will re-assess the question of whether to furnish the new structure with suitable ledges for Kittiwakes to return to the site, by way of mitigation for those lost to demolition this season. Given that there are ample unoccupied ledges on nearby buildings at present we are not currently concerned that the Futurist nesting site will be an empty development plot for a period of time. The situation will be monitored however.