Kittiwake Hotel: A Safe Haven for Seabirds


The new hotel in Lowestoft, Suffolk, made from galvanised steel and plywood, provides a sea view and ample privacy. However, its main guests are not human but black-legged kittiwakes, a species of seabirds. The kittiwake hotel opened in March and offers artificial nesting sites for the seabirds. Traditionally, kittiwakes nest on cliff ledges between March and July, but artificial nesting sites could support them as they face increasingly unpredictable weather due to climate change and limited prey from overfishing of sand eels in some areas.

The kittiwake is classified as “vulnerable” on the IUCN’s red list of threatened species, with numbers declining by 40% globally since the 1970s. There are about 380,000 pairs in the UK, according to the Wildlife Trusts. The project in Lowestoft was commissioned by energy companies Vattenfall and ScottishPower to mitigate the impact of planned offshore windfarms. The design was led by the consultancy Royal HaskoningDHV in collaboration with Natural England, RSPB, East Suffolk council and the Marine Management Organisation.

The three structures at the port of Lowestoft site could house up to 430 breeding pairs of kittiwakes, providing them with safe and inviting accommodations. Aspect, sunlight, wind direction, and ledge size have all been taken into account to make the hotels as comfortable as possible. The hotels were designed to “hide nicely” behind an existing four-metre-high wall to “allow kittiwakes and port staff to carry on about their business without the risk of disturbing each other,” according to Dave Tarrant, a marine environmental consultant at Royal HaskoningDHV.

The new hotel in Lowestoft, Suffolk, made from galvanised steel and plywood, provides a sea view and ample privacy.

The hotel has fencing at the base and an overhanging roof to protect the kittiwakes from predators such as foxes, rats, peregrines, and gulls. Each nest can be accessed from within the structure via a hatch to allow for fortnightly surveys and ringing. The hotel is not the first of its kind in the UK; the first high-rise kittiwake tower was built in 1998 at Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, to offset any displacement of birds during the reconstruction of the Baltic Centre 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 a “kittiwakery,” has just been installed in Gateshead by the German energy company RWE. The designer, Nathalie Stevenson, spent three years studying 91 urban and coastal colonies, including ones on Middleton Island in Alaska, as well as in France and Norway, to develop a prototype. The tower design is gradually evolving as the success or failure of various constructions becomes clear.

Dr Helen F Wilson studies how kittiwakes are moving into urban areas in Lowestoft, Scarborough and along the River Tyne. Wilson, associate professor in human geography at Durham University and chair of the Tyne Kittiwake Partnership, says that in Newcastle, the world’s most inland population of breeding kittiwakes is “bucking the trend” and thriving. However, in urban areas, people often see the birds as loud and messy, making it difficult to explain that they are vulnerable.

“Given that numbers in urban areas are growing quite quickly, it’s likely that this [trend for more kittiwake hotels] will continue. One of the very few options we have is to provide alternative accommodation,” says Nathalie Stevenson, who is developing more hotels with marine ecologists in Norway.

As well as providing a safe haven for the kittiwakes, the developers of the hotel in Lowestoft are also hoping it will keep some of the birds out of Lowestoft town, where they are not 

universally loved by the residents. Vattenfall is funding a five-year annual grant of £50,000 so that the Lowestoft Kittiwake Partnership can provide advice and support to local businesses on dealing with the birds and money for clean-up operations.

The construction of the kittiwake hotel in Lowestoft is a remarkable initiative that aims to protect and support the kittiwake population as they face a decline due to climate change and overfishing. The hotel provides artificial nesting sites for the birds, ensuring their safety and comfort. The design takes into account several factors, such as asp