Coexistence, Transgression, and the Tyne Kittiwakes

Authors: Helen F Wilson*, Durham University
Topics: Cultural Geography, Animal Geographies, Urban Geography
Keywords: Liminality, Territory, Species, More-than-human, Urban, Conflict
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/3/2019
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Directors Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


From mid-March to mid-August an estimated 700 breeding pairs of kittiwakes return to the River Tyne in the North East of England. Whilst normally a coastal breeding bird, the Tyne kittiwakes are the most inland colony in the world. Variously nesting on window ledges, drain pipes, street lights, rooftops and road infrastructure, the kittiwakes have swapped the coastal cliffs for the city, prompting fraught debates on coexistence, transgression, and multi-species ethics. In the context of stark warnings about the decline of seabirds and the uncanny silences of the coast, the paper draws on ethnographic research in the cities of Newcastle and Gateshead to examine how precarious forms of co-existence are achieved, materialised, and threatened, through seasonal encounter and temporary habitation. More specifically it traces how the kittiwakes straddle normative categories – pest narratives, endangered watch-lists, and local iconicity, as well as land and ocean, city and sea – to speak back to debates on the making of more-than-human territory, marine transgressions, and anxious attachments to environmental futures. Through exploring shifting forms of place-making and the liminal status of the Tyne kittiwakes, the paper finishes with some reflections on their ethico-political consequences.

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