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Seabirds in the city: urban futures and fraught coexistence

Wilson, H.F.

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At a time when seabird populations have experienced steep declines and the movement of diverse species into cities has become a globally important issue, the paper examines the contested presence of an urban seabird colony in North East England. Drawing on ethnographic research, the paper details how avian claims to space have prompted fraught debates on coexistence, urban planning, and socio-environmental futures that reveal an inherently ambivalent politics. While normally a coastal breeding bird, the paper argues that the Tyne kittiwakes – and their use of window ledges, drain-pipes, streetlights, rooftops and road infrastructure – have become a part of the region’s urban life. However, while their presence has reworked understandings of public space, urban belonging, and oceanic boundaries, urban regimes of control and normative notions of the city continue to inhibit a more expansive urban politics capable of accommodating difference and responding to environmental change. Through attention to practices of deterrence, shifting forms of urban decision-making, and the emergence of the kittiwake as a regional icon, the paper documents the conditions that limit coexistence despite a change in attitudes towards the colony and environmental futures more broadly. In this context, the paper raises fundamental questions about how to support coexistence amid ambivalence without resorting to normative forms of species valorisation. By attending to ambivalence and the difficulty of creating and sustaining ethical modes of coexistence, the paper finishes by reflecting on the implications of the research for urban futures, local geographies of the sea, and the multispecies city.


Wilson, H. (2022). Seabirds in the city: urban futures and fraught coexistence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 47(4), 1137-1151.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 21, 2021
Online Publication Date Dec 17, 2021
Publication Date 2022-12
Deposit Date Feb 15, 2022
Publicly Available Date Dec 18, 2023
Journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Print ISSN 0020-2754
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 47
Issue 4
Pages 1137-1151
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (583 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Wilson, H. (2022), Seabirds in the city: Urban futures and fraught coexistence. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, which will be published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions. This article may not be enhanced, enriched or otherwise transformed into a derivative work, without express permission from Wiley or by statutory rights under applicable legislation. Copyright notices must not be removed, obscured or modified. The article must be linked to Wiley’s version of record on Wiley Online Library and any embedding, framing or otherwise making available the article or pages thereof by third parties from platforms, services and websites other than Wiley Online Library must be prohibited.

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