Parts of the old pier at Mumbles are in a bad way. I walk to the end to count the colony of kittiwakes nesting on the decaying structure, and wonder how long it will be before some health and safety official closes the pier to visitors. The iron superstructure is rusting away, and the wooden platform at the end is in a sorry state. A few fishermen watch their lines, but never seem to catch anything. The newly painted lifeboat house glints in the evening glow, whilst early holidaymakers enjoy the sunshine and lick cones of Joe’s ice cream. A newly renovated Victorian café at the pier’s entrance sports splendid wrought iron railings, matching perfectly the rusting sides of the sad old pier. Couples sit on modern silver and wicker seats enjoying a cappuccino, or perhaps a more traditional ‘nice cup of tea’. I know that most are unaware of the seabird spectacle just a little walk away.
Kittiwakes have been on the pier for several years, nesting on the ledges beneath the old iron seats only a yard or so from the visitors. This is not unusual, and in several parts of the country these delicate little gulls use a variety of man-made structures, which imitate coastal cliff ledges. On the pier the kittiwakes are used to people, more or less ignoring the curious who peer over the edge. Until the welcome return of the peregrine in the late 1970s, hundreds bred on the high cliffs of west Gower. Unfortunately they provided easy pickings for the peregrines, and gradually moved to nest on the pier. This single colony of about 100 pairs is all that remains of nesting kittiwakes on Gower, and could be at risk if the old pier is given a facelift. In anticipation of this, The Gower Ornithological Society, in conjunction with the local authority, have erected nesting ledges on the lifeboat house, which the birds have taken to readily.
On the beach beyond the old lighthouse, kittiwakes collect kelp from the high tide line, and although most pairs are on eggs, there always seems to be a need to add more nesting material. Another group has found good fishing offshore, where a couple of gleaming white gannets dive, and fulmars glide back and forth without even a hint of a wing flap.