North West England Gull Project


An intensive four-day expedition to all our main sites in early July, resulted in over 500 gull chicks being ringed, including our first Great Black-backed Gulls for this project.

Walney Island and Barrow

Sarah Dalrymple and a colour ringed GBBG chickSarah Dalrymple and a colour ringed Great Black-backed Gull chick © T FraylingAfter a long drive from Devon I arrived at Walney Island in the early evening on 5th July 2021 to meet up with Sarah Dalrymple, the South Walney Nature Reserve Warden for Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Sarah and I donned our chest waders to walk over to the island in the oyster ponds, which now has a predator proof fence.It was fantastic to find six large Great Black-backed Gull (GBBG) chicks within the fenced area. This is the first time the project has colour ringed this species, and four of the six birds were colour ringed, the other two were a bit too small to take a colour ring.

We then headed to the main colony on the spit to ring a few more gull chicks. Clearly the predator proof fence was doing its job, as this is the first time since 2017 that there have been any chicks to ring on the spit. Sarah and I ringed 5 Lesser Black-backed (LBBG) and 3 Herring Gull chicks before heading home. This was in addition to 14 Herring Gull, 4 LBBGs and 12 GBBGs ringed during an earlier visit by Bart Donato and Ian Hartley on 1st July.

Early on 6th July a team of us meet at Barrow Gas Terminal, anticipating ringing a lot of gull chicks after 1200 Apparently Occupied Nests were counted in June. Bart Donato, John Callion, Thalia Sparke, Wes Davies and I all spent a few hours going through our induction, and getting into our PPE which included fire proof overalls and hard hats. As we headed toward the colony, we spotted a fox, and looking at the colony in the distance we could not see any chicks. As we walked around the whole extent of the colony it was clear the extent of the impacts of foxes on site, with predated eggs, and remains of dead chicks of varying size, and a fox scat left in a gull nest, but not a single chick alive.

Before leaving we read several colour rings - two Herring Gulls from Walney, two LBBG from Walney, a LBBG from Ribble Estuary, and a LBBG ringed as an adult on 1st February 2018 in Spain. The Ribble bird was ringed as a chick in 2004, then reported on Gloucestershire landfills in 2006 and 2007, next in Portugal in November 2011, and then it was not seen for nearly 10 years until we saw at Barrow Gas Terminal.

Bart Tim and Wes at Barrow Gas Terminal 472Bart Tim and Wes at Barrow Gas Terminal

Predated egg at Barrow Gas TerminalPredated gull egg at Barrow Gas Terminal

Colour ringed Lesser Black backed Gull at Barrow
Colour ringed Lesser Black backed Gull at Barrow © Bart Donato








So, with no chicks at Barrow Gas Terminal, a quick change of plan and a phone call to Sarah, the team headed for Walney Island. Another 62 large gulls were ringed, 31 Herring gull, 9 LBBG and 22 Great black-back gulls. It was really encouraging to see chicks fledging at Walney, it is the first time for several years that any chicks have fledged.
An additional visit by Bart and Sarah with Lucy Dunn and John Callion on 20th July resulted in another 50 gull chicks being ringed which meant that 150 large gulls have been ringed in 2021 at Walney – a fantastic result!

Bowland Fells

On the 7th July 2021 a small team (Wes Davies, Matthew Stone and I) spend the day ringing at Brennand Fell on the United Utilities estate. The gulls do not nest in large densities here, and there seemed to be a lot of birds that had fledged, and as a result was it was hard work and a lot of walking to find the birds. However, we did manage to ring 72 gulls, mostly LBBGs, with 3 herring gull and 4 GBBGs.

The following day Bart picked me up from my hotel room after I left my vehicle at Dunsop Bridge due to a mechanical problem, and we met Ian Hartley and Rhys Findlay Robinson for a day’s ringing at Langden Head, also on the United Utilities estate. After a walk in that included a ring ouzel and hen harrier as a bonus we found the density of gulls at Langden Head was much greater than on Brennan Fell, and we didn’t have to cover much of the colony to find a lot of chicks. As I had to go and sort out my vehicle, Bart, Ian and Rhys did most of the ringing and between them an incredible 248 gull chicks - 205 LBBGs and 43 herring gull – were ringed.

Colour ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull at Langden HeadColour ringed Lesser Black-backed Gull at Langden Head © Tim Frayling

Bowland FellsBowland Fells © Tim Frayling

Ribble Estuary

The last day of was trip was the Ribble Estuary on 8th July. Today the team was Wes Davies, Alex Piggot and James Bray from the RSPB, Brian Hopkins and me. It was good to have Brian along as he was one of the team the helped ring birds on the Ribble under Dave Sowter’s project. Brian was along to assess Wes for a restricted C permit so he is able to ring gulls independently on the Ribble where he works. Wes has set up a long term productivity monitoring plot this year, and when he didn’t find any chicks there the previous week, we were concerned how many we would find. However, they were there, and we found 100 chicks to ring – 50% Herring Gull and 50% LBBG.

Herring Gull chickHerring Gull chick © T FraylingBanks MarshBanks Marsh © T Frayling





The North West England Gull Project project is designed to monitor the health of Lesser Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull populations across North West England, by assessing survival and productivity. Each gull fledgling is first identified (based on the inner flight feathers). A BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) metal ring is fitted around the right leg, and a larger colour ring attached to the left leg. The colour rings are designed to be read in the field without having to recapture the bird. This project uses green color rings with a white inscription, read upwards, starting N: followed by 3 alpha-numeric characters (e.g. N:00A).

Colour Ring

Colour ringing will help to answer questions about their movements and whether there is interchange between colonies.

The project opetrates across five sites:

  • Bowland Fells – a moorland site
  • Ribble Estuary – a National Nature Reserve on area of saltmarsh
  • Barrow Gas Terminal – an industrial site in Cumbria
  • Rockcliffe Marsh – a saltmarsh site in Cumbria on the upper reaches of the Solway
  • South Walney – a nature reserve and SSSI on the southern end of Walney Island off the coast of Barrow-in-Furness


The group operates with the  support  of Natural England for funding the rings and colour rings.

We are grateful to all the landowners that allow access, these are: Abbeystead Estate and United Utilities for access to Bowland Fells; Cumbria Wildlife Trust for South Walney and Rockcliffe Marshes, Spirit Energy Ltd for Barrow Gas Terminal, and Natural England for access to Ribble Estuary NNR

Header images on this website are licensed under the Creative Commons license by the photographers


We are not the only group in the northwest studying gulls. A project run by the Waterbird Colour Marking Group is colour ringing Black-headed Gulls, using blue colour rings with a white inscription. The groiup is also colour ringing Barnacle, Canada and Greylag Geese and Shelduck and Coot. You can report sightings of these birds at their website:

Here are links to other related websites:

If you know of a website that we have missed, please This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Bird ringing in Britain is licensed and coordinated by The British Trust for Ornithology. Bird ringing in Europe is coordinated by EURING.

A catalogue of colour ringing projects throughout Europe is voluntarily maintained by Dirk Raes at European colour-ring Birding.

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