North West England Gull Project

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Bowland Fells is a large expanse of moorland in Lancashire, and supports the largest lesser black-backed colony in England. The last survey in 2018 reported 11,349 pairs of lesser black-backed gull. Breeding lesser black-backed gulls are a notified feature of the SSSI designation. Bowland Fells is also a Special Protection Area (SPA), and lesser black-backed are currently being proposed as a feature. A gull colony has been in existence on Tarnbrook Fell since the 1930s, and since the 1970s the colony has occupied Abbeystead/Tarnbrook Fell, parts of Mallowdale Fell and also Brennand Fell. In 1973 it was estimated to support up to 24,000 pairs of gulls, largely dominated by Lesser black backed gull, with smaller numbers of breeding Herring gull and Greater black backed gull. Since 1978 until 2012, culling has taken place on an annual basis, using a variety of techniques in an attempt by the estates to control both the size and extent of the colony of Lesser black backed gulls. As a result of the way in which the gull populations have been managed and culls carried out, the population and distribution across the site of the gull colony on the SPA has fluctuated. For example, a sub colony being established at Langden Head in the 1990s. Numbers rose across Bowland Fells to a peak of 18,080 pairs in 2001 before intensive culling again reduced the population to around 7,000 pairs in early 2000s, when it continued to decline until the colony reached its lowest point in 2012. Since 2012 the breeding population has increased from 4,320 pairs and continues to recover. A sub colony as established at Langden Head now covers 75 hectares and in 2018 supported 4,781 pairs. The Tarnbrook colony in 2018 supported 6,568 pairs across 618 hectares.

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