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Fulmar Fulmar glacialis

 

The group monitored the Fulmar breeding colony at Hunstanton from 1991 - 1997. At it's peak the colony numbered about 460 birds.  The cliff at Hunstanston is about 1.2 km long and faces west, it consists of a lower layer of sandstone (carrstone), with a small layer of red chalk and an upper layer of white chalk.  It dates from the late Jurassic to mid Cretaceous period and at the highest part is approximately 21 metres high. This contrasts sharply with the extensive saltmarsh and dune systems, marine open shore and the vast mudflats of the Wash which characterise this part of East Anglia. 

 

High on the nesting ledges Fulmars take little notice of the activities of the tourists relaxing and enjoying the sandy beach at Hunstanton. Many of whom wonder just what these 'sea gulls' are doing sitting and cackling or resting on the ledges high above and patrolling the cliff face with their stiff winged gliding flight.

The southerly range expansion of the Fulmar - is a story of success!

Despite the Fulmar being widespread as a breeding species around North Atlantic coasts, until the late 19th century the only British breeding colony was on the island of St Kilda. In 1878 they bred for the first time in the Shetlands, and since then a steady and consistent increase has occurred with most suitable cliffs in the British Isles now being occupied. 

The spread of Fulmars in Britain has been one of a steady extension of the breeding range southwards. Prospective breeders have been observed visiting suitable cliffs, sometimes for several years before occupation and breeding has taken place. Although the Fulmar nowadays is a familiar sight around the coast of Britain particularly where there are rocky cliffs. This colonisation has taken over 100 years to be achieved!

The Fulmar in Norfolk.

Although birds were breeding at Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire in 1922, it took a further 25 years before Fulmars jumped the ninety-six miles from Bempton to Weybourne in Norfolk. First breeding was proved at the boulder–clay cliffs in 1947. This was 69 years after their arrival in the Shetlands. Numbers steadily increased and by 1956 there was 40-50 pairs, which increased to 80-90 pairs in 1990. However since then, the number of breeding pairs and young fledged annually has drastically declined due to a combination of predation by rats and foxes and loss of nest sites caused by erosion of the cliff.

The Hunstanton Colony

Fulmars had been prospecting in west Norfolk since the early 1950’s, but they did not breed at Hunstanton until 1965. The population steadily increased and in 1994 there was an unprecedented 431 adults sitting on the cliffs with an additional 30 swimming offshore. The number of chicks fledged in 1994 was 107 from 124 breeding pairs. Numbers peaked in 1995 with 200 pairs, 120 in 1996 and 186 in 1997. In recent years there has been a reduction in both the number of pairs breeding on the cliff and also the number of chicks expected to fledge. Reasons for this apparent decline are unclear and may only reflect short term variations in the breeding population and so may not yet be cause for concern. 

 

Photo © Sabine Schmitt

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Fulmars that were ringed as chicks at colonies in Scotland have been captured at the Hunstanton colony as breeding adults - 14, 15, and 20 years later. This recruitment clearly demonstrates the southerly range expansion of this species which has been so successful.

 

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