A NATURE reserve is taking steps to protect its declining gull colony by installing a predator-proof fence.

South Walney Nature Reserve has received funding from the British Birds Charitable Trust and the FCC Communities Foundation to install a permanent electric fence.

The nature reserve's gull colony has suffered a catastrophic decline and no chicks have fledged since 2016.

Sarah Dalrymple, warden of South Walney Nature Reserve, which is managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust, hopes the protective fence will provide a safe, natural alternative nesting spot for the gulls.

She said: "We want to encourage gulls to come here rather than nest in town but the gulls here haven’t been doing well on the reserve and one of the reasons for that is predation from badgers and foxes.

"This fence will keep these away from the eggs and chicks, then those chicks that hatch here and fledge will return here to nest, and a big colony full of chicks will also attract gulls to nest here from elsewhere.

"We’ve previously used temporary fences, but the badgers have realised they can push through these, so we need something more robust.

"This fence will be tall enough foxes can’t jump over, and will be dug in so badgers can’t dig underneath."

She said in the 1960s and 70s there were more than 45,000 pairs of herring and lesser-black backed gulls nesting here at South Walney.

"Last year we had around 900 pairs and as gull numbers have declined hugely in their natural habitat," she said.

"We don’t think there will ever be that many here again but we want to provide a safe, natural alternative for them to nest away from the town.

"Gulls at South Walney are nesting in their natural habitat, and from GPS tracking data we know that most of the gulls that nest here on the nature reserve feed out at sea, on Morecambe Bay and on bugs and worms in fields – their natural food. These aren’t the gulls that are nesting on your chimney and stealing your chips."