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Stranded seabirds found from Sussex to Cornwall

Last modified: 05 February 2013

Oiled guillemot

Most of the birds to have been affected have been guillemots

Image: RSPCA


Seabirds covered in a mystery substance are still being washed up on the shores of southern England.

A map, available on the RSPB's Safeguard our Sealife blog, shows approximate locations of birds found affected by the sticky mineral oil, with the hotspot in Dorset.  

Only locations are shown; there is no attempt to show numbers of birds reported from the various locations, but it demonstrates the wide spread of shore locations of affected birds.

The birds have mostly been guillemots (around 90 per cent), but other species, including razorbills, have also been reported.

The RSPCA at West Hatch reported that they have now received a total of 301 live casualties:

  • 280 guillemots
  • 21 razorbills

Of these, 39 could not be saved, the remainder are still in care. Efforts are concentrated on rescuing live birds, but the RSPCA has also collected approximately 40 dead birds, and sighted an estimated 85-90 that were inaccessible.

The RSPCA has also told us that it has received a report of a gannet and razorbill taken to a wildlife centre in Ostend, Belgium, with a similar substance on them.

We continue to work with other wildlife organisations to assess the situation and RSPB staff and volunteers have been making spot checks around the south-west coastline. The information gathered is helping us to assess the scale of any impacts.

Some rescued guillemots are in breeding plumage, which suggests they are birds which breed in the south-west. Others are in winter plumage, meaning they are from further north, probably Scotland and Norway.

We are continuing to work with the authorities and other organisations to understand the situation better, and how to best help the affected birds. Anyone finding an affected bird should not try to catch it, but contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.

The scale, impact and source of this event remains unknown at present, but it serves as a good reminder that we need an ecologically sound network of Marine Protected Areas to help our marine wildlife be resilient to such disasters.

Alec Taylor, the RSPB’s Marine Policy Officer, said: 'This incident starkly illustrates the threats that our seabirds face and the need for a robust and well connected network of Marine Protected Areas around our coasts and seas. 

'If we are able to protect our seabirds and other marine wildlife in a more strategic and 'joined-up' way then they will be better able as a whole to deal with and bounce back from single incidents like this.'

Lyme Bay near Weymouth, Dorset, is internationally important for seabirds. Currently we know the area is being used by 25,000 guillemots, although we don’t know how many will be affected by this disaster. 

The area is also used by rare seabirds, include scoters, divers and grebes. Impacts on these species could have higher conservation significance.

The original source of the contaminant remains unknown.

How you can help

Current proposals to create marine protected areas in the waters of each country offer almost no protection for seabirds. With the support of people like you, we can continue to fight for better protection for our seas.

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