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Advice: Seabirds washed up on South West Beaches

Last modified: 14 February 2014

Guillemot with fish in bill

Image: Andy Hay

Issued by RSPCA, Dorset Wildlife Trust, Devon Wildlife Trust, Cornwall Wildlife Trust and RSPB

Every year and particularly in winter, some seabirds are washed up on beaches in south west England. This guidance is issued to help people who come across such `beached’ birds and to assist with welfare and conservation responses as appropriate.

 Seabirds face many hazards, both man-made and natural. Birds may be storm-wrecked by adverse weather conditions that exhaust the birds and sometimes very large numbers can be affected. Oil and other pollution may kill or disable birds. Seabirds may also be accidentally caught and killed in fishing nets in some circumstances. In all cases, live and dead seabirds may be found ashore.

If members of the public find live sea birds that can be rescued it is recommended they should contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999. We would advise you not to attempt rescuing the seabirds yourself or to handle them.

We are keen to monitor and record numbers of `beached’ seabirds so that we can identify pollution or other incidents and, as appropriate, take action with partner NGOs and the statutory agencies.

The information we need is:

  • Date of finding birds.
  • Location of birds (a grid reference is ideal).
  • Numbers of birds.
  • Species of birds – a physical description is helpful for identification.
  • Number dead and number live.
  • Details of any obvious pollution (oil or other substance) – extent of pollutant on birds, description (colour smell etc) of substance. [Please do not assume that `beached’ birds have been affected by pollutants – plumage may be discoloured by sand or mud on the beach, and birds may look different if they have been scavenged or started to decay naturally].
  • Details of any ringed birds. [If safe to do so, dead birds should be checked for rings, as this can help identify the ages and origins of affected birds. Details of ringed birds can be reported online at]
  • Name and contact details of person finding birds (this is so we can contact them for more info if necessary).

The more detail the better and photos are helpful, “14 February 2014, 6 live clean guillemots and 1 dead razorbill partly covered in black oil found at Happy Holiday beach, Devon by Joe Bloggs” or “14 February 2014, 2 dead guillemots, no visible injuries, plumage dirty from beach but no obvious sign of any pollutant and 1 unidentified dead gull, clean-looking, found at west end of Summertime Bay, Dorset by Jill Bloggs” but please do not handle birds.

Precise information enables us to gauge the extent of any problem better and to cross reference reports where we receive several calls about the same birds. However we are still keen to receive reports even if, for example, there is uncertainty over numbers or species identification.

Please can report any seabirds you find

If you are in Cornwall please report all dead stranded sea birds and other marine life to Cornwall Wildlife Trust Strandings Network, 24 hour hotline 0345 201 2626. Take photos if possible and send them to

Please DO NOT deliberately go looking for seabirds on beaches in stormy and dangerous conditions.

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