Concern for the welfare of birds after Flamborough oil spillage
WILDLIFE experts are concerned about an oil slick threatening one of Yorkshire's most important seabird colonies.
Staff at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's Living Seas Centre in Flamborough are on alert as thousands of birds return to the Yorkshire coast in preparation for breeding on the cliffs around the headland.
The spillage was first reported on Friday but north-easterly winds and heavy seas have seen the oil move nearer to the coast.
So far, the largest reports of oiled birds have been from Scarborough, where up to 50 birds are known to have been affected, but casualties have also been washed up at Flamborough, including guillemots, razorbills and shags.
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Kirsten Smith, the trusts' North Sea Living Seas manager, said: "At this time of year, thousands of seabirds are returning from their wintering grounds and are starting to assemble offshore, ready for the breeding season.
"Oil or other harmful substances can be lethal to seabirds and the unfortunate timing of a spill like this could deal a devastating blow to Flamborough's celebrated seabirds."
Seabirds affected by oil lose the waterproofing and insulating properties of their feathers, preventing them from feeding and keeping warm.
If they are cleaned, they can sometimes be saved.
Birds try to preen the oil off their feathers and in doing so, ingest some of the poisonous substance, which can cause death even after they have been cleaned.
Living Seas research and development officer Kat Sanders said: "Flamborough is a very important site and we are concerned about the welfare of the birds.
"We still don't know what the source of the spillage is. It could be from a vessel or it might just be residual oil which has been blown inshore."
The situation was improving yesterday as the oil appear to be dispersing.
Scarborough Borough Council has been heading the clean-up operation.
Head of environmental services Andy Skelton said: "Our staff were out yesterday morning inspecting the beaches that were affected for any further signs of oil.
"We take the view that the worst of the problems are over.
"However, our staff will continue to monitor our beaches and carry out any cleaning required should further deposits of oil be washed ashore.
"The RSPB and other wildlife organisations have received some reports of oiled seabirds.
"Our officers will monitor the situation during their beach inspections and we will maintain contact with the relevant organisations."
The RSPB is also concerned about the welfare of the birds at its Bempton Cliffs reserve.
Chris Collett, of the RSPB, said: "We are on standby. We understand there has been a clear-up operation and we hope that's successful.
"We are continuing to monitor the situation.
"At this time of year the 200,000 birds that come to Bempton Cliffs to breed are making their way to the site and any oil out at sea could pose a real threat."
A spokesman for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said: "An MCA counter- pollution surveillance aircraft has carried out a search of the area, but no pollution was detected.
"Tests are now being carried out on a sample of the product to try to identify exactly what it is and if at all possible, to determine the source."
Members of the public finding a seabird in distress should call staff at the Living Seas Centre on 01262 422103 for advice.