October 4, 2008

‘One of the Worst Oil Spills This Year’ Kills 50 Seabirds


MORE than 50 seabirds have died in one of the worst oil spills to hit the north Caithness coast this year, conservationists said yesterday .

The dead birds have largely been recovered from beaches stretching from Scrabster to Dunnet. According to RSPB Scotland, th e incident is "by far the worst" of three such oil spills in the waters off the coastal area since May.

Unlike two spills in the summer on the east Caithness coast, it is not being linked with the Beatrice oil platform. The conservation charity believes the most likely source is the rogue actions of a vessel passing through the Pentland Firth.

The latest losses are particularly bad news for a stretch of coastline where the rare seabird colonies have experienced sharp dips in their numbers in recent years.

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency mounted an inquiry after its Thursobased staff were informed of an oiled bird found on the narrow strip of beach at Scrabster on Thursday morning.

Soon after, about 20 eider ducks were found at Thurso harbour and then more birds at Murkle and Dunnet beaches. They were taken to a vet in Thurso but none could be saved apart from a lightly-oiled guillemot, which is currently recovering at the SSPCA base at Balmore.

Other species found include common and herring gulls, razorbills and geese. One welcome effect of the stormy conditions over the past couple of days has been to help break up the pollution.

The area where the birds have been found contain cliffs which are the nesting ground for more than 150,000 pairs of seabirds, including guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, puffins, black guillemots and shags.

RSPB Scotland yesterday called on the government to commit to better enforcement of environmental regulations .

Stuart Housden, director of the conservation charity, said: "This needs to be done to prevent potentially devastating spills that can wreak havoc on wildlife "

Originally published by Newsquest Media Group.

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