LiveMore than 100 sea birds washed up covered in mysterious oil taken to West Hatch Animal Centre in Taunton

First published in News
Last updated

Enable automatic updates every minute? YES NO


  • Hundreds of sea birds have washed up on beaches from Conrwall to Hampshire covered in a mysterious 'waxy' substance.
  • More than 100 of the creatures have been taken to West Hatch Animal Centre in Taunton for specialist cleaning and recovery.
  • Scientists are baffled as to the identity of the substance, although it is thought to be vegetable-based at this stage.


SOME 276 birds are currently being washed and cared for at West Hatch, 257 of which are guillemots and 19 razorbills.

All are responding well to the margarine and soapy water washes.


HUNDREDS of seabirds have died and thousands continue to be washed up covered in oily substance along south coast beaches between Cornwall and West Sussex.

It is feared that high winds forecast from the south and west could bring even more dead birds ashore.

More than 250 birds - mostly guillemots but also some razorbills - are being treated at the RSPCA wildlife centre in West Hatch, Taunton.

Scientists from the Environment Agency have identified the substance as a refined mineral oil, but said it was not from an animal or vegetable-based oil.

The vast majority of the seabirds were rescued from Chesil Beach in Dorset but others have come from the Isle of Wight and Cornwall.

Anyone who finds one of the birds on the affected beaches is asked to contact the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.  


MORE birds have been delivered to the centre for cleaning in past few hours, including guillemots and razorbills.

Uniformed RSPCA inspectors are being aided by volunteers to collect affected birds at various beaches and this is expected to be on-going throughout the weekend.  

Dozens have washed up dead today (Friday) and the RSPCA expect many more dead birds to appear with tonight's high tide.


WILDLIFE care assistants rub margarine in the birds' feathers to help break-down the oily substance before they are washed with warm soapy water.


 Somerset County Gazette: rspca 

WILDLIFE care assistants Roz Buckley and Carol Noble help to re-hydrate the birds before they are washed. 


WAITROSE supermarket chain has stepped in to help the RSPCA bird cleaning operation.

The company is donating free tubs or margarine to help clean up the birds.

An RSPCA volunteer is driving down to the Crewkerne store to pick up the donation.


STAFF at the RSPCA wildlife centre at West Hatch plan to start cleaning the birds at 11am.

They initially tried using washing up liquid when the first birds were taken in on Tuesday, but that met with little success.

They are now going to use margarine, which proved more successful in trials on a couple of the birds.

There are currently 123 birds at the centre - a further 16 were in such a bad state they had to be put down.

The birds are being held in cages and are being rehydrated and fed with fish.

As they get stronger, they will be put into rehabilitation pools and hopefully released back into the wild in about three weeks.


Somerset County Gazette: MYSTERY: seabirds on Portland


THE RSPCA fears hundreds more birds could still be washed up along the south-west coast.

They are still trying to identify the sticky substance rescued birds have been covered in - many of them have sore legs and are covered in a greasy film.

The early signs is that the scores of birds already being treated at the RSPCA wildlife centre at West Hatch, near Taunton, are not responding well.


AN RSPCA inspector says he's never seen anything like the current contamination of hundreds of sea birds.

Insp John Pollock said: "We think it might be some sort of palm oil maybe because of the way it reacts with the salt in the water and it gets churned up and sticks to the birds feathers.

"But I've never dealt with it - 22 years I've been dealing with spills and I've never dealt with a contaminant like this.

"It's sort of like fuel based."

A couple of the rescued birds, mainly guillemots, have already died since being washed up - many of them in Chesil Cove, near Weymouth, and others up to 200 miles away in Cornwall and others in Hampshire and Sussex.

People are being advised not to pick up any birds they find - they should alert the RSPCA immediately.


One of the birds found in Dorset

Somerset County Gazette: bird spill 1


A RESCUE operation has been launched after more than 100 seabirds appeared on South-West beaches covered in a mystery substance.

Wildlife officers and wardens from the RSPCA, Dorset Wildlife Trust and the Portland Bird Observatory are among those to have taken the birds - including guillemots and razorbills - into care.,

They have been found from Cornwall to Hampshire.

Concerned members of the public raised the alarm and the worst affected birds were taken to the RSPCA centre at West Hatch in Somerset where two had to be put down.

Members of the public are being warned not to handle the birds until the substance is identified.

A spokesman for Dorset County Council said: “While the substance is being identified, agencies are urging people to avoid coming into contact with the birds and to keep pets away from the shoreline.”

Martin Cade, of the Portland Bird Observatory, said: “A lot of them are absolutely plastered in the stuff, it's like a sticky, glue-like substance.

“Some of them were well enough to waddle away when we approached, but others were sitting looking very sorry for themselves, so we collected them up and handed them over to the RSPCA.”

Most of the birds were found around Portland and Chesil Beach, with others spotted along the coast as far as Lyme Regis.

A spokeswoman for Dorset Wildlife Trust warned the public to leave the rescue operation to the experts.

She said: “We are doing what we can, but we don't know what this substance is, so it is best left to the experts who are wearing gloves.

“It is a very worrying and distressing thing to happen. This type of bird, known as auks, is struggling with their population anyway, so we don't need this kind of problem.”

Margarine is being used to absorb the substance, which is reported to have caused lesions where it has come into contact with the birds' skin.

Investigations are ongoing to find out what the substance is, but experts believe it is vegetable-oil based.

The birds dive for food, which Martin believes may be how the group came across the substance.

He said: “You see them out on the water fishing or swimming about, and they must have got into a slick of something, perhaps from a ship.

“It must have covered quite an area.”

He added: “They can't fly because they are covered in it, so they all come ashore to sit on the beaches.”

If anyone spots an affected bird or animal, they should report it to the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.

Wildlife assistant Paul Kennedy, who works at the West Hatch centre, said: “We had about 35 brought in on Wednesday and then about 80 more on Thursday.

“One or two sadly had to be put to sleep, because they had severe injuries, probably from bashing against rocks as they came ashore.”

He added: “We have been using margarine as a solvent, which seems to be working, and then washing them as normal.

“They look like they have had a pretty rough time, and where it has come into contact with their skin, it seems to have pulled off the surface layer.

“Hopefully we will not see the problems we have had in the past where it has affected their internal organs.”



Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree