SEA birds found covered an oily substance along England’s south coast have gone through the first round of washes at the West Hatch Wildlife Centre near Taunton.

Staff and volunteers have been busy decontaminating more than 300 guillemots and razorbills using household margarine and soapy water.

Some of the least affected birds are expected to be put into rehabilitation pools at the centre this week to get them used to their natural habitat before they can be released back into the wild.

Other birds will require more thorough cleaning to remove the substance, which has been identified as an oil additive used in lubricating oils. Despite being non-toxic, the oil has caused burns to some of the birds’ legs and skin.

RSPCA officers began delivering the birds to the centre almost two weeks ago after thousands washed up on beaches from Cornwall to West Sussex, caked in the odourless, colourless goo.

Around 35 birds have died at the centre, including five more in the past week.

Centre manager Peter Venn said: “So far it has all gone according to plan and the majority of birds seem to be recovering well.

“It was reassuring to hear that we were not dealing with anything too toxic.

“Thankfully, some of the birds are in quite good condition so hopefully we will be successful in releasing quite a few back into the wild.”

The centre, which marks its 50th anniversary this year, is the main hub for sea bird contamination treatment in the south west.