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Battle to save swans

PUBLISHED: 05:39 19 February 2003 | UPDATED: 16:18 24 February 2010

AS swans flailed about in sticky oil on the River Orwell RSPCA officers pursued them in boats in a bid to avoid an ecological disaster.

That was the scene at Loom Pit lake, near Levington, as thousands of gallons of oil began to take its toll on local wildlife.

AS swans flailed about in sticky oil on the River Orwell RSPCA officers pursued them in boats in a bid to avoid an ecological disaster.

That was the scene at Loom Pit lake, near Levington, as thousands of gallons of oil began to take its toll on local wildlife.

The birds were a pitiful sight, struggling to keep warm as the oil spoiled the natural waterproofing of their plumage.

Around 2,000 gallons of oil seeped into the River Orwell from a cracked pipe - discovered near Felixstowe Port last Thursday - washing up at Parkeston Quay, Mistley Quay and Levington.

Suffolk RSPCA Inspector Jason Finch said it was the worst disaster affecting swans he had ever seen.

He has been rounding up the worst affected birds to be cared for at East Winch animal hospital, near Kings Lynn.

Mr Finch and his colleagues found three oiled swans on Loom Pit lake yesterday , although two managed to fly away before they could be caught.

The third, an adult male mute swan, was too heavily oiled to take off.

Mr Finch said: “We were able to catch it and get it on board. It was very weak and cold. Virtually the whole of its body was covered in oil.

“As the birds try to preen themselves they also ingest the oil, giving them stomach problems.”

The swan was taken to the animal hospital where it will be washed and rehydrated before being released back into the wild.

Mr Finch said: “Swans generally do quite well as they don't get as stressed as other birds.”

Around 40 swans have been taken to the oiled birds unit at East Winch since the spill. Mr Finch also collected swans from Ipswich docks and two from Mistley yesterday.

Mr Finch added that it was difficult to catch all the oiled birds as even some of the worst affected were still mobile.

Anyone worried about an oiled bird can contact the RSPCA on 08705 555999 Mr Finch said some younger birds may looked oiled because they have darker plumage.


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