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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 17:37 GMT
Birds 'killed' by oil spill
A Guillemot being washed at the trust centre
This Guillemot was lucky to survive
Hundreds of sea birds have been killed and injured because of oil pollution on the south Devon coast, according to a wildlife trust.

Conservationists suspect that a tanker illegally flushing its tanks is to blame.

The South Devon Seabirds' Trust has already rescued 80 oiled birds, which have been found along the coast between Dawlish and Plymouth over the last six weeks.

But the trust estimates that for every bird that is rescued, another 10 will have died at sea.

'Traumatic experience'

Workers at the trust's centre in Teignmouth have been cleaning the birds to prepare them for a return to the wild.

Jean Bradford, from the trust, said the experience had been traumatic for the birds.

"Once they've realised they're in safe hands they do calm down and respond remarkably well," she said.

"They're very intelligent little creatures. When you consider they've been taken from an environment which is totally free and open to this alien environment, it's a lot for them to get their heads round."

The birds being cared for at the trust's centre
The rescued birds are making a recovery
The trust believes the birds became covered in oil because of a tanker illegally flushing out its hold off the coast to avoid cleaning charges in port.

The south-west commonly suffers an increase in such cases in winter as captains take advantage of long dark nights, which cover their actions.

Coastguards operate aerial patrols to combat the activity but acknowledge they cannot prevent every case.

The 80 rescued birds now stand every chance of making a full recovery thanks to the trust's rehabilitation programme.

Another trust worker, Roger Bradford, said a longer period of care created a better chance of survival.

"It is thinking of the needs of the birds in giving them time to recover which gives us our good success rate," he said.

"Over the years we've averaged just over 70% of our birds back to the wild."

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See also:

07 Jan 00 | Sci/Tech
UK birds hit by French oil spill
11 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
UK moves to protect coastline
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