Welfare charities reflect on Napoli clean-up operation in Branscombe

Napoli 2017. Picture: Jon Ryan

Napoli 2017. Picture: Jon Ryan - Credit: Archant

Within two days of the MSC Napoli being beached off Branscombe, more than 900 birds were reported oiled to the RSPB.

By the end of January 2007, the total had risen to over 1,640, affecting 17 different species, with a final total of more than 2,200 birds reported, and at least 20 different species affected.

Another 1,050 birds were taken to the RSPCA’s centre at West Hatch, outside Taunton

Guillemots were the worst-affected species, with a combined total of more than 2,100 birds oiled.

Paul Oaten, the wildlife centre supervisor at RSPCA West Hatch, said: “It was all hands on deck. Everyone was working 12- to 14-hour days. We had to get the birds through the process and out the door.

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“In the beginning, it was organised mayhem. We started getting 10 birds a day, then it was up to 250 as the situation progressed.

“Each bird had to be housed separately, tube fed, monitored and cleaned.”

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Around 40 per cent of the birds they processed could be returned to the wild – a good success rate for such a large-scale incident. Paul added: “Without the volunteers and the hard work of the staff to put their hearts and souls in, we wouldn’t have been able to deal with all the birds.

“It was a team effort of the highest degree. You just do what you can.”

The RSPB recorded bird casualties across the whole of the Lyme Bay coastline, from Salcombe in South Devon to the Isle of Portland in Dorset.

‘Hot-spots’ included estuaries (particularly the Teign, Otter and Axe), Chesil Beach and Portland.

Others came in from as far away as Wales, Ireland and Scotland.

These birds were wintering in the English Channel, illustrating that shipping incidents here impact on birds from important breeding colonies elsewhere in the UK.

An RSPB spokesman said: “It was estimated that, for every bird found oiled on the shore, between three and 10 times as many could have been oiled at sea.

“The total number of birds affected by the MSC Napoli could therefore have been very much higher than the current recorded total of oiled birds.

“The large number of birds known and estimated to have been affected highlights that prevention is the only cure for such incidents.

“The wreck of the MSC Napoli also posed a significant threat to the area’s 28 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), including the Exe Estuary and Chesil Beach and the Fleet SSSIs, both of which are also Special Protection Areas under European law.

“This was not a low impact, low risk, shipping incident.

“The environmental impacts and costs of the Napoli incident cannot be overlooked or underplayed.”

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