THE true number of birds caught up in a slick may never be known, a wildlife expert has said.
Hundreds of guillemots were washed ashore on Portland and along the Dorset coast last week following an environmental crisis that has killed at least 200.
As the rescue operation is scaled down, attention is turning to the source of the substance, which the Environment Agency says is a ‘refined mineral-based oil mixture’.
Marc Smith, of the Dorset Wildlife Trust, said he expects to see fewer and fewer birds come ashore.
He said: “Today and tomorrow there are high winds forecast, so any birds that are still out there will be blown further out to sea.
“As the days go on, we will be seeing fewer live ones on the beaches.”
The count stands at around 310 live birds, which are being cared for at the RSPCA West Hatch Centre in Taunton, and ‘a couple of hundred’ dead.
The majority of birds affected are guillemots, though a cormorant, a fulmar, a juvenile puffin and several razorbills have also been found dead.
Six live birds were found at Swanage yesterday and one was found at the Nothe, but rescuers say the number coming ashore is decreasing.
Mr Smith said: “There are vast stretches of coastline we haven’t even looked at and the ones coming onto the beaches will be just a small fraction of those that have been affected.
“Many will not have made it to land, and will have been taken by predators or washed along the coastline.
“We are never going to see the true scale of how many were involved.”
And fears are growing for the wider impact of the slick, although there is no sign that other wildlife has been affected.
Mr Smith added: “This is not something that is fully understood yet, and it could have a knock-on effect via the food chain, so it is a concern.”
The Maritime and Coastal Agency (MCA) is using satellite imaging to trace the source of the slick, but it is not yet known how it came to be in the water.
Meanwhile the live birds are being cleaned and rehabilitated with a view to releasing them back into the wild.
Guillemot Taken To Vets
DAISY White got a shock when her dad Paul returned from his morning run with a feathered friend.
Daisy, eight, said: “My dad was running on Chesil Beach when he saw a guillemot covered in oil.
“He threw a t-shirt over it and had to catch a lift home in just his trousers.
“When he got home we all felt so sorry for it and we called the RSPB who said to take it to the vets.
“My dad drove there and I had to wear gloves while I held it so that it wouldn’t hurt me if it pecked.”
Anyone who finds an injured bird or animal is advised to call the RSPCA on 0300 1234 999.
THE oil spill underlines the importance of creating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), Dorset Wildlife Trust said.
The trust is campaigning to create a network of areas, where certain activities, such as fishing or diving, would be restricted.
Mr Smith said: “It would not stop something like this happening. But it would create areas where wildlife thrives, and it would allow us to replenish populations affected when it does happen, which would increase the speed of recovery.”