Tinker's Hill Bird of Prey & Swan Rescue Centre

All In A Day's Work

Volunteers at a bird sanctuary have started the painstaking process of cleaning 23 swans who were covered in cooking oil at a lake in Swansea.

The 23 birds were rescued by the RSPCA from a lake in Swansea's Fendrod Business Park near Llansamlet, and were contaminated by vegetable oil. They were taken to the Tinker's Hill Rescue Centre in Amroth, Pembrokeshire.

Volunteer Maria Evans, who was already looking after 15 swans prior to the spill 12 days ago, said unless they were fully cleaned the swans faced death by drowning or hypothermia.

"It was very short notice," she said. "We've put temporary accommodation in our big bird of prey barn so they are having to share with somewhat noisy birds of prey."

The centre helped deal with the fall-out of the Sea Empress disaster on the Pembrokeshire coast in 1996, but Ms Evans said this was the largest number of birds they had dealt with in one go.

"When the RSPCA inspector opened the doors of his van the smell nearly knocked you off your feet. It smelt like really nasty old chip oil. All of them have got it on their necks, some of them have got it on their undercarriage and a lot of them have it all over them”.

"The worst danger for them is if they are not waterproof and they become waterlogged and then could just drown, or because they have no insulation between the feathers, they could die of hypothermia."

The RSPCA officers rescued the birds from the lake

Ms Evans said cleaning each swan was a two-person job but she had volunteers who helped out.

Once the oil is washed off, the swans need to be dried using heat lamps. This is done in a temporary cabin loaned to the sanctuary by the engineering contractor Costain, which is working on a nearby by-pass.

"I'm hoping that they will only be here for around two weeks. They can usually be washed, treated and rehabilitated in 14 days," added Ms Evans.

The Environment Agency said there had been no new spillage since the weekend before last. It said officers had traced the source and collected samples and it would consider taking action against those responsible.

A spokesman said: "Officers have investigated and discovered there is no further pollution incident. The likely explanation for more oil being discovered is wind dispersing the oil to other areas of the lake. Residual oil from the incident could also be washed through pipe by rain but this should be contained by absorbent booms placed by contractors."