Water rescue operation launched to save oil-covered birds from contaminated Lancashire canal
We were first made aware of a spill on the canal near Victoria Street at Clayton-le-Moors and were able to catch two swans which had been blackened with the oil.
But to save the other swans and ducks we decided an operation involving a team manning a water rescue boat would be required.
A team of five water rescue officers returned to the scene to carry out the operation and they managed to catch three more swans and an Aylesbury duck.
If the oil isn't removed from waterbirds it reduces the natural waterproofing in their plumage, leaving them at risk of dying from hypothermia - so it's vital that they're treated as soon as possible.
The swans needed to be rescued to avoid them trying to clean themselves
Our deputy chief inspector, Carl Larsson, said:
An RSPCA rescue operation was put in place to save the swans and ducks which have become covered with oil.
We used a team of five officers trained in water rescues and a water rescue boat to help us catch the oiled wildlife.
All the birds were preening to try and clean themselves but while they were doing this they were not feeding and would become weak so we have to act fast before this happens.
We believe some other birds may have been affected by the oil but they had flown away so local officers will be monitoring the area over the coming days and will capture any more wildlife affected who will also be treated to remove the oil.
The birds require deep cleans to remove oil
All the birds were taken to our Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre, in Nantwich, Cheshire, where they were cleaned several times to get rid of the oil.
Every oiled bird is assessed on arrival to Stapeley Grange and sometimes multiple deep cleans are needed to remove all the contaminate. It can be fairly labour intensive, sometimes taking two members of staff 30 minutes for each wash.
Lee Stewart, our manager at Stapeley Grange, said:
Cleaning just one bird can use half a bottle of washing-up liquid, and oiled birds sometimes need to have multiple washes to be completely cleaned of the oil.
If there are no other injuries the washed birds can be transferred to outside pools with other swans, geese and ducks. It's then a waiting game for the oil to be removed or for it to dissipate before returning them home.
The Aylesbury duck will be rehomed as it is not wild and we believe was illegally dumped at the site.
After lots of care, the swans were returned to their habitat and their release was captured on video.
It's always a team effort to help wildlife in this way and it's so rewarding to see animals we treat happily go back to their home.
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