Swans return to the Nene after oil spill rescue

The swans return to the River Nene. Picture: Rowland Hobson
The swans return to the River Nene. Picture: Rowland Hobson
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A FLOCK of gleaming swans splashed noisily back into the waters of the River Nene yesterday (Wednesday) – a week after being rescued from an oil spill.

The 27 swans had been coated in motor oil which had leaked into the Peterborough waterway through a drainage culvert following torrential rain.

But after a dramatic rescue operation was launched by RSPCA officials using special rescue boats and hooks, the majestic birds were carefully washed and the river cleansed before the birds were allowed back home.

Yesterday animal welfare officer for the RSPCA, Kathy Hornig, said: “This is the best bit of the job, seeing them released back into the wild.”

The swans have been cared for at the RSPCA’s wildlife hospital in East Winch, near Kings Lynn and manager Alison Chiles said they had been forced to draft in extra staff to cope with the painstaking task of washing the birds,

She said: “They take 30 minutes each to clean with soapy water and we pop them in a warm bath and wash them top to bottom down their feathers before we turn them over and do the same the other side. We then have to repeat the process and rinse them with a powerful water blast to ensure all the oil and soap has gone as their feathers are what keeps them waterproof and able to float.”

The centre then had to convert a theatre into a “drying room” before releasing them onto the lake at the centre to monitor their progress. Alison added: “It is hard to tell how stressed they got, as the whole experience must have been frightening for them, but they seem in good health.”

The Environment Agency is working with Anglian Water to prevent future spills. A spokeswoman said: “We are looking at the causes and are also hoping to do some pollution awareness work in the next few weeks to try to prevent it happening again.”