South West 'sticky' birds: Up to 200 feared dead

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Media captionWashing up liquid and toothbrushes are being used to clean the birds

Up to 200 birds might have died after being covered in a sticky substance, the RSPB has said.

Hundreds of birds have been found on beaches in Devon and Cornwall since they started to appear on Wednesday.

One woman said she found more than 150 on a beach in south Cornwall on Monday.

Dog walkers collected about 20 dead birds from Par Beach in Cornwall on Monday morning. Sheryll Murray, the Conservative MP for South East Cornwall, said it was "tragic".

Alison Fogg said 157 dead seabirds had been washed up on a beach at Lansallos near Polperro.

On one section of beach between Downderry and Seaton more than 100 birds, including guillemots and gannets, were found dead on Sunday morning.

The RSPCA said it had rescued 95 birds since Wednesday, but 25 had died.

The South Devon Seabird Trust said it was looking after 12 birds.

Ms Murray said: "It's tragic not only for the wildlife, but also because we are a tourist constituency."

'Common chemical'

Most of the birds are guillemots, but razorbills, gannets and cormorants have also been found dead.

The RSPCA is treating affected birds at its centres in Cornwall and Somerset.

The sticky substance has not been identified, but the birds are believed to have been covered in the same substance that affected hundreds earlier in the year.

Ms Murray added that Plymouth University was testing the material.

Image caption Guillemots and gannets were found on the beach at Lansallos, in Cornwall

Claire Wallerstein, who has been collecting the birds for community project Rame Peninsula Beach Care, said: "It's really heartbreaking.

"It's like something from a horror film with bodies strewn across the beach.

"A few days ago we were picking up live birds, but now nearly all of them are dead."

In February, more than 200 birds, mainly guillemots and some razorbills, were taken in by the RSPCA after being found covered in glue-like polyisobutene.

At the time, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) said it was a "fairly common chemical" carried aboard ships.

Jo Barr, from the RSPCA, said some of the birds which were rescued in February, had been found again covered in a sticky substance.

The RSPB has called for polyisobutene, which can be released legally under certain conditions, to be reclassified and discharges of the substance to be outlawed.

Image caption Dog walkers have been warned to keep their pets away from dead or injured birds

The MCA said: "We are liaising with partner agencies to find out the extent of the problem and, if at all possible, to determine the source."

Steve Hussey, from Devon Wildlife Trust, said: "This is something that actually impacts our economy here in the South West.

"We're very reliant on our natural assets and a clean sea is one of those.

"If you're making a decision as to where to go on holiday and where to spend your cash and you're seeing pictures of dead birds being washed up, that's not a very good message."

The RSPCA has urged people to contact them, rather than try to help any injured or distressed birds.

Dog walkers have been warned to keep their pets away from dead or injured birds.

Image caption The RSPCA is treating injured birds at its centres in Cornwall and Somerset

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