Final update on 2014 European seabird wreck

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) has issued its final update on the devastating seabird wreck caused by severe winter storms, with totals of confirmed affected birds now reaching more than 33,000.

New information on the situation, which the RSPB reports as the worst seabird wreck in living memory, includes results of a pair of surveys of 10km of Portuguese coast during March where 163 birds were found. Also, in northern Spain reports listed 231 birds but there is also unconfirmed information that the Sociedad Española de Ornithology (SEO) found at least 3,000 birds on Spanish beaches. Those numbers are not included in the overall total listed above, pending confirmation but if confirmed bring the known total to over 36,000 birds.

The British Trust for Ornithology (BTO) has received ring reports from more than 400 birds, many of which were ringed at Irish and UK breeding sites. Reports of ringed birds came from France, Ireland, Scotland and Wales, with one bird reported in Portugal. Many of these birds were ringed on breeding colonies in the UK and Ireland.

In the UK, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) examined a small number of birds and all were found to be underweight or emaciated with no food in the digestive tract. None of the birds examined had oil or other contaminants on them, however, a few birds (<5%) from the beach surveys were reported as oiled or as smelling strongly of fresh oil.

The Centre of Documentation, Research and Experimentation on accidental water pollution(CEDRE) has analysed samples from the oiled birds (approximately 15% of all birds recorded) found during surveys in France and confirmed that the oil is not from any of the three major previous incidents-Erika, Prestige or TK Bremen- but is of a single chemical signature. The Ligue pour la Protection des Oiseaux (LPO) is working to identify the source of this oil as tar balls continue to wash up on beaches from Charente-Maritime to Brittany.

Affected birds were reported from northern Scotland to northern Portugal, with France reporting the largest numbers (24,351 including 2,784 found live and taken into care). The French totals are considered an underestimate.

It will be some time before the impact of this event on breeding populations is known. Of particular concern are the puffins, the most deeply affected species, and kittiwakes. Both species are already being affected by other factors such as lack of food during breeding season, possibly a result of climate change.