Oil on Sussex beaches

10 December 2019 | Posted in Barry Yates , Rye Harbour , Birds , Marine
Oil on Sussex beaches
Common Scoter

We all know that our seas are in a very poor state now, but one aspect has greatly improved in recent years - oil dumped by shipping. I remember twenty years ago that when sitting on any Sussex beach, the first thing to do was to check for patches of oil or tar. There was a terrible toll on birds getting oil on their feathers and then being ingested - gulls, divers, terns, cormorants, waders, ducks and grebes. The lucky ones were picked up by volunteers who regularly searched the beaches and these were taken for cleaning, rehabilitation and successful release.

One such example was picked up at Rye Harbour and taken to Mallydams RSPCA by volunteers Rosalie and John - a young male Common Scoter (a blackish sea duck) was cleaned and released back into Rye Bay in February 2002. It has just been recovered (sadly shot) in September 2019  at Krasnoyarsk in Russia over 5,000 km away! At 18+ years old this easily beats the existing longevity record of 13 years 2 months 27 days (set in 2009) as on the BTO website. Common Scoters winter offshore in the UK and then migrate to Russia in the summer to breed. He would have made this migration every year since then, covering a huge distance.

This shows that volunteers checking the beaches, getting the casualties to proper cleaning facilities and also fitting rings to the birds before release, was all worthwhile.

It emphasises the importance of successful international legislation when combined with technology that enabled the culprit ships to be found. These days it's very unusual to see oil or oiled birds, but accidents will always happen... so it's good to know that Mallydams RSPCA is nearby and does an excellent job.


  • Robin Harris:

    14 Dec 2019 11:17:00

    What a very interesting post. Just goes to show that the cleaning of oiled birds can be very successful. What a traveller this bird has been. Hopefully it was shot for a good reason (to make a meal for someone’s family) rather than for so-called ‘sport’. The point you make re oil dumping is a good one. Let’s hope the pressure on those responsible for sea pollution can be stepped up even more (doubtless there was a promise in Boris’s manifesto to do this!?!)

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