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Dozens of birds rescued from huge amount of cooking oil on London's Grand Union Canal

Suspected cooking oil being spilled into London’s Grand Union Canal is having a “devastating” effect on wildlife, Shepperton’s Swan Sanctuary has said.

The charity has cleaned and cared for dozens of birds that have been left for dead after being contaminated with the pollutant in Alperton, west London, after a dump in February.

Swans, geese, cormorants, coots and ducks have all been coated in oil which can strip their fathers of waterproofing, leading them to become vulnerable to hypothermia and drowning.

Gemma Nelson, who works at the sanctuary, said the oil was discovered by the charity’s volunteers and that a lot died before they were brought safely back to the charity.

The Swan Sanctuary has rescued birds that were caught up in oil on the Grand Union Canal (The Swan Sanctuary)
The Swan Sanctuary has rescued birds that were caught up in oil on the Grand Union Canal (The Swan Sanctuary)

“We have spent weeks and weeks slowly filtering various birds from that area,” she said.

“It’s been an ongoing rescue, we’ve had a lot of coots [come in for cleaning] after members of the public have found them coated in oil.

“The oil on their feathers makes them reluctant to get on the water which makes them easy targets for predators.

“By the time you’ve seen them, they’re really poorly and succumb to drowning and hypothermia. We have seen a lot die before they even reached us.”

The condition of the birds has made it “quite easy” for the charity’s volunteers to capture them for cleaning. But the oil has been so thick and “stubborn” that it has taken multiple washes.

Oil being cleared out from the Grand Union Canal (Swan Sanctuary)
Oil being cleared out from the Grand Union Canal (Swan Sanctuary)

Ms Nelson said: “We currently don't know where the oil on the Grand Union Canal has come from, but it has had a devastating effect on the local wildlife.

“There is some dispute over what the oil is. It feels like cooking oil, we had a problem at another location where a restaurant had been dumping oil through an illegal connection.

“These investigations take so long because the people doing it are so sneaky. They can think, ‘oh it’s only a little bit of oil’, but it can cause you big problems.”

Little Venice and Paddington areas are now being cleaned, as well as the area in Alperton where it is believed the oil originated.

Ms Nelson said that she is optimistic that the birds in care will make a complete recovery.

“They are out of the danger zone now and all we are waiting for is for them to be clean and for their feathers to be waterproof again.

“It took some time for the appropriate agencies to organise but with a clean up now underway we are hoping to be able to return the affected birds back to their homes once the contamination is cleared.”

A Canal & River Trust spokesperson said: “We’ve been dealing with deliberate industrial scale cooking oil pollution on the Grand Union Canal Paddington Arm for several weeks, which has been rated as a Category 3 incident by the Environment Agency.”