Baby swan and river birds rescued from huge oil slick stretching from Harlesden to Little Venice

A cygnet recuperates after its dramatic rescue from the Grand Union Canal oil slick

A cygnet recuperates after its dramatic rescue from the Grand Union Canal oil slick - Credit: Archant

Riverboat residents scrambled to join a dramatic multi-agency operation to rescue swans, river birds and their chicks after a mile-long oil slick polluted waters from Harlesden to Little Venice yesterday afternoon.

The oil spill is reported to have worked its way downriver to Little Venice from Harlesden

The oil spill is reported to have worked its way downriver to Little Venice from Harlesden - Credit: Archant

Officers from the RSPCA found around 30 birds including geese, moorhens, mallards and a family of swans fighting for their lives and “caked” in a cooking oil-like substance after residents alerted the Environment Agency and the River and Canal trust to an oil slick in the Grand Union Canal near Little Venice.

The birds were taken for urgent treatment at the Swan Sanctuary in Shepperton, where they are now being cared for by sanctuary trustee Steven Knight, who joined the seven-man rescue operation covering a mile-long stretch of water clogged with the polluting substance.

He said: “It was terrible, they were caked in vegetable oil, as you picked them out of the water their feathers were clogged together and the oil was squeezing out and there was a baby cygnet and other small birds. They’re now washed up and recovering in the safe hands of our bird hospital before going into our indoor pool tomorrow.”

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA thanked volunteers who offered to help save the birds and said there were at least four more geese that needed to be rescued in a return operation today.

The rescued swans, moorhens and river birds are now recovering at the Swan Sanctuary in Shepperton

The rescued swans, moorhens and river birds are now recovering at the Swan Sanctuary in Shepperton - Credit: Archant

The Environment Agency’s clear-up operation attempted to stem the spillage which was first reported on May 9 by installing a boom and is taking water samples as part of an ongoing investigation.

Houseboat resident Ramin Fakhir, 52, said: “I’ve been complaining about this filthy stretch of water for two months now because every single duckling and every single gosling is dying. I’m tearing my hair out. Yesterday I alerted the Environment Agency to this devastation and I hope the people responsible get what they deserve.”

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In a statement a spokesman from the Canal and River Trust said: “The source has been identified and we believe it is cooking oil and given the quantity one possibility we are jointly exploring with Thames water is that it has been dumped knowingly. If this is the case it is idiotic for someone to do this without thinking of the consequences of this kind of pollution and people are rightly angry- to say we are frustrated is an understatement.”

Volunteers and officers from a number of agencies gathered to rescue the birds and stem the spillage

Volunteers and officers from a number of agencies gathered to rescue the birds and stem the spillage - Credit: Archant

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