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Birds left 'caked' in oil after spill in Shannon tributary near Athlone

Five swans were found covered in oil by local volunteers.

Swan covered in oil from recent spill in River Shannon.
Swan covered in oil from recent spill in River Shannon.
Image: John Stroud

A RECENT OIL spill in a tributary of the River Shannon near Athlone has left local wildlife including a family of swans ‘caked’ in oil.

Birds were found covered in oil near the Al River in an area known as the Big Meadow. The source of the spill has yet to be confirmed.  

“One of the cygnets was in a very bad state – his whole body was black,” welfare officer with the Athlone Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Billy Gallagher told TheJournal.ie

Two adult swans and three cygnets (young swans) were found covered in oil near the spill by locals on Saturday, he said. 

The family of swans have survived the cleanup and have now been moved to the Kildare Animal Foundation to recover. 

oil spill Oil spilled in the Al River - a tributary of River Shannon - taken in recent days. Source: John Stroud

‘Thick, black oil’ 

Locals John and Una Stroud rescued and cleaned the worst affected cygnet on Saturday and had also rescued another bird earlier that week. 

“I rescued a cormorant covered in oil on Thursday – I didn’t realise that the oil was just around the corner,” said John Stroud. 

The cormorant died on Friday morning. Stroud returned to the area the following day after a period of heavy rainfall. 

“I was walking around and saw that in the middle of the road, there was a cygnet sitting there literally covered in oil,” he said. 

“It started hissing at me as I picked her up and carried her home.

“She was absolutely caked in thick, black oil… We stayed up all night cleaning her.”

They wrapped a towel around the cygnet to stop her from trying to clean herself, thereby ingesting oil.

The family cleaned the cygnet using water, fairy liquid and towels. 

“The next morning, she started to look like she was coming around,” said Stroud. 

cormant who died Cormorant who died after oil spill in River Shannon tributary. Source: John Stroud

The birds are now being cared for at the Kildare Animal Foundation on Sunday where they are doing well, according to the shelter’s wildlife manager Dan Donoher.

“We took off all the heavy oil from them and stabilised them before doing the proper wash,” Donoher said.  

He added that some blood dripped out of a few of the nostrils of the birds, but “they’re doing well now”. 

The worst affected cygnet is now on a drip in a local vet.

Containing the spill

Westmeath County Council confirmed it is aware of the oil pollution in the area and deployed a boom in the affected area on Saturday. This is a floating barrier put on the surface of water to temporarily contain spills. 

“Westmeath County Council is currently investigating the matter further, and has technical personnel on site to try and confirm the source of the pollution, and determine the next steps,” the council said in a statement. 

“We have had technical staff on site endeavouring to identity the precise source of the oil pollution.”

Oil retention barriers are in place. The council said it is “clear” that the oil has since escaped from the tributary and into the main channel of the Shannon.

“We will be taking measures to commence the clean up as soon as practically possible,” a statement said.  

The council said the source of the contamination is downstream of the water treatment facility in Athlone.

The wastewater treatment facility in Athlone was part of a number of facilities ruled by the European Court of Justice for breaching EU rules on sewage treatment earlier this year. 

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