The elation of Poole Harbour’s male Osprey’s safe return home from Africa on Sunday morning was soon dashed by late afternoon when news of the oil spill was announced...
Water users and members of the public members are being asked to continue to avoid beaches and the water around Poole Harbour, Dorset until further notice after an oil spill.
It is estimated that approximately 200 barrels of reservoir fluid has been released into the water column at Owers Bay, leaked from a pipeline run by Perenco’s Wytch Farm operations.
Poole Harbour is an incredibly important area environmentally.
It has multiple protective designations in place including the Poole Harbour Special Protection Area (SPA), the Poole Harbour Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) as well as being a designated Ramsar site in which it is recognised as an internationally important wetland.
The reason it has such a high level of protection is because of the important range of habitats and species that call Poole Harbour home.
The conservation, observation and education charity Birds of Poole Harbour said: “Although we don’t know the full extent of yesterday’s spill yet, the fact it’s happened right in the middle of such an environmentally important area is incredibly worrying.
“Poole Harbour hosts nationally and internationally important numbers of wetland birds each winter and equally important numbers of other species including Sandwich and Common Terns which nest on Brownsea each summer.
“Right now we’re in that important transition period where our winter birds are leaving, and our summer birds are arriving, many of which use the southern shore of the harbour for feeding, nesting and hunting.
“Each month we conduct Wetland Bird Surveys across the harbour to monitor populations of over-wintering birds.
“The last survey which was conducted on March 5th logged 5,450 birds along the southern shore in the spill area.
“The local community have an incredibly strong attachment to the harbour and its environment, which was highlighted yesterday morning when our male Osprey arrived back safely from West Africa, exciting thousands of people (watching via a camera we installed this winter) as he landed on the nest.
“His mate is expected to arrive back in early April after they bred for the first time in 2022, becoming the first pair to do so following an absence of nearly 200 years.
“The elation of the male’s safe return home yesterday morning was soon dashed by late afternoon when news of the oil spill was announced.
“Ospreys exclusively eat fish, and our pair hunt in the harbour about 95% of the time during the spring and summer season feeding on Grey Mullet, Flounder and Bass.”
The spokesperson added: “There are so many unanswered questions currently, although thankfully, as of yet there have been no confirmed reports of any birds showing signs of distress as a result of the incident, although it is still early days.
“We will be in constant communication with local partners and the community over the coming days to ensure we’re able to support where we can.
“We ask that the public remain vigilant and report any birds that look in distress to a local wildlife rescue centres, which can be found through this wildlife advice directory.
“You can also keep us informed via email on firstname.lastname@example.org to help us understand the scale of the impact and provide support when needed.”
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Situation is “stable”
Poole Harbour Commissioners is leading the multi-agency “major incident” response.
PHC has activated its emergency Oil Spill Response Plan and specialist oil spill response companies are assisting with the operation.
A strategic co-ordination group (SCG) set up to monitor the situation includes Dorset Police, Dorset Council, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council, NHS, Environment Agency and Natural England.
Jim Stewart, CEO Poole Harbour Commissioners (PHC), said in his latest update: ‘Latest reports show that the oil continues to dissipate, however some oil has come ashore in a small number of areas and PHC is in the process of clearing up areas of pollution, as and when recorded.
“There have been a limited number of reports regarding oiled birds, however we are unaware of any bird fatalities at this stage.”
He previously said: “A leak occurred at a pipeline operated by Perenco at Owers Bay in Poole Harbour.
“Perenco advise that a small [amount] of reservoir fluid (approximately 85% water and 15% oil) escaped from the pipeline, however some of this has already been recovered.
“The pipeline was shut down and booms were placed on either side of the leak in order to minimise any pollution and Perenco advise that there is no risk of any further leakage.
“Early indications are that the surface slick is already dispersing.”
In Monday’s update, he added: “Since 7am, all teams have been out assessing the shoreline and harbour, undertaking Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Technique (SCAT).
“Over 100 people have been involved in these operations this morning.
“Helicopters, drones, vessels, and shore patrols are out gathering data and feeding it back to our Emergency Response Centre.
“Aerial footage gathered today, suggests that there is a 60-70% reduction in oil sightings on the water.
“Collection of oil from sightings has already commended and is being recovered to a safe waste recovery site on the port estate.
“As a precaution, the public should still avoid using the water for recreational purposes and continue to avoid bathing at beaches within Poole Harbour until further updates become available.
“BCP Council is in the process of putting signage up on the beaches to inform bathers of this.
“We ask that members of the public do not try to help with the clean-up at Poole Harbour, specialist trained teams are working hard on the ground.
“It is unlikely that there will be any long term health effects from short exposures (e.g. days).
“Anyone who has come into contact with the spill should wash immediately with soap and water for ten minutes. If eyes have come into contact with the spill, they should be rinsed with water.
“Anyone who has been exposed to fuel oil and is feeling unwell please contact NHS 111 or eek medical attention from your GP.
“All of these measures are keeping the situation stable.”
Avoid the water
Members of the public are advised to “avoid beaches and the water around Poole Harbour until further notice” and to leave the clean up operation to the professionals.
A Dorset Local Resilience Forum spokesman said: “We are working with other agencies to support Poole Harbour Commissioners in their response to the pipeline leak at Poole Harbour.
“Specialist oil spill response teams are assisting with the clean-up at Poole Harbour, and early indications are that the surface slick is already dispersing.
“Work is ongoing to clean up the leaked fluid at Poole Harbour and minimise any pollution.
“Although there are signs that the slick caused by the leaked fluid at Poole Harbour is already dispersing, members of the public are asked to continue to avoid beaches and the water around Poole Harbour until further notice.
“Please continue to follow advice from the UK Health Security Agency, and avoid using the beaches and water in the Poole Harbour area.
“We ask that members of the public do not try and help with the clean-up at Poole Harbour, specialist trained teams are working hard on the ground.
“Anyone who has been exposed to fuel oil and is feeling unwell please contact NHS 111 or seek medical attention from your GP.”
Dorset Wildlife Trust wardens are monitoring the shoreline on a daily basis and working closely with partner organisations including National Trust and RSPB.
Dorset Wildlife Trust’s chief executive, Brian Bleese said: “This oil spill has the potential to have serious implications for many of the species of birds which are reliant on the Brownsea lagoon for feeding.
“The impact of oil pollution on marine wildlife below the surface is also of great concern and even harder to monitor; Poole Harbour is a bass nursery and an important area for molluscs which feed by filtering seawater and so may be particularly badly affected, as well as seahorse which breed in the harbour and seals.
“As well as doing everything we can to help wildlife now and over the next few crucial months, we also want to see Perenco, who operate the pipeline, taking responsibility and all appropriate action to make sure that this never happens again.”
Local stand-up paddleboard instructor Elaine Williams, who runs Supscene365, said on her Facebook group: “A very sad day. Poole Harbour is my favourite go to paddle place and I know it like the back of my hand.
“Major oil spill by Ower Bay, a beautiful area populated by soooooo much wildlife. With the shallow waters there and huge numbers of birds I can only think many of them could be hugely affected. Fish too. I hope my friend Sammy Seal is OK as that’s also his territory.
“Don’t paddle in the Harbour until it’s declared safe folks – but we’re not the important ones here.”
Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council leader Philip Broadhead said: “As Leader of the Council I will, along with the senior Council team, be working to see what implications this leak may have and what action we need to take.
“It is of course extremely disappointing to hear of this event, and while there will be a time later for anger and investigation, our focus now must be on ensuring we can mitigate any impacts of this situation.”
Perenco UK said its incident management team was activated immediately, the leak was stopped and booms deployed as an additional containment to protect Poole Harbour.
Perenco UK is working closely with the relevant authorities and a clean-up operation is underway.
Perenco UK’s Wytch Farm general manager Franck Dy said: “Any spill is an extremely serious matter and a full investigation will be launched to ascertain what happened in Poole Harbour.
“It is important to stress that the situation is under control, with the discharge of fluids having been stopped and the spill is being contained.”