MIGRATING British birds are dying in the huge oil slick washing ashore on the northern coast of Spain, the British Trust for Ornithology revealed today.
The BTO rushed experts to the scene after the tanker Prestige sank in the Atlantic two weeks ago because the Galician coast is on a much used migration route for British birds flying south for the winter.
Today, it was revealed that four birds ringed by British and Irish volunteers had been found dead in the oil slick - two puffins, a guillemot and a gannet - but experts fear that they may be only a fraction of the British fatalities.
This, says the BTO, is "just the start." Many dead birds are not washed up and, of the thousands that are, most are simply collected with hundreds of others by bulldozers and other machines taking part in the clean-up operation and are dumped without being inspected for identification rings.
Naturalists had hoped that, after the sinking in deep water, the oil would be compressed by pressure on the seabed. That hoped was dashed at the weekend when an estimated 9,000 tons of oil began to wash ashore, threatening death for many thousands of birds as well as ruining the area's tourism and fishing industries.