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Shepway District Council pollutes Royal Military Canal

By Sean Axtell

A council has admitted polluting a canal with hydraulic oil, endangering wildlife.

Shepway council admitted the fluid burst from its barge into the 28-mile Hythe Military Canal a week ago, and the clean-up operation started today.

A number of volunteers have since been working to rescue distressed wildlife including eight resident swans and other animals – kingfishers, herons and moorhens for example.

Courtesy Swan Sanctuary

The Swan Sanctuary, a charity that rescued and is rehabilitating the birds, rapped the council and Environmental Agency (EA) for “inaction.”

Charity trustee Steven Knight said: “The birds are in a pretty bad state, they were not going into the water because the oil makes them sink and become cold.

Video: Swans were affected by the Canal pollution

“As they’re not using the water they become susceptible to other predators. The long and short of it is they are at risk of death without intervention.

Courtesy Swan Sanctuary

“It seems the pollution wasn’t cleaned up when it happened and now the oil is all over the wildlife.

“We have three at the sanctuary at the moment and we are on our way to collect another five.

“There is a lot of wildlife down there, we won’t only rescue swans - it’s all nature.”

Courtesy Swan Sanctuary

The birds will be rehabilitated at the centre in Shepperton, Surrey, before being re-released into the wild.

It comes as scores of pollution and contaminated swan images began surfacing from March 5, but public calls for an explanation went unanswered.

Contaminated swan - Courtesy Swan Sanctuary

Ashley Tanton, Green Party councillor for Hythe Town Council in a letter to Shepway members said he will call for a full prosecution.

Sentencing guidelines for water pollution offences carry up to five years in prison and an unlimited fine.

Courtesy Swan Sanctuary

The Environment Agency has been contacted for comment.

A spokesman for Shepway council said the oil is safe as it disperses in water, but not water at the current temperature.

They added: “Last Monday a hose on the back of our barge split which led to a discharge of biodegradable hydraulic oil into the Royal Military Canal.

“We have now introduced a programme to change the hose every three years and in future a spill kit will be carried on the barge.

Struggling to get clean - Swan Sanctuary

“We immediately reported the leak to the Environment Agency (EA).

"They attended on Tuesday morning to take samples of the substance for analysis. “The EA has been monitoring the situation since then and will continue to do so, along with officers from the council.

“The oil we use poses no risk to human life and minimum risk to wildlife.

"It is biodegradable and designed to safely disperse in water."

Council officers today began working with EA staff to clean the waterway, but they have been hindered by cold weather and rain.

The clear-up attempt will resume tomorrow.

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