Oil licences 'threaten sea birds'

Rathlin Island could be in danger of suffering oil spills if permission for drilling is granted, the RSPB claimed.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is considering granting exploration licences allowing companies to look for oil and gas off the coast of the UK.

Rathlin has world-renowned collection of wild sea birds amid some of the most dramatic seascape in the country.

Claire Ferry, senior conservation officer at the RSPB, said: "These risks are real and untenable. We cannot stand by and allow demand for fossil fuels to increase the pressure on our already threatened coastal wildlife and those communities who rely on it.

"Instead of investing in new oil and gas infrastructure we should be doing the right thing and investing in renewable energy and green technology such as electric cars."

This week sees the close of the public consultation on the 26th oil and gas licensing round, overseen by the Department.

The RSPB has responded by highlighting key wildlife sites close to the areas under consideration.

An oil spill off northern Scotland was recorded in recent weeks.

Ms Ferry added: "We have seen off the coast of Aberdeenshire that no matter how careful the drilling, there is always the risk of an oil spill.

"In this case the spill happened far away from any vulnerable wildlife colonies but just imagine the impact if the oil was washing onto a globally important seabird colony, affecting whales, dolphins, seals and basking sharks, or threatening rural livelihoods reliant on fishing in clean seas and marine tourism."

The charity is calling on the Government to turn down applications for exploration licences close to European-designated wildlife sites like Rathlin.

The island hosts thousands of breeding puffins, razorbills, guillemots and kittiwakes as well as supporting rich underwater marine life from rare sponges unique to Rathlin as well as lobster and crab vital for local pot fishermen. Whales and dolphin use the water and there is an important seal colony.

The RSPB seabird centre attracts almost 20,000 visitors per year, supporting nine jobs on the island.

The RSPB is also concerned about the potential impact of increased disturbance to habitats and people from sea and air traffic and the potential need for new pipelines and other infrastructure.

Ms Ferry added: "This is another reason why the RSPB is calling for a Marine Bill for Northern Ireland which will designate marine-protected areas, ensuring that all users of the sea can be accommodated without damage to our amazing marine wildlife and ecosystems on which we all rely."

Source: PA