Rare albatrosses 'killed in Falklands fire'

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of rare albatrosses and penguins may have been killed on the Falkland Islands in a fire accidentally started by British troops, it was claimed last night.

Hundreds of rare albatrosses and penguins may have been killed on the Falkland Islands in a fire accidentally started by British troops, it was claimed last night.

The blaze raged for five days, destroying 90 per cent of the tussac grassland of South Jason Island, a nature reserve owned by the Falklands government, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds said.

It was said to have been started accidentally by troops when they visited the island on 12 January to dispose of ammunition found at a site where two Argentine planes were shot down during the 1982 Falklands war.

The RSPB said hundreds of penguin and almost fully grown albatross chicks may have died. Fire crews spoke of "burnt penguins and other seabirds crawling away through tussac grass, unlikely to escape flames fanned by ferocious South Atlantic winds," the RSPB said.

The Ministry of Defence denied the reports. An independent conservationist had checked the island yesterday and reported no damage to albatrosses and penguins nesting on a separate rocky outcrop, it said.

Penguin News, a BBC Online publication, said the commander of British forces in the Falklands, Brigadier Geoff Sheldon, publicly apologised for the fire. An inquiry is due to be held to establish its cause.

Conservationists are asking why the Army chose to deal with ammunition at the height of the nesting season and while the grassland was tinder dry.

Jim Stevenson, an RSPB overseas expert, said: "It was irresponsible to do this and I have written to Baroness Scotland, the Overseas Territories Minister, to express concern."

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