DAY 141: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RESCUING A SEABIRD
STEP 1: COME HOME DRUNK AND READ BBC NEWS
Thursday night. Lots of white wine consumed with my friend Monique on Broadway market. Come home fairly tiddly, drunk enough to annoy Ann (wife), so retreat to loo with iPhone and read BBC news. Read about hundreds of seabirds being mysteriously washed up on coast of Dorset because of unknown oil spill. Many birds are dying. Whatever. Hic!
STEP 2: SLEEP FOR 3 HOURS
Hang on…does this mean I have to do something? Hic! Follow your heart Martin. Whatever.
Go and cuddle Ann.
‘I should go and help those birds, get up in a few hours time and drive down in the night, that’s what I should do. Be a hero.’
I know she will persuade me to stay in bed in morning.
‘Yes you should Martin’
Set alarm for 5am.
STEP 3: DRIVE TO DORSET IN THE VERY EARLY MORNING
STEP 4: ARRIVE WEYMOUTH 9AM, BUY FISHING NET AND BOX
STEP 5: MEET AN RSPCA MAN WITH A BAG OF DEAD BIRDS. NICE
I get to Chesil Cove (where most of the washed up birds arrive) and see lots of TV crews (ITV, BBC, SKY) and one RSPCA man with a bag of dead Guillemots.
I spot ten dead birds on the beach. The extent of the waxy residue is evident.
STEP 6: PRETEND TO BE QUALIFIED
I strut around with my net as if I know what I’m doing.
Then I see some experts who have way more gear than me. Shit. They have helmets! Their poles are much longer than mine. They look moody.
They are being interviewed for TV!
I go round the corner of the cove and see what ‘resucing a bird’ really means. Gulp.
STEP 7: FIND BIRDS
It’s fairly easy to see the birds but getting to them across slippery rocks is another thing. The birds perch near the water desperately trying to clean their feathers, shake off the glue. It’s tragic to watch. The experts go into the water up to their waist. I’m wearing cotton trousers. The danger is that as soon as you are close the birds, they scarper off . They distrust us. Fair enough..one of us pumped the oil into the ocean.
STEP 8: PISS OFF THE EXPERTS
One of the experts who probably has years of experience seems to become a little irritated with my presence. To be fair I haven’t done much – I’m just too scared. Nevertheless I have the distinct feeling he thinks I’m on his turf. Or just an idiot. He seems vaguely possessive about rescuing the birds himself. I decide to go off on my own
STEP 9: HIDE BEHIND ROCKS AND POSITION YOURSELF BETWEEN BIRD AND WATER
The key part of rescuing a seabird – I’ve now worked out from watching the experts – is to make sure they don’t see you. Otherwise they run back into the water which will only make them weaker and colder.
Then, keeping low down, you have to creep between them and the sea. Not so easy on wet rock.
STEP 10: LUNGE
Finally you make your move.
STEP 11: GET INTERVIEWED FOR ITV (local) news.
Then people think YOU are the expert.
Big camera approaches me and I’m asked all about the situation. I repeat what I heard on the radio but find myself confidently making up some facts – I say there are multiple thousands drowned at sea. This is possibly true but not certainly true. They ask me what bird I have in my hand. A guillemot! I say, but then realise I have no idea ITV likes the recording so much they ask me to come back for a live chat session later.
STEP 12: GIVE BIRD TO RSPCA MAN BUT TELL HIM NOT TO PUT IN BAG
The RSPCA are collecting all the birds to take back to their rescue centre in Taunton where the birds will be cleaned with washing up liquid and margerine. I’m told this is shaping up to be one of the worst bird eco-disasters in living memory.
STEP 13: REPEAT STEPS 6-11 UNTIL SUNDOWN
I keep going all the way till the sun starts to go down.
In the end I rescue five birds. Not a massive number but still….five lives. Better than a day in the office.
STEP 14: FEEL IMMENSELY SAD
At the end of the day I felt both exhausted and genuinely sad. I had to leave three Guillemot just out of reach, probably waiting to die of hypothermia. The light was fading and every time I got close they jumped back into the sea despite being caked in grease. I watched them bobbing in the water knowing they were likely to not last much longer. I could only do what I could do.
But its the old story. When you touch a little bit of suffering it opens up a wealth of sadness.
It IS likely that many thousands of birds have died. At the end of today 170 birds had been rescued off this small stretch of land. Multiply that by the hundreds of miles of coast where other birds have reportedly been washed up, then assume that most will still be suffering at sea and you have a huge tragic disaster.
And what caused it?
We don’t know. Likely a ship that dumped its load illegally because it couldn’t be bothered to do it legally.
We really are bastards sometimes.