UP TO 15 birds have been spotted with oil smudges on their feathers following the large oil leak in Poole Harbour.

Fears have been raised for the impact on wildlife and habitats following the leak from a pipeline operated by gas and oil company Perenco on Sunday, March 27.

Approximately 200 barrels of reservoir fluid were released into the water after the leak occurred at the Wytch Farm oil field.

The RSPB has said that although it has been made aware of birds with oil smudges, their behaviour appears to be “normal” and it was optimistic about the situation.

A spokeswoman said: “We have so far received reports of up to 15 birds in the area with what appears to be brown oil smudges on their feathers, but all seem to be feeding, flying and behaving normally.

Bournemouth Echo: Oil in the water of Poole Harbour following leak.Oil in the water of Poole Harbour following leak. (Image: Ben Birchall/PA)

“These include black-headed gulls, Mediterranean gulls, shelduck and mute swans.

“However, the only way for them to clean is by preening, and we have yet to see what the impacts of that may be once they digest the substance on their feathers, so we are continuing to monitor the situation closely.

“It’s too early to know the scale of impact but we have been in regular contact with the authorities to support the response as best we can, and we remain cautiously optimistic that it may not be as bad as we first feared.”

Perenco has said the 200 barrels contained 158 litres of liquid made up of 85 per cent water and 15 per cent oil. If correct, this equate to around 4,740 litres of oil.

Paul Morton, of the charity Birds of Poole Harbour, previously said: “Each month we conduct wetland bird surveys across the harbour to monitor populations of over-wintering birds. The last survey which was conducted on March 5 logged 5,450 birds along the southern shore in the spill area.”

Environment minister Rebecca Pow has said an investigation had been launched into the cause of the incident.