A rescue operation has been launched to save around 60 swans who have been caught up in an oil spill caused by recent flooding.
The animal welfare charity was sent to the region this weekend following reports that severe flooding in the area had caused a barge to upturn, and is thought to have caused the spillage on the Sheffield and South Yorkshire Navigation canal near where it connects with the River Don, off Rawmarsh Lane in Rotherham.
Initial reports suggested 80 swans had been affected by the spillage but it is now thought 60 swans are in need of being rescued.
On Sunday (November 10), a team of officers including Inspector John Gibson and Sara Jordan were at the scene just outside Caffe Cristinacce, and used a water rescue boat to capture 23 swans.
The swans had pollutant in their feathers, but it has not yet been confirmed where the pollutant came from. As well as the upturned barge, the RSPCA said it could have come from fuel and oil from vehicles which may have been in the canal.
The swans have been taken to the RSPCA’s Stapeley Grange Wildlife Centre, in Cheshire, where they will be cleaned and will then be released back into the wild.
If oil is not removed from waterbirds it reduces the natural waterproofing in their plumage, leaving them at risk of dying from hypothermia.
Geoffrey Edmund, the RSPCA’s national wildlife coordinator, said: “Initial reports suggested 80 birds had been affected by the spillage but we believe it is around 60 and we managed to rescue 23 - which is a really good result as they are quite difficult to catch.
Drone footage shows extent of flooding in South Yorkshire
RAF helicopter brought in to shore up defences in flood-hit Yorkshire
“We had to stop due to failing light but we have returned today (Monday) to capture the remaining ones and tomorrow we plan to have two boats in operation to rescue more affected birds.
"All the swans are preening to try and clean themselves but while they are doing this they are not feeding and they will become weak so we have to act fast before this happens.
“All the swans are being taken to our wildlife centre and once they have been thoroughly cleaned they will be able to recuperate and will then be released back into the wild."
The flood water caused damage to many local businesses nearby including Caffe Cristinacce, which faces the canal where the swans spend most of their time.
Eve Cristanacce-Travis, who owns the cafe, said she alerted the RSPCA to the incident after she went to the premises to clear up after the building filled with four-foot high water.
She said: “We love the swans and many of our customers come here and then feed them so we are pleased they are getting the help they need. When we came across them on Saturday covered in what appeared to be oil we were really upset.
"I am overwhelmed by the efforts of the RSPCA. They have been on site rescuing swans and it has been like a military operation. I can’t thank them enough for their efforts. They were wet and cold but have continued to keep up the rescue work and are doing a great job."
The clean-up operation following the floods in South Yorkshire is well underway - however more rain is expected in the coming days.
On Sunday, an RAF Chinook began ferrying bags of aggregate on to flood banks in the Bentley area of Doncaster - close to an area of housing which was inundated by floodwater on Friday.
The air drops in the Doncaster area came as the Met Office issued fresh weather warnings for heavy rain in South Yorkshire and as people who stayed in a flooded village cut off by river water were urged to leave by the council.
Around half the 700 residents of Fishlake, near Doncaster, left the village as the River Don burst its banks last week.