Rathlin wildlife at threat if oil drilling gets go-ahead: RSPB
Published 23/08/2011 | 00:00
It's a haven for protected wildlife - home to puffins, razorbills, lobsters and crabs.
But all this could be under threat if oil drilling licences are given the go-ahead on Northern Ireland's only inhabited island.
The area around Rathlin Island, off the north Antrim coast, has been identified as a potential site for oil exploration in the latest round of Government licensing.
But environmentalists are warning this could have a potentially devastating effect on the marine wildlife of the area, which has been marked as a Special Protection Area (SPA) and a Special Area of Conservation (SAC).
The RSPB said a number of important wildlife sites across the UK could be hit if an oil spill occurred in areas being considered for new fossil fuel exploration, including Rathlin.
If the new licence applications are approved, the charity is worried it could lead to full-scale drilling and extraction of oil and gas just a few miles away from internationally important seabird colonies. Any spills - like the recent Shell leak in the North Sea - in these areas could pose an "untenable" risk, it said.
Claire Ferry, senior conservation officer at RSPB in Northern Ireland, said the group was "extremely concerned" by the prospect of oil exploration so close to Rathlin.
"We've seen off the coast of Aberdeenshire that no matter how careful the drilling, there is always the risk of a spill," she said.
"In this case the spill happened far away from any vulnerable wildlife colonies, but just imagine the impact if that oil was washing onto a globally important seabird colony.
"Instead of investing in new oil and gas infrastructure, we should be doing the right thing and investing in renewable energy and green technology."
Protected areas potentially affected by exploration licences:
* Liverpool Bay, England - home to thousands of common scoters and hundreds of red-throated diver birds each winter.
* Sites in the Western Solent and west towards the Isle of Portland, England - internationally important numbers of breeding seabirds and wintering waterbirds.
* Flamborough and Bempton Cliffs, England - home to the only mainland-breeding colony of gannet in the UK.