THE Environmental Agency has launched an appeal to catch a contamination criminal, after a mile-long stretch of rhyne in Mark was swamped by an oil spill on Thursday, February 21.

Members of the Secret World animal charity in East Huntspill launched a rescue operation after part of the Mark Yeo, a drainage rhyne connecting the River Axe to the River Brue, filled with oil, leaving birds covered in a thick black slick.

The animal charity rushed a dozen volunteers to the Yarrow Farm area of the village to save two swans, a goose and three ducks - who became engulfed by oil after landing on the water - before taking them back to the Secret World base to be washed down and cared for.

Volunteers lined the mile long stretch to rescue the birds, with Burnham's Area Rescue Boat (BARB) also aiding the operation.

Pauline Kidner, from Secret World, told the Weekly News: "We sent out 12 volunteers to help at the rhyne and we were very pleased with the birds we picked up.

"Obviously it is important to get to the birds as quickly as possible because they will start to try to clean themselves and end up digesting the oil.

"We were pleased with the way the rescue went and the staff and volunteers were fantastic. All the birds need final washes but we hope they will be ok."

Environmental health officers have visited the site to investigate the cause of the leak and an operations delivery team from the agency put three boom barriers in place along the river to stop and pump out the oil.

Now officers believe the river was polluted deliberately, after an unconfirmed report that a person was seen pouring waste industrial oil from a barrel into the Mark Yeo along the Pill Road between Mark and Rooks Bridge.

Jim Grundy, from the Environment Agency, said: "The oil is thick in consistency suggesting it might be waste oil. It looks heavier than diesel and may have been deliberately dumped.

"Fortunately, the booms have prevented the spread of oil downstream and enabled us to contain the pollution.

"We would especially like to hear from anyone who might have information about this incident. We are continuing our investigation and looking at all possible sources for this pollution that has had a serious impact on the Mark Yeo."

Anyone with information can call the Environment Agency's free 24-hour incident hotline on 08008-07060, and anyone who comes across an animal affected by the oil is urged to contact Secret World immediately on 01278-783250.