NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Birds Living on Refuse From Britain's Teeming Shores

August 28, 2001

Through stringent regulations, the European Union is making sure that Britain cleanses the urban waste water that flows into the seas surrounding the island nation. So the largest raw sewage sludge drying plant in the world lies near the Northumberland industrial town of Middlesbrough.

Every day it squeezes 250,000 tons of sewage down to just 75 tons of "bio-pellets" which are used for fertilizer or as fuel -- the remaining clean water being released to the ocean.

But ornithologists fear the process is harming local bird populations.

  • It seems shorebirds feed on mollusks and worms -- which for years have thrived on the tons of raw sewage which flows daily into coastal waters.
  • Now the cleaner waters are reducing the mollusk and worm populations -- and sandpipers and other birds may wind up the starving victims.
  • The British Trust for Ornithology is studying the question around the country -- and early results suggest that lots of waterfowl are indeed living off pollution.
  • It is feared that some of Europe's endangered bird species -- such as the roseate tern -- will not survive.

Source: "No Foul Water, No Waterfowl," Economist, August 25, 2001.


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