People dumping engine oil into drains risk seriously harming wildlife, the RSPCA has warned.

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It comes after two swans were rescued from a river in Thetford when they became contaminated with oil on October 18.

Another two swans were also affected and a further two, which are very active and therefore making them hard to catch, are being monitored by officers.

The RSPCA believes somebody is dumping used engine oil in a drain which is filtering into the river where Mill Lane meets Nuns Bridges Road.

Whenever there is a heavy downpour, more oil then washes into the waterway.

RSPCA acting chief inspector Craig Plumley said: “If oil is not removed from waterbirds it reduces the natural waterproofing in their plumage, leaving them at risk of dying from hypothermia.

“Another problem is that, as they preen and attempt to clean their feathers, the swans ingest the oil which can be extremely dangerous.

“Luckily we have experienced staff and equipment to clean oiled birds at East Winch and give them a solution to help if they have swallowed oil, but they could be spared so much suffering and distress if this irresponsible person disposed of their oil legally and properly.”

The Environment Agency and Anglian Water have been working together for more than a year to try to find the source of the oil and stop it getting into the river from the drain, but it is still seeping through.

Environment Agency spokesman, Sarah Wicks, urged anyone with any information to call its emergency hotline. “It is possible that the people disposing of the oil don’t realise where it is ending up,” she said.

Anglian Water spokesman, Antony Innes, said he was “committed” to tracing the course of the issue.

“We have carried out investigations and installed a number of absorbent pads throughout the network to try to minimise the impact this has on the watercourse,” he said.

“However, the best way to protect the local environment is to stop these events occurring in the first place, which is why we would urge people with any information to get in touch.”

If anyone sees any animals in distress they should contact the RSPCA’s cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.

If anyone knows who is dumping the engine oil into the drain they should contact the Environment Agency’s hotline on 0800 80 70 60.

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