Campaigners are calling for fast-track measures to protect marine wildlife as the number of seabirds killed by a mystery pollutant was estimated to have risen to almost 300.
Fishing minister Richard Benyon faced a barrage of demands from West Country conservationists to speed up the process of designating marine conservation zones (MCZ).
The RSPB accused the Conservative minister of “faffing about” as the latest figures from the RSPCA centre at West Hatch in Somerset showed that 294 birds, mostly guillemots, had been affected by the spillage.
The RSPB South West regional spokesman Tony Richardson pressed the minister at a public meeting in Devon to explain the “puzzling” decision to remove sea-birds from a list of creatures protected under the proposed 31 aquatic zones, including 15 off the South West coast.
New zones could give the creatures the chance to “bounce” back, he added, as his organisation claimed up to 600 could have been coated in the damaging mineral oil and washed up on beaches from Dorset to Cornwall.
Mr Benyon said every effort was being made to identify the culprits, adding: “We must resolve this issue because we don’t want to this in the future.”
Wildlife campaigners, environmentalists and fishermen gathered at South Devon College, near Paignton, yesterday to quiz the minister at an event hosted by fellow Conservative and Totnes MP Dr Sarah Woolaston.