Scotland’s seas and wildlife remain at risk of a repeat of the Braer tanker disaster 25 years ago due to the nation’s dependency on oil and safety cut-backs, conservationists have warned.

More than 1,500 birds were killed after the MV Braer vessel ran aground off the southernmost tip of the islands in the early hours of January 5 1993. It was laden with 85,000 tonnes of oil.

Over a period of up to 12 days the entire cargo of Gulfaks oil - a form of light crude oil - was discharged at an unknown rate into the sea.

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It was estimated that up to 1,500 tons of heavy bunker oil was also lost from the Liberian-registered vessel.

The coastlines where spared the worst thanks to some of the worst weather ever seen on Shetland, which dispersed the oil with the weeks of storms which followed.

However, 1,538 dead birds were found along local beaches, with more than half located in Sumburgh Head and Garths Ness, close to where the tanker went down.

Conservation charity WWF Scotland has warned that a failure to move away from a dependency on oil means that the risk of another major pollution incident on Scotland’s coast remains a “real and present danger”.

Dr Sam Gardner, Acting Director, said that a quarter of a century after Braer “the continued pursuit of oil reserves from ever more challenging marine environments means that not only does Scotland’s precious marine environment remain at risk but we are also committing ourselves to fuelling dangerous climate change.”

He added: “Although our economy will continue to rely on oil and gas for some time to come, we must now see a vision and the steps required for a just transition to a zero carbon future.

“While we make that transition every regulatory effort and safety measure must be put in place to ensure we never see the like of the Braer disaster again.”

Dr Gardner also said that the issue was compounded by the limited cover of Emergency Towing Vessels (ETVs) in Scotland.

Publicly funded ETVs were deployed in the wake of the Braer running aground.

However as a result of spending cuts beginning in 2011, the four vessels serving the UK - two of which were based in Scotland - have now been whittled down to one, the Ievoli Black in Orkney.

In December, new calls were made for a second ETV to be stationed again off Scotland after a major operation was launched to save a fish farm cargo ship which lost power in a storm.

Martin Heubeck, employed by Aberdeen University, a seabird monitoring contractor for the Shetland Oil Terminal Environmental Advisory Group (SOTEAG), witnessed the Braer run aground and helped with the clean up.

He said: “The nature of the oil, the weather conditions and the exact location on the seabed mitigated

“You can’t have 85 thousand tonnes of crude oil going in the sea without it having an environmental impact.”

The1993 bird breeding season was successful for most species, but the breeding numbers of shag halved, and black guillemots fell by a third.

Mr Heubeck added: “So much has changed and the Braer was a very important part of that process in changing regulations and practice at sea. But it could happen again tomorrow. It was quite a significant event in terms of how we prepare for these things.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Scottish Government recognises that the marine environment is one of our most valuable assets.

"Although the prevention of oil pollution is a matter reserved for the UK Government,  we continue to support clean, healthy, safe, productive and biologically diverse seas and coasts, alongside the sustainable growth of key marine industries.”

“As detailed in our recent Energy Strategy, Scotland has some of the most ambitious emissions reduction targets in the world – with our new target to ensure that 50% of the country’s energy consumption is met by renewable energy by 2030.

“The Energy Strategy also outlines how we will work with the oil and gas sector, encouraging new exploration in the North Sea and enhancing the competitiveness of our world leading supply chain. 

"By continuing to work constructively with the industry, we can strengthen a key economic sector, whilst supporting the necessary transition to deliver the economy and energy system of the future.”