FIREFIGHTERS rushed to rescue a distressed seagull in Oxford from a 'lingering death'.

Emergency services were called when the helpless animal was spotted suffering after a fishing hook impaled its beak.

The seagull was left dangling helplessly from a tree overhanging the River Thames at Iffley Lock when a passer-by saw the ordeal and alerted the RSPCA.

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Inspector at the animal charity Gina Stallon commented on the complex rescue mission: "The poor gull was in a terrible position.

"He was quite high up, dangling helplessly from the branches of a tree which overhung the river.

"Once I was able to get a close look, it was clear why he could not get away - his beak had been impaled on an old fishing hook.

"I knew he would not survive unless we could free him from the tree.

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"It was going to be a complex rescue needing special expertise as he was high up over dangerously fast-flowing water, so I contacted Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue team."

Using a raft, the fire crew hooked the branch down until it was low enough to free the bird. 

The inspector confirmed that the seagull was then taken to a specialist wildlife centre where it is being treated until it is well enough to be released back into the wild.

She added: "My thanks go to the eagle-eyed passerby for calling the incident in to us and to the skilled Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue team."

The incident comes as the RSPCA revealed it had received more than 15,000 reports of animals injured or caught in fishing litter over the past five years.