Lead shot. It’s not only immediately deadly to the bird that gets blasted out of the sky with it, but it’s an environmental toxin that accumulates in the tissues and poisons or kills an estimated million wildfowl across Europe every year. Conservationists (including those with no strong opposition to shooting) have been telling the shooting industry for – well, for decades, that removing it would be an easy win. Why? Shooting is under huge pressure as the public turns against its exploitation of wildlife, raptor persecution, and threats and abusive behaviour towards non-shooters. Removing an environmental toxin from their toolbox of destruction would go down well with an increasingly sceptical public.
Even the shooting industry admits that shooting is under threat because of its own shortcoming. Alternatives to lead shot already exist (and are widely used), but the industry has long seen its use of lead as a ‘line in the sand’ it won’t be forced to cross. And because of that – and the growing evidence of the damage lead shot does – an imposed ban has seemed ever more likely.
Back in February this year a press-release from the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT, the UK-based charity based at Slimbridge and founded by a one-time wildfowler) welcomed “steps towards removing lead ammunition from the environment“. Those steps were yet another phased voluntary effort (with a five-year timeline built in) by ‘shooting organisations’ to follow ones that had significantly failed in the past, which in turn had lead to more talks etc…
As WWT wrote at the time:
While the transition to lead-free ammunition is a positive move forward, conservationists stress that previous voluntary bans have been unsuccessful and without policy change at government level, there will still be risks to human health, wildlife and the market for game birds. A full restriction will contribute to the further removal of poisonous lead from our environment. Lead ammunition is the last largely unregulated release of lead as it’s been removed from petrol, paint and pipes decades ago.WWT, 24 Feb 2020
In June this year WWT wrote under the headline “Lead shot ban on knife-edge” that:
The future of lead shot in the EU is on a knife-edge after several countries indicated that they will abstain or vote against a ban of its use in wetlands.
Eleven countries have indicated they will vote against or abstain. The main attention is on Germany, which is currently saying it will abstain, because the size of Germany’s vote would swing the decision either way.WWT, 26 June 2020
Today, the inevitable has thankfully come to pass, and WWT has just announced that “EU countries choose health over poison in historic vote to ban lead shot in wetlands“. It’s important news – as WWT unequivocally puts it “A huge leap towards ending the suffering of millions of waterbirds from lead poisoning has been taken following a momentous vote to ban lead shot in and around wetlands” – and the shooting industry only has itself to blame. From an easy win they could have claimed years ago, as ever they appear to have been forced into falling into line with doing something ‘good for the environment’. No doubt that won’t be how the industry spins it: expect to hear or read about how altruistic and selfless duck shooters are, how they are and have always been ‘conservationists’…
Try telling that to the millions of ducks, geese, and swans they’ll still be shooting at though. Bismuth, tungsten, steel or lead – it really doesn’t matter to the bird which type of pellets are ripping through it…
A huge leap towards ending the suffering of millions of waterbirds from lead poisoning has been taken following a momentous vote to ban lead shot in and around wetlands.
The vote was made by EU Committee REACH, set up to specifically deal with chemical hazards. A total of 18 countries, which made up 90% of the votes, voted in support of the ban for a greener, healthier future for the environment, wildlife and people.
This is a result that conservation charity WWT has campaigned long and hard for, alongside dedicated partners and supporters. Through their scientific research, they have developed a substantial body of evidence to alert hunters, policymakers and the public to the deadly effects of lead, worked tirelessly for international policy change, galvanised support from all sectors of society, and promoted a healthier non-toxic future.
Julia Newth, campaigner and Ecosystem Health and Social Dimensions Manager at WWT said:
“The toxic legacy of lead is profound – more than 20,000 tonnes of mainly lead shot lands in the very places where migratory waterbirds of the European flyways feed and breed every year, claiming the lives of a million waterbirds and causing ill health in three million more. Human health is put at risk when game meat shot with lead is consumed and hunters have been living with the uncomfortable perception that they are poisoners.
“This historic vote has shown that in a modern society it is no longer acceptable for a minority of people to continue to release poisons which kill our collective natural heritage and impact our health through the food that we eat.”
Campaigner and Research Fellow at WWT, Ruth Cromie, added:
“It remains to be seen how the UK government will respond but this is the beginning of the end of lead ammunition and the start of a healthier, greener future for Europe’s wildlife and people. After decades of pollution and suffering, lead ammunition may finally be consigned to history.”
Support for the proposed ban was broad and came from many parts of civil society – hunters, scientists, EU Ministers, conservation NGOs and the wider public.
The proposal will now go to the European Parliament for ratification before becoming law within the EU.