Well, that didn’t take long. At the end of last week the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT) posted a rather sober and reflective press-release about the EU’s ‘Historic vote to ban lead shot in wetlands‘. The decision needs to be ratified by the EU Council within 3 months, but the EU vote was, WWT said, choosing ‘health over poison‘. Which might sound hyperbolic, but there is no safe level of lead. It’s a toxin that accumulates in the tissues. Lead has been banned in petrol, water pipes, and paint, but research by the Oxford Lead Symposium published in 2015 found that approximately 2000 tonnes of lead shot pellets were used to shoot live quarry in the UK each year. Lead poisons or kills an estimated million wildfowl across Europe, which swallow lead shot thinking that it’s grit (which they use to grind food in their gizzards) every year. Lead shot should have disappeared decades ago.
And of course there shouldn’t be an exemption for people who use it to kill wildlife for fun. That makes no sense whatsoever. Right at the bottom of their release WWT actually stated that “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“. Why wouldn’t hunters (even if reluctantly) back a ban on the use of an environmental toxin that is one of the more easily-wielded sticks with which to beat them with? There are alternatives to lead shot, it would win them support from some conservation organisations (they’d still kill wildlife but at least they’d not be spreading lead over wetlands), and given that even shooting knows that shooting needs to clean up its act they’d have to be dumb as bricks to fight this one.
Which brings us to Natural England’s favourite pro-shooting lobby group BASC (see our post ‘NE and BASC produce shooting report‘ and Dr Mark Avery’s ‘NE and BASC are friends‘ to understand just how close a government department and representatives of the shooting industry seem to be).
BASC appear to be the go-to guys now that the so-called Countryside Alliance appears to have lost the plot completely (seeing conspiracy and extremists around every corner), but in a ‘snatching defeat from the jaws of victory’ moment, BASC has announced that they will in fact stand ‘against new EU restrictions on lead shot‘ because ‘the new EU regulations are utterly unenforceable and places shooters at risk of criminality if they fail to spot a puddle in the field‘.
What the actual? Talk about twisted logic, pettifogging, and scraping through the bottom of the argument barrel. We are to believe that on the one hand the regs will be ‘utterly unenforceable‘ but on the other they will be enforced to criminalise a hunter who ‘fails to spot a puddle‘. Enforced by whom? The EU puddle inspectors? Shooters won’t be reported by other members of the so-called ‘shooting community’ who are renowned for throwing up an impenetrable wall of silence when it comes to dobbing in law-breakers. The police have got far better things to do than post officers by puddles in case a wildfowler fails to spot one in his fevered rush to put holes into a duck. Most local councils can’t get their act together to sort out road potholes that actually kill people, so a few wet spots in ‘the field’ won’t be a priority.
BASC’s talk of ‘voluntary agreements’ is yet another delaying tactic. The truth is that when it comes to lead, duck shooters have been getting away with ignoring or finding ways around restrictions on the use of lead for years. Ten years ago WWT released a report which found that 10% of dead waterbirds collected between 1971 and 2010 died as a result of lead. Eight per cent were fatally poisoned between 2000 and 2010, with lead gunshot “being the most likely source of poisoning“. They discovered elevated levels of lead in the blood of 34% of waterbirds tested at four sites in Britain during the winter of 2010/2011, and argued that laws restricting the use of lead in angling weights and ammunition were not working and called on a review of the legislation, saying that, “Our results indicate that lead poisoning has continued to affect a wide range of British waterbirds long after legal restrictions were introduced“.
BASC of course knows the risks of using lead all too well. They devote a whole page on their website to it, with numerous links to research, none of which says that lead is safe. They acknowledge that “There is growing concern about the damage lead shot causes to wildlife away from wetlands. The fact that non-lead alternatives of suitable quality are increasingly available means that we should transition towards them.”
Of course they should. So what on earth is the problem now? This is such an easy-win for shooting. What have they got to lose…
What they appear (it seems to us) to have to lose is the agenda. The key sentence from BASC is surely that they are “ensuring that moves in Europe do not compromise the UK shooting community’s plans“. It’s their plans on their terms and that’s what matters even if have they to look like stubborn jackasses in rejecting something that seems eminently workable and which has been negotiated over a very long time indeed (and if that reminds you a little of the UK’s Brexit negotiating position that’s not a coincidence).
What pro-shoot/pro-hunt lobbying groups have never put up with is an itinerary that deviates from their own. Where there’s less wriggle room. Where they can’t turn to supporters and potential paying members and say, ‘We’re sorting this, trust us, we’re on your side’. And (again, so it seems to us anyway) for the sake of appearing to be ‘in total control’, the shooting industry is playing silly b8ggers with the health of the environment, the health of millions of waterbirds, and (if you’re the type who still chooses to eat meat riddled with lead shot) with the health of consumers too.
We should expect better, but – then again – sadly many of us have come to expect no different…
- Header image, Whooper Swan with lead poisoning, copyright Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust