On the 25th of November the European Parliament voted to ban the use of lead ammunition in wetlands across the EU. 362 MEPs voted in favour of the ban, 292 against, and 39 abstained. This was a critical vote, because it’s estimated that hunters pollute Europe’s wetlands with more than 20,000 tonnes of lead shot every single year, causing the deaths of an estimated one million waterbirds which currently die of lead poisoning in the EU. Now, after years of knowing how toxic lead is to the environment, years after alternatives were developed, and years after conservationists pointed out the damage lead poisoning was doing to countless numbers of waterfowl (and raptors which scavenge mammals shot with lead including the Critically Endangered California Condor), the EU Commission has finally confirmed that a ban on the use of lead shots in wetlands would finally come into force. Not immediately, but it will be coming…
It’s about bloody time – but why has it taken so long? That would be because of foot-dragging, heels dug in, brains disengaged resistance by shooters who time and time again have refused to give an inch because as far as they’re concerned an inch may as well be a mile. There are lines these ‘conservationists’ (as they’re so fond of describing themselves) simply will not cross for fear of having to give up their guns and stop the killing. Such is the ‘they’re all out to get me’ paranoia amongst members of the so-called ‘shooting community’ that has stopped even sensible changes like not using lead shot being made (see our post from almost exactly a year ago for more details – Shooting and Lead Shot).
That’s not quite how BirdLife International puts it in a press-release today of course, but we at The Wow Project would like to think that in their most frustrated (and perhaps most unguarded) moments, the good folk who actually have to confront this ignorant intransigence on a daily basis might just agree with the sentiments…
After all in the statement below they end on a note of sheer exasperation: “Lead must go. Time is not on our side.”
When it comes to banning poison, delay means death
While the lead shot ban is very welcome news, the amount of time it took to obtain it is simply outrageous. Lead’s impact on waterbirds, and the need to ban and remove lead from nature, has been known for decades by hunters and conservationists alike. AEWA, the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds – an intergovernmental treaty administered by the UN – has been working towards a ban on the use of toxic lead ammunition since it was established some 25 years ago. As a matter of fact, AEWA’s Contracting Parties (82 countries, including the EU and its Member States) were supposed to have phased out the use of lead ammunition in wetlands by the year 2000!
We’re now in 2021. As approximately one million waterbirds are killed via lead shot poisoning each year; this means that the two decades long delay has resulted in the killing of around 20 million waterbirds. Twenty million. For nothing. And we’re not even talking about the horrifying poisoning of all other forms of wildlife.
This pointless, entirely avoidable massacre was only made possible by the skilful tactics of delay employed by the hunting-weapons industry and parts of the hunting lobby. Half a century ago, the fossil fuel industry knew about the devastating impacts of greenhouse gas emissions on the climate, and put all their might into delaying any form of regulation. This is a very similar situation: the hunting-weapons industry has known about the horror caused by lead ammunition for decades, and has chosen a strategy of delay.
So, while we celebrate the ever-closer end of such pointless death and destruction; our leaders must learn a lesson: when it comes to ending causes of intense harm, delay means death. Our decision-makers must recognise the tactics of delay which are employed by the opponents of the living; and follow science in a timely manner. In fact, whether we’re talking about ending lead shot in wetlands, the use of fossil fuels, harmful agricultural subsidies, or burning forests for energy; protecting the living always requires quick and decisive action.
ECHA, The European Chemicals Agency, has recently assessed the health and environmental risks posed by lead projectiles in hunting and outdoor sports shooting, as well as lead used in fishing sinkers and lures. The Agency concluded that an EU-wide restriction would be justified. We are ready to support ECHA in their search of information in the coming months; and we count on our decision makers to act swiftly to protect the natural world and human health. Lead must go. Time is not on our side.‘Commission confirms it: lead shot will finally be banned in wetlands‘, Willem van Den Bossche, Senior Flyway Conservation Officer for Europe & Central Asia, 18 Feb 2021