Last month, I reported the good news that the French Council of State had suspended the turtle dove hunting season in France with immediate effect, following a legal challenge from our colleagues at the French BirdLife partner, LPO.

There has been more good news in relation to hunting/shooting that you may have missed. For many years, many organisations including the RSPB have urged action to be taken to halt the pollution of wetlands by lead shot used for hunting. The toxic effects of lead are well known, and it is why governments have successfully phased out its use in paints, petrol and children’s toys.

The impact of lead shot used in shooting has been recognised as issue in the UK for many years.  The UK Government had already introduced a ban on the use of lead short for some forms of shooting in 1999, following concerns about widespread poisoning of wildfowl caused by the birds ingesting spent gunshot formed from this toxic metal.  While water birds are particularly vulnerable to being poisoned by lead shot, lead is a problem in any environment, being toxic for plants and for anyone who eats contaminated birds.  The 1999 UK ban prevents the shooting of ducks and some other wetland birds using lead and prevents the use of lead shot over wetland Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

Image of whooper swan courtesy of Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com)

This was, of course, progress, but lead is still widely used for shooting other bird and animal species and outside wetland areas, despite the availability of proven alternatives. Indeed, the UK has failed to fulfil its own commitment to end lead ammunition in three years when it signed up to a resolution under the Convention on Migratory Species in 2016.

In Europe, every year, 20,000 tons of lead hunting ammunition is shot into our natural environment, and more than one million waterbirds die from ingesting it.  A recent scientific study found that most of the lead ingested by buzzards which have liver concentrations likely to be associated with lethal and sublethal effects is probably obtained when they prey upon or scavenge gamebirds and mammals shot using lead shotgun pellets.

So, I was very pleased to hear that a complete ban on the use of lead shot in all wetlands for all species has been proposed at EU level.  It is something we urgently need.  On 3 September, the initial proposal was voted on and supported by eighteen countries representing 90% of the EU’s population. The minutes of the meeting where initial proposal was voted on are available here.

Shooting organisations oppose this, despite the ban being consistent with their own position that lead ammunition used to shoot animals should be phased out and replaced with non-toxic alternatives, albeit only by 2025.

The proposal to ban the use of lead shot in wetlands is not yet EU law.  It has been sent to the MEPs in the European Parliament and national governments in the Council of Ministers for scrutiny.  If adopted it would come into force after a one-year delay, so potentially in late 2021.  We now know that several MEPs from several political groups have objected.  The EU hunting lobby FACE are mounting a strong campaign to try to get MEPs to object to the proposal and water it down.

This news from Europe coincides with the RSPB refreshing our own policy on the use of lead ammunition. As announced at the RSPB AGM last weekend, we have taken into account new evidence which shows the extreme negative impacts which lead can have on wildlife and the wider environment and we will be advocating for a statutory ban on the usage of all forms of lead ammunition in the UK.

While the ban at EU level may not apply to the UK, given our new status as a third country, MPs in the House of Commons have recognised the urgent need for action.  A group of five Labour, Conservative and SNP MPs have tabled an amendment to the Environment Bill, amendment NC23 available here, that would impose a ban on the use of lead ammunition for the purposes of killing or taking any wild animal from 1 January 2023.  Clearly, nothing can happen until the Environment Bill returns to Westminster (announced yesterday as 3 November) and clearly, if passed, the new law would only apply to England, but it would be the right step to take.

Given the undeniable evidence of the harm lead in the environment is doing and given the host of other threats facing nature, the time to act is now - lead ammunition should be banned.

Anonymous
  • Fully support you Martin, and well done so far. As I'm sure you know, the use of split-lead shot by anglers was banned (can't remember the year, though I was involved with angling administration at the time). The evidence was very strong that mute swans were dying in considerable numbers after ingesting shot spilled at the waterside. The recovery in swan numbers after the ban became effective was also good evidence that the likely cause was indeed anglers' weights. This should be good supporting evidence for the impact of shooting with lead shot.

  • Even the words "turtle dove hunting season" are in themselves quite sickening. As for the use of lead ammunition it's hard to believe this still goes on. I think most people are ignorant of goings on in the hunting and shooting world - myself included - so it's an issue that needs much more publicity I feel. Good to hear that some progress could be made... possibly. Thanks for the update Martin.

  • It is very good news - and great credit - to LPO and its supporters, including RSPB, that they have forced the suspension of Turtle Dove shooting - and even more so the reversal of the almost unbelievable proposal to re-legalise the use of bird lime. Sadly, the rise of the extreme right in rural areas has led to concessions to the hunting lobby - and France now boasts that it has more huntable species than any other EU state.

    It is no credit whatsoever to the shooting lobby that they continue to resist the banning of lead - and reflects an overall refusal to make any concessions on issues like raptor persecution and heather burning. The only possible response is an equal and opposite hardening of the environmental/ conservation and RSPB is absolutely right to support an outright statutory ban on lead shot  in the UK. It is worth pointing out that the single largest biomass of game meat in the UK - the Forestry Commission's deer management - is now carried out with with copper bullets - and that the RSPB was well ahead in its much earlier adoption for its own deer management, most notably at Abernethy.