If you thought the Chancellor’s Spending Review was a bit grim, here are three things from this week to bring you cheer.

First, you may have noted that following the postponement of the Gough Island Restoration operation this year due to Covid-19, the RSPB’s Council trustees met this week and have now given the go-ahead for the mouse eradication operation to take place in the Southern winter of 2021.  This is testimony to the exceptional efforts of the team working with our partners to deal with the considerable challenges posed by the pandemic.  We hope this will ultimately mean very good news for the 8 million birds on Gough.  Watch this space.

Second, there was good news from the European Parliament.  For over two decades, there has (under the terms of the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement - AEWA) been an international obligation for the EU and its Member States to ban lead shot in wetlands.  The UK has partially implemented this obligation through a series of regulations (England 1999,  Wales 2002; Scotland 2004 and Northern Ireland 2009) which, for example, restrict the use of lead shot over the foreshore and over specified SSSIs and completely bans its use when shooting ducks, geese, moorhens and coots.  Yet the whole of the EU failed to comply. This week the MEPs in the European Parliament, in the face of stiff opposition from hunters, voted to ban the use of lead ammunition in wetlands across the EU, which the European Chemicals Agency estimates results in the death of over one million water birds annually. While the European Council of Ministers still need to lend their support, we are confident that this will happen and will result in an amendment to the annex of the relevant REACH Regulation.  Member States will then have 24 months to implement the ban.  While this is good news - and colleagues in BirdLife International and Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust will right be celebrating this week - we need the EU to learn from the UK experience.  We know from studies within the UK that compliance with the ban is poor. For example, a study of existing wetland and waterfowl based regulations in England, commissioned by Defra, found that 70% of duck sampled (344/492) had been shot with lead, ten years after the regulations had been introduced.   The RSPB believes that the existing partial ban on the use of lead shot over wetlands is nowhere near adequate to address the risk of lead poisoning to wildlife.  For this reason, we have called for a ban on all lead ammunition (not only shot) and, given evidence of non-compliance with existing regulations, that (as has happened recently in Denmark) it is necessary to underpin it with a statutory ban on the usage of all forms of lead ammunition in the UK.  Even though the new EU regulations come into force before the end of the UK's transition period, I hear it is unlikely that they will apply to the UK which would be a real shame as peatlands are included under the definition of wetlands and so could have potentially affected the use of lead in some driven grouse shooting.  

This is my link to the third bit of good news as we heard the excellent news that the Scottish Government are proposing the licensing of grouse shooting.  This is a welcome and positive step forward to reform our uplands and is the result of many years of debate and campaigning.  We believe that it is a progressive and proportionate response to decades of unsustainable practices that include the burning of vegetation on peatland, the illegal killing of birds of prey and the continued use of lead ammunition. You can read our full response to the announcement here.  And the Westminster Government should take note.  We need similar reform for grouse moors across England to end all environmentally unsustainable shooting.  As I have said before, in the face of the nature and climate emergency, we believe that all commercial land uses - including for shooting - need reform to help revive our world.

Have a peaceful weekend.

*Image of Tristan albatross courtship dance courtesy of Andy Schofield (rspb-images.com)

  • Whilst I agree with the RSPB stance on these issues, why do they fail to remediate the acidic colliery on their own managed site Fairburn Ings near Castleford? They have been allowing this situation to get worse for well over ten years, refusing offers of free assistance.