Europe and Central Asia
26 Oct 2020

It is urgent to ban toxic lead shot in the EU

Northern Pintail ©David Schenfeld CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
By Léa Badoz, BirdLife consultant
Responding to EU citizens’ concerns on the state of the environment, the alarming loss of biodiversity and protecting human health, MEPs should support the decision of the REACH Committee, following the opinion of the European Chemicals Agency, to ban lead shot in wetlands.
Lead is a non-threshold poison, which means that no level of exposure is considered safe for humans, as confirmed by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) and its Committee for Risk Assessment (RAC). The European Parliament now has the opportunity to bring us one step closer to a Zero-pollution future, by removing toxic lead from the lives of people, wildlife and the wider environment by supporting the proposed restriction on the use of lead gunshot in wetlands following the positive vote (90%) by EU Member States at the REACH Committee.
The poisoning caused by use of lead shot over wetlands is responsible for killing one million birds each year in Europe. It also causes the dangerous pollution of extensive wetland areas that should be better protected. However, this tragedy is easily avoidable. Indeed, alternatives to lead shot are widely available at similar prices and are often promoted by hunters. Thoroughly considering all these elements, ECHA concluded that the banning of lead shot in wetlands was an obvious obligation to avoid the poisoning of people, wildlife and the environment.
Since they can’t argue that lead isn’t a toxic poison, the hunting and ammunition lobby makes the stretch that the definition of wetlands covered by the restriction proposal is unclear and too broad. It is not. It just uses the globally accepted benchmark definition of wetlands, given by the international Convention on Wetlands - Ramsar Convention. In addition, each Member State will be required to map the wetlands on their territory in order to clearly establish the geographical scope of the ban for hunters and enforcement officials.
The restriction proposal rightly provides for the establishment of a 100m buffer zone around wetlands where carrying lead shot is also prohibited. This is essential to properly enforce the restriction and ensure that hunters shooting from the shore of a wetland can’t conveniently claim that they were aiming outside of the area, and on to the non-wetland terrestrial zone. 
The proposed law therefore is proportionate and necessary. The European Union recently committed to strengthening and ramping up more environmental action to deliver a ‘real’ Green Deal and must, to be credible, take concrete actions. This proposal is the chance to shape a Zero-pollution future for the EU that the European Parliament should build on.
Banning lead shot in wetlands, the ecosystem that has the most to lose under tons of lead shot, is a first step in the phase out all toxic ammunition across the EU. The Netherlands and Denmark banned all lead shot more than two decades ago and are still happily hunting. It is time that all other Member States follow this path to avoid the poisoning of birds including endangered birds of prey, and those who eat game. 

Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.