Europe and Central Asia
4 Feb 2016

Failure to ban toxic ammunition putting bird lives at risk

White-tailed Eagle, © BZD/ Flickr
By BirdLife Europe

Birds in Europe will continue to be put at risk from lead poisoning, as the European Commission today announces it will continue allowing the chemical's use in ammunition.

Lead ammunition use will be regulated on a limited basis under the EU chemicals regulation REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals), despite it being responsible for thousands of bird deaths every year.

Under REACH, the use of lead in ammunition could be banned completely through a so-called “restriction process”. Sadly the Commission has only chosen to focus on lead in wetlands, where a ban is already supposed to have been in place for many years. By taking this course, the Commission is ignoring the evidence of damage done by lead shots in other habitats and by rifle ammunition.

Lead is highly toxic to birds and people alike. A review by the University of Oxford found that 50,000 to 100,000 birds in the UK alone die of lead poisoning. Ducks and waders often mistake lead shot (small bullets) for grit (the stones they eat to help with digestion) and die a slow and painful death from the toxic effects.

Throughout the EU there are also frequently major cases of lead poisoning of raptors. One example is the poisoning of White-tailed Eagles, which eat carcases containing lead bullets every autumnWhite-tailed Eagles and other raptors and vultures eat the carcasses of game species such as wild boar. Many wild boars that get shot do not die straight away and are not found by hunters. When scavenging on the carcasses of these species, raptors often ingest fragments of lead ammunition and die of lead poisoning.

The UN Convention on Migratory Species, which the EU has signed, has called on its signatories to phase out all lead ammunition within three years. Several EU Member States, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, have already done so. Partial bans have been proven to be ineffective and unenforceable. In the UK, for example, lead shot has been banned in wetlands only, but investigations showed that as many as 70% of the ducks shot in England still contained lead shot. These figures exclude Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Reacting to the Commission's announcement, Ariel Brunner, Head of Policy at BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, told us: “The case for a complete ban of lead ammunition in the EU is crystal clear. The Commission should protect its wildlife and citizens from poisoning and meet its obligations under the Convention on Migratory Species.

“Alternatives to lead ammunition, such as steel shot and modified bullets, are readily available and there is no reason to delay banning lead in ammunition.”

For more information about lead poisoning, click here.

If you live in the UK, consider signing the petition asking for an end to lead ammunition use

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.