WWT joins politicians to bring an end to toxic lead pollution

WWT has joined forces with a new cross-party group of parliamentarians and Wildlife and Countryside Link on the toxic impact of lead ammunition pollution.

The Lead Ammunition All Party Parliamentary Group will work to raise awareness of the impacts on human, wildlife and environmental health and to press for solutions. It will be engaging closely with UK REACH’s consultation aiming to achieve a Government ban on lead ammunition in 2023.

Lead pollution from ammunition kills up to 100,000 waterbirds each year in the UK alone, with birds ingesting spent lead pellets left in habitats. A further 200,000 - 400,000 birds are left suffering the health impacts of lead poisoning including lower resistance to disease and lesser ability to breed. Despite there being some current restrictions on the use of lead shot in the UK, field testing in England by WWT shows the proportion of birds ingesting lead has not significantly decreased since legislation was introduced. Compliance with both legal restrictions and a wider voluntary ban are poor.

The toxic effects of lead also works up the food chain as predators and scavengers such as golden eagles and red kites eat prey contaminated with lead. Humans can also suffer the consequences of lead pollution from ingesting lead shot in game meat as well as exposure to wildlife, plants, soils, and domestic animals that end up laced with toxic lead from ammunition. Previous research from WWT has found game meat with levels of lead many times the maximum European allowance for livestock, even following the removal of visible pieces.

An estimated 6,000 tonnes of lead from ammunition used in shotgun and rifle shooting are discharged every year. At least 2,000 tonnes of pestilent lead shot used for game and pest shooting is left in our countryside, the equivalent weight of 1,000 giraffes, 3,000 cows or 19 blue whales.

The inaugural meeting of the group saw a presentation from WWT on the environmental impacts of lead pollution. Professor Rhys Green of Cambridge University highlighted the amount of lead still being found in game birds sold in UK supermarkets, and John Gregson of the John Lewis partnership reported on Waitrose’s work to stop selling game shot with lead.

Parliamentarians spoke out at the event about the urgent need to end the outdated use of lead ammunition in England.

WWT’s Ecosystem Health & Social Dimensions Manager Dr Julia Newth said:

It is now widely recognised that discharging lead ammunition into the environment creates a dangerous toxic legacy, poisoning wildlife and risking our health. Regulation of its use in all shooting is essential for a healthier, greener and safer future.

Dr Richard Benwell, CEO of Wildlife and Countryside Link, said:

We don’t tolerate lead in our petrol, in paint or in toys, so why do we still allow thousands of tonnes to be blasted across the countryside each year? Lead continues to poison wildlife and end up on people’s plates as game meat can end up laced with toxic lead from ammunition. We look forward working together with the new parliamentary group to finally end the use of lead ammunition.

Kerry McCarthy, Labour MP for Bristol East, and co-chair of the group said:

It’s clear that the current system isn’t working to reduce the amount of lead entering our environment and the consequent risk of harm to human health and wildlife. It’s quite shocking to see the figures showing how much lead ends up in the food chain. The only solution is for the Government to go one step further and legislate for a ban.”

The Rt Hon. the Lord Browne of Ladyton, co-chair of the group said:

"There are no safe levels of lead. Regulation has ensured removal of it from petrol, paint and drinking water. The last largely unregulated release of lead into the environment is from lead ammunition. In March 2021, when the Government agreed to move further towards a ban, the Minister, Rebecca Pow, stated ‘Evidence shows lead ammunition harms the environment, wildlife and people.’ Non-toxic ammunition is widely available, effective, and comparably priced. Now is the time for effective policy change that will bring an end to this continuing scandal as I am convinced the vast majority of parliamentarians agree."

The Rt Hon. the Lord Randall of Uxbridge, group officer said:

I find it deeply frustrating that despite the science we are still allowing this toxic substance to be used as shot. Other countries have successfully proved that the transition to other materials can be made without difficulty. It is time to stop poisoning our environment."