Every year we needlessly lose thousands of waterbirds due to lead poisoning. Great strides have been made to end this travesty but more must be done.
Lead poisoning is a problem that requires a holistic approach across areas such as policy, research, communications and stakeholder engagement. WWT has been a leader for many decades in researching the effects of poisoning from lead ammunition and alerting the world to the problem, but our work goes beyond research. We are now key global advisors to many national and international policy agreements.
In 2022, the Health & Safety Executive, as part of the UK REACH process, recognised the risks that lead ammunition poses to wildlife and people and announced recommendations to further restrict it’s use in Britain. These recommendations are now under consultation. More broadly, there is now support for a transition away from lead from many sectors of society including food retail and shooters. Supermarkets such as Waitrose have already committed to no longer sell game meat contaminated with lead ammunition and a voluntary ban on the use of lead (and single use plastics) in shotgun ammunition for live quarry shooting by 2025 was announced by nine leading UK shooting and countryside organisations.
While the voluntary transition to lead-free ammunition is a positive move forward, research has shown there is almost no compliance with the voluntary ban since its announcement in 2020. Conservationists stress that previous voluntary bans have been unsuccessful and without policy change at government level, there will still be risks to human health, wildlife and the market for game meat. A full restriction will help us remove poisonous lead from our environment for good.
In 2023, an EU-wide law came into place which banned lead shot in and around wetlands. This was a huge step towards making lead poisoning history and we’re very proud to have played a part in this historic win for health. However, wetland birds and other wildlife remain at risk when they feed in areas outside of wetlands (geese and swans for example, often do). People continue to be exposed when they eat lead-shot game meat. The majority of shooters in Europe still use lead ammunition. To solve this issue once and for all, the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is now developing a second recommendation within the EU REACH process to address risks from all lead shot and bullets and lead fishing weights, wherever they are used.
Successful outcomes for these two important proposals, in wetlands and more widely, will bring about the substantial change we have been seeking across Europe and put an end to lead poisoning across much of our European flyway.
To tackle this lethal and insidious problem, WWT is providing scientific evidence to inform the current EU and UK restriction proposals.
We continue to encourage shooters to use non-toxic alternatives to lead shot. We believe voluntary behaviour change is better than law change, but law change is necessary if and where this doesn’t work. Working with the shooting community and governments in the UK and Europe is key to ensure that we realise our shared goal of having sustainable and healthy populations of wild birds in the countryside.
Through our scientific research, we continue to build on our substantial body of evidence to help us understand and communicate how severe this problem is for birds, the risks to people from eating game meat contaminated with lead shot and the socio-economic and cultural barriers to hunters choosing non-toxic ammunition. Being on the ‘frontline’ of this issue and in a position to access and examine birds in wetlands, we are often the first to see the grisly extent and realities of the suffering brought about by the ingestion of lead shot.
By alerting hunters, policymakers and other decision makers to the deadly effects of lead, we can encourage the use of non-toxic ammunition. This is an issue which involves the shooting community, the veterinary and medical communities, wildlife rehabilitators, regulators, governments, non-sports shooting ammunition users, land managers, conservationists and the wider public. Depending on the audience, we have been promoting change using a wide variety of mechanisms such as events, literature, presentations, films and face-to-face discussions. For example, as part of our Flight of the Swans project we produced a short film to engage shooting communities in states along the Bewick’s swan’s migratory route.
You can help us achieve a ban on the use of lead ammunition in hunting and outdoor sports shooting in Great Britain by submitting your views to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) public consultation by 10 December 2023.Take action
New EU proposals for a full ban on lead ammunition and fishing weights open for consultation.
The UK Health & Safety Executive recommends a ban on the use of lead ammunition and a public consultation opens to gather the public’s opinions on this.
EU REACH Committee vote overwhelmingly (90%) in favour of ban on lead shot in wetlands! A huge step forward.
WWT supported the creation of the UN Convention on Migratory Species Intergovernmental Task Force on Lead Ammunition. A coalition of UK shooting and countryside organisations announced a voluntary ban on lead shot which WWT supports.
WWT published social science research on the perspectives of ammunition users on the use of lead ammunition, prompting further engagement with UK hunters.
UK supermarkets including Waitrose and Marks and Spencer commit to stocking only lead-free game meat following communication with WWT and other partners. WWT supported ECHA’s new work on a wider restriction for all lead ammunition.
WWT along with more than 50 scientists, medics and vets from 16 European countries signed an open letter in support of the ECHA/REACH processes on the risks posed by lead ammunition to the health of humans, wildlife and the wider environment.
Research undertaken by WWT and the University of Cambridge showed a correlation between lead shot ingestion and the declining population trend for ducks such as common pochard.
WWT ensured that the UN Convention on Migratory Species established a Lead Task Group and provided scientific evidence and technical advice to support a UN Environment Assembly Resolution which addresses the damage caused by poisoning from lead ammunition.
WWT played a vital role in the adoption of the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s resolution on lead poisoning.
WWT contributed several papers to the Oxford Lead Symposium – a meeting of scientists which brought together findings from the hundreds of international research papers to date showing how lead ammunition affects wildlife and humans.
WWT joined dozens of scientists on a European Scientists Consensus Statement on risks from lead ammunition and need for transition to non-toxic ammunition.
WWT helped secure UN Convention on Migratory Species Resolution to phase out lead ammunition across all habitats, bringing the issue to global attention. The Resolution was adopted by some 130 countries.
A WWT-led study revealed that lead poisoning remained a threat to wild waterbirds in Britain.
The Lead Ammunition Group was established by the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the Food Standards Agency in response to the Defra report undertaken by WWT and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation which showed that regulations were being ignored, and the reasons why, together with a growing concern for human health.
WWT’s long-term research and campaigning informed the introduction of restrictions on using lead over UK wetlands. These restrictions came into force across all of the home nations by 2009.