Last week, the VCF has submitted a consultation response on the Annex XV report of ECHA (the European Chemicals Agency), which assessed the use and impact of lead in outdoor shooting (shot and bullets) and fishing. The ECHA report and the related consultation should inform and guide the follow-up policy process to achieve a full lead ban in the EU, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
In this article, we summarise the arguments we developed in our consultation response that you can download below.
Scavengers: a guild at risk
Vultures and facultative scavengers often ingest lead directly when they consume hunted carcasses that contain ammunition fragments or indirectly from lead incorporated by the animals on which they feed. This results in lethal and sub-lethal toxicity. Lead ammunition is thus an important source of mortality for raptor species and especially scavengers worldwide. For example, lead poisoning from ammunition sources played a major role in the decimation of California condor populations.
In Europe as well, such mortality rates hamper decades of conservation efforts and funding aimed at restoring raptor and vulture populations. The return of the Bearded Vulture Gypaetus barbatus in the Alps, for example, is often cited as a conservation success. Yet this population is still vulnerable (less than 260 breeding pairs in the European Union) and lead intoxication is often detected in mortalities recorded across this mountain range.
The potential effects of lead on vulture demography could be a silent threat causing long-term population declines that are difficult to detect. As a result, reducing the threat of lead toxicity has been identified as a priority conservation action for European vultures across the range states.Therefore, further restrictions on the use of lead ammunition in all terrestrial habitats will directly contribute to this action by reducing the risk of exposure to lead for vultures across their European ranges.
Impacts on human health
There are also great risks to human health from lead contamination. Neurodevelopmental risk (IQ reduction) in children and cardiovascular effects and nephrotoxicity in adults have been reported. These risks to human health merit careful consideration when assessing the costs and benefits of banning lead ammunition. Vultures and raptors are long-lived species at the top of the food web, which make them valuable sentinels for monitoring environmental lead contamination and therefore a warning system of potential hazards to human health.
Banning lead ammunition is feasible
In response to the environmental impacts mentioned previously, lead ammunition has been banned in some circumstances in order to reduce environmental contamination and to enable threatened species to recover. For example, a ban on lead ammunition was instrumental in reducing lead exposure in vultures and raptors in the USA. Denmark and the Netherlands banned the use of lead gunshots decades ago. These examples demonstrate that restrictions can be enforced effectively and that hunters are able to use non-lead ammunitions to the same effect.
Recent research estimated that the continued use of lead ammunition associated with impacts on wildlife, people and the environment, cost €383 million–€960 million per year across the EU. Therefore, the long-term economic, environmental and human health benefits of restricting the use of lead ammunition for hunting and shooting activities will surely outweigh the costs. As a result, the sustainability of retaining lead ammunition for hunting and recreational purposes is being seriously questioned.
Restricting the use of lead ammunition would benefit vultures and our societies
As the main consumers of carrion in many ecosystems, vultures play a key role in maintaining nutrient recycling processes, regulating populations of competing scavengers and reducing the development and spread of certain diseases, providing valuable ecosystem services to humans. In addition, in the European context vultures removed livestock carcasses from both intensive and extensive farming systems, reducing the financial costs and carbon footprint that would be required to dispose of the carcasses in their absence.
Restricting the use of lead ammunition is therefore an important step towards restoring predator and scavenger populations and the ecosystem services that they provide across Europe.
Ultimately, the VCF calls for and supports widespread restrictions of lead ammunition to be implemented as soon as possible throughout vulture ranges, particularly in high-risk areas identified through robust monitoring and research.
Moving in the right direction
Two recent examples at local scale show us that the tide is turning in favour of a lead ban across the EU states:
- In Germany, in the state owned forests in Bavaria (30 % of all forest areas) lead ammunition will be banned after strong commitment by the Bavarian Bird Protection Society (after a period of transition for some areas until 2023).
- In Switzerland, in the Grison canton, lead ammunition will be banned from the end of this year, and a decision has been made to do the same in canton Valais.
In addition, our colleagues from several Italian environmental associations with the support of international organisations ask for the total ban of lead from hunting ammunitions in the Alps. Sign the petition to support the cause.