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Critical EU vote this Thursday to ban lead shot in wetlands – and that matters to vultures too!

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Lead shot and ammunition used in hunting activities pollute the environment and can poison the food chains of both animals and humans. It is critical to implement regulations that protect both nature and public health. The European Commission is pushing Member States to restrict the use of lead gunshot for shooting in wetlands and tomorrow on Thursday, 3 September, an EU Committee (REACH) will take a vote regarding this issue. Conservationists, as well as scientists and many hunters, are also in favour of this ban. We here at the Vulture Conservation Foundation (VCF) urge the Member States represented at the REACH Committee and the European Council as well as MEPs at the European Parliamentto ban lead shot use in wetlands across Europe. 

Lead use in hunting is toxic to nature and people

Lead is extremely toxic. It can poison animals, water, land and people. Still, there are no harmonized restrictions of lead shot and ammunition across the European Union, and every year, 20 000 tonnes of lead are released in nature through hunting across the EU. Due to its widespread use, approximately 1 million water birds die from lead poisoning every year in the EU, after ingesting lead shot from expended cartridges as they confuse pellets for little stones known as ‘grit’ that helps their digestion.

Bearded Vulture suffering from lead poisoning

This figure does not include birds of prey that also fall victim to lead poisoning after feeding on carcasses shot with lead ammunition. A recently published study reviewed the scale and scope of the effect of lead on raptors in Europe, and it determined that obligate (vultures) and facultative (eagles) scavengers are more prone to lead contamination than non-scavengers,. The study also demonstrates the high incidence and ubiquity of lead contamination among raptors in Europe, especially during hunting seasons. Some species, like the Bearded Vulture, are particularly exposed to the risks of heavy lead poisoning due to their particular digestive system and scavenging lifestyle.

Lead ammunition also poses a real risk when it comes to public health. Hunters that feed their families or sell game meat through food outlets can unintentionally poison people. If humans ingest lead, it can cause adverse effects on all major body systems, leading to chronic or even lethal consequences. Saying goodbye to lead use in hunting can benefit game-eating communities and also hunters that sell game meat, as animals shot with lead become less marketable due to the increasing awareness of lead’s toxicity. There are safe alternatives to lead that are practical for both shotgun and rifle ammunition, and many hunters support the switch to lead-free ammunition as it can be advantageous for both nature and people. 

Let’s leave lead to history

In brief, lead is toxic, and lead hunting ammunition should be banned, as lead petrol and lead paint were. Although some Member States do already have some restrictions regarding the use of lead shot and ammunition, this is limited. Therefore, the vote of the REACH committee tomorrow can greatly influence the future of European wetland ecosystems and the wider environment, including vultures. We hope that they vote to ban lead shot near wetlands, as this can prove vital for the outcome of a similar process to ban lead bullets for game hunting, passing an important message that restrictions and measures should be taken with lead ammunition. Europe’s vultures, Europe’s nature and our society, would all benefit in the long term.

Update 04/04/2020

Breaking news — The EU REACH Committee just voted to ban lead shot in wetlands, which will help save the lives of millions of birds in the EU that die from lead poisoning.

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