DEFRA press release (23 March 2021)
Plans announced to phase out lead ammunition in bid to protect wildlife
- Government sets out the restriction work to be carried out in the first year of UK REACH, the UK’s new chemical regime
- Evidence shows lead ammunition harms the environment, wildlife and people
- Consultation will seek public’s views on restriction proposals
Lead ammunition could be phased out under government plans to help protect wildlife and nature, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced today (23 March).
A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people. The government is now considering a ban under the UK’s new chemical regulation system – UK
REACH – and has requested an official review of the evidence to begin today with a public consultation in due course.
[Lead shot ammunition, photo by iStock]
Research by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (here) shows that between 50,000 to 100,000 wildfowl die in the UK each year due ingesting lead from used pellets. Despite being highly toxic, wildfowl often mistake the pellets for food. A further 200,000 to 400,000 birds suffer welfare or health impacts, and animals that predate on wildfowl can also suffer.
Lead ammunition can also find its way into the wider environment and the food chain, posing a risk to people if they eat contaminated game birds. Studies have also found that lead poisoning caused lowered immune systems in wild birds, potentially aiding the spread of diseases such as avian influenza (bird flu).
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:
“Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment.
This is a welcome development for our new chemicals framework, and will help ensure a sustainable relationship between shooting and conservation“.
The announcement today has been welcomed by environmental organisations.
Dr Julia Newth, Ecosystem Health & Social Dimensions Manager at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), said:
“Conservationists, including WWT, shooting organisations and game meat retailers have recognised the toxic risks from lead ammunition to people and the environment. Regulation of its use in all shooting, wherever this may happen, is very much needed as soon as possible to protect human and animal health and to enable us to move towards a greener and safer future“.
Shooting organisations are also supportive of transitioning away from the use of lead ammunition and are working with government to bring this about.
The Environment Agency, together with the Health and Safety Executive, will now start a two-year process to review the evidence, conduct a public consultation and propose options for restrictions.
Now we have left the EU we are able to make our own laws. UK REACH allows decisions to be made on the regulation of chemicals based on the best available scientific evidence, ensuring chemicals remain safely used and managed.
This is a complete U-turn for the Westminster Government, who, for years, have ignored the best scientific evidence that they should have used to protect humans, wildlife and the environment, but chose instead to support the shooting industry’s refusal to get rid of toxic lead ammunition (e.g. see here and here).
Why the change of direction? They must have seen the writing on the wall.
Just as many of the shooting industry’s organisations did last year when they announced, after years and years and years of defending their position of firing poison in to food, that they were going to support a ‘voluntary ban’ on the use of toxic lead ammunition and wanted to see it phased out within five years. The industry leaders had decided to jump before they were pushed, although many of their members were furious with this u-turn.
However, this ‘voluntary’ approach by the rest of the industry just wasn’t convincing. A lot of us were sceptical because (a) we rarely trust anything the shooting industry tells us; (b) previous ‘voluntary bans’ by the industry on a number of issues have been unsuccessful (e.g. see here, here and here); (c) the ongoing failure of the shooting industry to comply with current regulations on many issues, including the use of lead ammunition over wetlands (here), means there should be absolutely zero confidence in its ability and/or willingness to stick to any notional voluntary ban; (d) the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refused to sign up to the proposed five-year transition period because they believe there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that poison can have damaging impacts on humans, wildlife and the environment (here); and (e) in the very same year that nine shooting organisations committed to the five-year transition, BASC announced it was set to fight a proposed EU ban on the use of lead ammunition on wetlands (see here).
A scientific paper published last month, one year in to the so-called ‘voluntary transition’, supported our scepticism when it demonstrated that of 180 pheasant carcasses bought from across the UK and scientifically examined, 179 had been shot with lead ammunition (see here). Not much evidence of transitioning there.
The ‘letter of the week’ in this week’s Shooting Times provides some insight in to the mindset of the shooters. They know that shooting poison in to the environment isn’t ‘the right thing to do’ but they’re going to continue to do it so they’re not left out of pocket and for the price of some lead ammunition, sod humans, wildlife and the environment in the process:
It’s not clear to me why the Government has suddenly done a u-turn, although I’m glad it has. But why on earth is it embarking on a two-year process to ‘review the evidence, conduct a public consultation and propose options for restrictions’? We don’t need two years of more time-wasting. The evidence has been done to death – just look at the amount of science here – another two year’s worth is not going to change the fact that poison is bad for humans to eat and bad for wildlife to eat and shouldn’t be sprayed around the countryside. And why the need for a public consultation? Lead ammunition is poisonous – for us and for wildlife. Who in their right mind is going to argue against getting rid of it?
And is the Government going to impose a ban after its two years of time-wasting? If it does, it’d better make sure that ban is enforced because three separate scientific studies have already shown that compliance with the ban on using lead ammunition over wetlands is appallingly low. These three studies showed that compliance with the regulations was 32% (2001-2), 30% (2008-9 and 2009-10) and 18-23% (2013-14) – see here.
This is an industry that cannot be trusted, being regulated by a Government that cannot be trusted. Not a great combo for those of us who want to see lead ammunition gone for good without any further delay.