In March 2021, Defra issued a press release entitled ‘‘plans announced to phase out lead ammunition in bid to protect wildlife’’. The release described how ‘‘evidence shows lead ammunition harms the environment, wildlife and people’’ and confirmed that a consultation would be run through UK REACH, the new chemical regime, to seek public views on restriction proposals.
28 months on, where are we?
The UK REACH consultation process has been significantly delayed, meaning that a Ministerial decision on a possible ban is at least six months away. Further delay, as a result of Ministers shunting a decision to the other side of the General Election, is a real possibility. In the meantime, thousands of tonnes of toxic lead are still being spewed into our countryside – the latest research suggests in the 2022/2023 shooting season, over 90% of sampled pheasants were killed by lead ammunition.
The delay to a lead ammunition ban has meant more lead being ingested by a whole range of wild animals, causing acute suffering and additional mortality at a time when species are already under intense pressure. Much of this poison has now entered the human food chain, harming people’s health and undermining the reputation of British game products. Environmental, social and economic – the costs of delay are accruing.
In Westminster, a cross-party group of parliamentarians have been working to better understand these harms, and how they could be resolved. The Lead Ammunition All Party Parliament Group (APPG) was formed in May 2022 and is co-chaired by Lord Browne of Ladyton and Kerry McCarthy MP. Over the past year members of the APPG have met with academics, retailers, conservationists and shooting businesses and heard how:
- The evidence of ecological harm from lead ammunition use is mounting, with 50,000-100,000 wildfowl in the UK (c. 1.5-3.0% of the wintering population) now estimated to die painful, lingering deaths during the shooting season as a direct result of lead poisoning.
- Concerns about the health risks of eating lead-shot game have led retailers to pull British game products from the shelves, as they pose a hazard to consumers (see page 3 of 2023 Shot Switch report).
- Alternatives to lead ammunition are environmentally friendly, effective, affordable and increasingly available from UK suppliers (with no sign that the Ukraine conflict has inhibited supply of this non-military grade ammunition). A legal ban on lead ammunition would spur a further scaling up in production.
- Shooting estates that have pioneered going completely lead free have not seen any drop-off in business.
- Other countries have been free of lead ammunition for years and have not seen any declines in the number of people taking part in shooting.
One by one, the arguments advanced by the proponents of delay have dissipated in the face of the evidence. A switch to non-lead ammunition will remove a pollutant from our environment and dinner plates, can be swiftly achieved through a legal ban and will have negligible impacts on shooters and associated businesses.
The work of the Lead Ammunition APPG has now entered its second year, bringing together eNGOs, parliamentarians and forward-looking shooting voices to send a very clear message to decision makers – get on with it.
Wildlife species, consumers and the reputation of British game products cannot afford to wait another 28 months. We need action now.
Matt Browne, Wildlife and Countryside Link
Julia Newth and Ruth Cromie, Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust
Wildlife and Countryside Link and Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust provide the secretariat for the Lead Ammunition APPG.
A new UK REACH consultation on the socio-economics of a lead ammunition restriction is due to launch in August. Link and WWT will be setting out the case for making polluters, rather than wider society and wildlife, pay for the costs of lead pollution. To learn more about this work, and how you can help with it, email email@example.com.
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