Lead shot ban in wetlands comes closer in the EU

Every year hundreds of thousands of waterbirds die from lead poisoning due to lead shots. For almost a decade, BirdLife and many other international NGOs and scientists have campaigned against this unnecessary threat to our wildlife and to ourselves, humans.

On 3 September 2020, a long-awaited decision became almost a reality: the representatives of the EU Member States voted in favour of a ban on lead shots in wetlands at the REACH Committee. No less than 18 countries, representing 90% of the EU population voted in favour of the ban.

This vote represents the end of a long process. In December 2015, the European Commission requested the European Chemicals Agency – ECHA to prepare a dossier in accordance with the European Regulation on Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals for a potential future restriction of the use of lead shots in wetlands across the European Union. The dossier included a risk assessment, an analysis of alternatives and a socio-economic assessment. Based on this evidence and scientific proof, the European Commission drafted a text for the European Regulation. Important elements in the regulation are the definition of wetlands (using the Ramsar definition, which includes peatland), a 100 meter buffer zone and 24 to 36 months for implementation.

The risks of lead ammunition to human and wildlife health are well documented with scientific evidence. The replacement of all lead ammunition with readily available non-toxic alternatives is the only way to reduce the impact. Understanding how lead affects our wild species, but also our ecosystems, has been the focus of many projects and analysis carried out over the past six years, many of which were funded by the MAVA foundation.

Thanks to the broad support of conservation NGOs, policymakers, the European Commission, scientists and many other people, the focus can now move to the implementation of the usage of widely available alternatives and the removal of all lead from the environment.

The proposal of the European Commission for a European Regulation on a lead shot ban in wetlands will be published and presented to the European Council and Parliament. Both Council and Parliament will have a period of three months to discuss the Regulation and vote on it.

In parallel, the European Commission has asked ECHA to assess the potential ban of lead in terrestrial habitats other than wetlands and in fishing weights. ECHA is working on the scientific overview and will present the conclusion by the end of 2020. It is now time to celebrate the victory for wetlands, but also the moment to double our energy and continue to fight for a full lead ban across all habitats.

By Ivan Ramirez and Willem Van Den Bossche, BirdLife

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