Lead is a highly toxic substance. It poses huge risks to human and animal health. That’s why it has been banned from petrol, paints, and various household items in many countries across the world, including in the UK. There is however still a glaring omission in these prohibitions: lead is still widely used in ammunition for hunting and shooting across the UK. This is an astonishing exception in regulation and must urgently change.
It is estimated that at least 5000 tonnes of lead ammunition is deposited into the UK environment annually, accumulating a toxic legacy and causing suffering and death to large numbers of birds – and of course, there are risks to human health too. It took many decades for policy-makers to realise the perils of leaded petrol – but with many species of wildlife facing threats as never before, we cannot afford to wait that long. We need to see action now.
In good news, there are a number of useful alternatives to lead ammunition – meaning there’s now no excuse for the shooting community not to embrace alternatives as soon as possible. Indeed, any individual, conservation organisation, or statutory agencies that manages land must ensure that any shooting that takes place on their property uses non-toxic ammunition.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation states that without clear evidence of the harm caused by lead, it will not consider a change in its policy – but the evidence of leads toxic legacy in the environment is growing. For example, a 2015 report by scientists at Oxford University found that 100,000 wetlands birds are killed every year by discarded lead ammunition. Speaking to BBC News at that time, Lord Krebs, emeritus professor of zoology at the University of Oxford, and former chair of the UK Food Standards Agency, said there was “an overwhelming body of evidence” that lead ammunition was “a risk both to humans and to wildlife”.
To help put an end to this toxic practice, this week I’ve tabled a cross-party motion in Parliament calling for an end to the sale and use of lead ammunition – full text below. These motions are a simple way of MPs calling on the Government to act – in this case, to protect nature and wildlife, as well as public health. Please do ask your MP to sign up.
That this House notes that even low levels of lead are toxic to humans and other animals and that in the UK, lead was banned from use in petrol, paint and water pipes decades ago, with most other uses strictly controlled; further notes that lead ammunition (gunshot and bullets) remains a glaring and largely unregulated exception; expresses concern that at least 5000 tonnes of lead ammunition is deposited into the UK environment annually, accumulating a toxic legacy and causing suffering and death to large numbers of birds; is alarmed that in England, even the limited restrictions from 1999 banning certain uses of lead gunshot are largely ignored; is deeply concerned that an estimated 50,000 – 100,000 wildfowl die of lead poisoning each winter in the UK; firmly believes that individuals, NGOs and statutory agencies that manage land must ensure that any shooting that takes place on their land uses non-toxic ammunition; and calls on the Government to put the UK on the front foot by introducing a ban on the sale, possession and use of all lead ammunition across the UK.