As of today, the 15th of February 2023, using lead shot ammunition in wetlands is illegal in all 27 EU countries, as well as Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein. The law comes into force following a 2-year “grace” period given to the EU countries to prepare for the change.
With this law in place, the lives of the estimated 1 million waterbirds that currently die of lead poisoning in the EU every year will be saved and the perpetuation of extreme poisoning of wetland wildlife will end. The ban will also decrease the secondary poisoning of raptors and scavengers, which are regularly poisoned while eating prey contaminated with lead shot.
It is estimated that Europe’s wetlands have been polluted with 4000-5000 tonnes of lead shot annually due to hunting activity, despite the existence of competitively priced alternatives. Lead shot is particularly problematic for waterbirds that ingest lead pellets, mistaking them for grit: small particles of stone or sand. Birds swallow small bits of grit to act like teeth in their gizzard, a specialized stomach constructed of thick, muscular walls used for grinding up hard foods, such as seeds. Exposure to lead can also have severe consequences for people, especially children.
The BirdLife Partnership, including BirdLife Cyprus, has been working to have this poisonous ammunition banned for more than 20 years. In Cyprus, there’s already legislation in place which prohibits the use of lead ammunition within a 300m radius from wetlands, salt lakes and dams. Despite this, in areas where hunting is allowed, such as Lake Soros in Meneou which is part of the Larnaka Salt Lakes, high levels of lead have been recorded. Moreover, in a survey done in 2021, 50% of Cypriot hunters asked were unaware of the existence of alternative pellets that don’t contain lead.
Considering this European ban, BirdLife Cyprus calls on the authorities once more to ensure that non-lead pellets are being used in hunting areas that are found close to or within wetlands.
Beyond wetlands, the BirdLife Partnership will continue to stand up to the ammunition industry and hunting lobby to ensure Europe has the non-toxic environment it deserves.