EU Takes Historic Decision to Ban the Use of Lead Shot for Hunting in Wetlands

Bonn, 27 November 2020 – In a historic decision, the use of lead gunshot in wetlands will be banned in all European Union Member States under REACH, the EU’s framework regulation for chemicals. This decision is in response to the provisions of AEWA and marks one of the greatest conservation achievements in the 25-year history of the Agreement. No other single measure implemented under AEWA to date will have had such a wide-reaching impact on the overall well-being of the migratory waterbirds AEWA was conceived to protect.

This novel legislation will put a halt to the annual death of an estimated one million waterbirds which currently die of lead poisoning in the EU, after consuming spent shot mistaking it for food or the grit they need for their gizzards. 

Additional wider positive effects will include a decrease in the secondary poisoning of predatory and scavenging birds, which are regularly poisoned by either consuming contaminated birds or eating the pellets of lead shot embedded in their prey. 

The restriction will also lead to an increased abundance in waterbirds providing ecosystem services including more quarry for hunters. By supporting the move to use non-toxic ammunition in wetlands, it will also contribute to the sustainability of hunting in general. Risks to the health of people consuming game shot in and around wetlands will also be reduced - including hunters, their families, as well as other consumers of wild game. It will also improve the general health of the environment after stopping the accumulation of hundreds of tonnes of lead shot deposited in wetlands annually.

“Removing toxic lead exposures from waterbirds isn’t just about stopping them dying, it will lead to better breeding potential, better immune systems, better ability to thrive, and that’s what we all need - healthy birds in healthy wetlands” said Dr. Ruth Cromie, Chair of the AEWA Technical Committee.

With this wide-reaching approach, the EU is also leading by example and sending a very strong signal for AEWA Contracting Parties elsewhere in the flyway to follow suit and make progress on banning the use of lead shot in wetlands.

“The founders of AEWA clearly recognized the urgent need to ban the use of lead shot for hunting in wetlands to ensure the health of waterbirds and thus included it as part of the legal provisions of the Treaty. Now, 25 year later, this is a fantastic result and I congratulate the European Union for taking this historic step which will benefit waterbirds, but also human health and the wider environment” said Dr. Jacques Trouvilliez, AEWA Executive Secretary.

The AEWA legal obligation to ban lead shot for hunting in wetlands was a key driver behind the move for a harmonized approach across the EU. The new regulation is the culmination of a four-year process spear-headed by the European Commission and the EU Chemicals Agency (ECHA). It was approved by a majority of the EU Member States in the REACH Committee in September 2020 and most recently by the European Parliament during its plenary session on the 23-26 November 2020. Following a final scrutiny period which ends on the 5 December, the new regulation is expected to enter into force in early 2021. 

Once implemented, the EU and its Member States – representing 30% of the current Contracting Parties to the Agreement - will be in full compliance with their AEWA legal obligations with respect to banning the use of lead gunshot for hunting in wetlands. 

For further information, please see the AEWA thematic page on lead, the Lead Ammunition Hub or contact AEWA Programme Management Officer Nina Mikander

Last updated on 08 June 2021

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