An estimated one million waterbirds fall victim every year to lead poisoning after consuming spent shot.
This article was first published on the AEWA website on 15 June 2021 and is reposted on the occasion of AEWA's 8th Session of the Meeting of the Parties.
Bonn, 23 September 2022 - Thirty years ago, on 13 June 1991, a major international meeting convened to address how to eliminate the poisoning of waterbirds with toxic lead gunshot. Shot is deposited on the ground whenever it is used and subsequently kills when it is consumed by waterbirds.
The conference was organised by the International Waterbirds and Wetlands Research Bureau (now Wetlands International) and its aim was to review the extent of the problems of lead poisoning throughout the world and identify possible solutions. It “concluded that the only effective solution to this problem, other than the cessation of hunting, was the replacement of lead shot with non-toxic alternatives.” The outcome was “the unanimous commitment of all groups represented [governments, the non-government hunting and conservation organisations], to overcome what was perceived as a serious problem for waterfowl.”i
That outcome– to phase out the use of lead gunshot to prevent waterfowl poisoning – has stimulated much conservation both internationally and nationally in the three decades since.
In fact, the issue was already so much on the radar that the founders of the African Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement (AEWA) included the phasing out of lead shot in wetlands as one of the legally binding obligations for AEWA Parties in the AEWA Agreement text from the outset.
In 1995, AEWA adopted as one of its goals that its signatories “shall endeavour to phase out the use of lead shot for hunting in wetlands by the year 2000.”
Since then the topic has also influenced a number of other international conservation treaties as well.
In 2014, the Convention on Migratory Species resolved to “Phase-out the use of lead ammunition across all habitats (wetland and terrestrial) with non-toxic alternatives within the next three years …” a decision endorsed more widely by the government and non-government members of IUCN in 2016 at the World Conservation Congress. In 2017, the Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme – the world’s most senior decision-making body on environmental issues also recognised the risk of lead ammunition and the need for solutions.
Some countries have made a successful transition to non-toxic hunting. For example, in the Netherlands the use of lead gunshot was prohibited in 1993, and similarly in Denmark in 1996. Such complete phase outs have been effective. Of those countries’ signatory to AEWA, in 2018, 31% reported they had fully phased out lead shot from use in wetlands, with another 12% having partially achieved this.ii
In early 2021, the European Parliament adopted recommendations from the EU Chemicals Agency to prohibit the use and carrying of lead gunshot in wetlands – a ban that will enter into force in February 2023.
The AEWA Secretariat has been actively contributing to and following the process which led to the decision by European Union Member States under REACH, the EU’s framework regulation for chemicals in the past years. The historic decision by the EU is in line with the provisions of AEWA and marks one of the greatest conservation achievements in the 25-year history of the Agreement.
A second consultation is underway with respect of a proposal to phase out lead in other ammunition types as well as from use in fishing weights.
The routes by which toxic lead shot poisons wildlife and exposes humans in their food. The complete transition to non-toxic shot was recommended 30 years ago. © WWT
But lead ammunition is a continued risk
Our understanding of the extent of the problem and risks have grown over these last 30 years since 1991:
The solution pioneered in Europe by Denmark and the Netherlands is simple and has been shown to be successful: a ban of all uses of toxic lead gunshot all along the flyways.
“As a government representative to this meeting, I was really glad to see all groups agreed to overcome this serious problem for waterbird conservation and human health. It was an important step in a long story and the AEWA treaty adopted in 1995 made it clear that lead shot should be banned from wetlands as a first priority for conservation. Many Parties to AEWA have already banned the use of lead-shot ammunition on wetlands. Let us collectively achieve this objective and implement it all along the African-Eurasian flyway” says Jacques Trouvilliez, Executive Secretary of AEWA.
Notes for Editors:
i Pain, D.J. (ed.) 1992. Lead poisoning in waterfowl. Proceedings of an IWRB Workshop, Brussels, Belgium, 13-15 June 1991. IWRB Special Publication No. 16. 105 pp.
ii National Reports to AEWA’s seventh Meeting of Parties in 2018.
From 26-30 September 2022 in Budapest, Hungary, AEWA MOP8 brings together the full range of AEWA Contracting Parties and partners including representatives of other international treaties, international and national non-governmental organizations as well as experts from the scientific community.
MOP8 will decide on issues of crucial importance for the conservation of migratory waterbirds and their habitats across Africa and Eurasia and decisions made in Budapest could help strengthen the flyway approach to the conservation of migratory waterbirds across a geographic range spanning 119 countries.
The official slogan of MOP8 – Strengthening Flyway Conservation in a Changing World – captures the need for AEWA Parties to use this MOP and make collective decisions to ensure stronger resources for the implementation and the delivery of the Agreement, through particularly challenging times with the pressing global issues related to climate change, biodiversity loss and shifting priorities in particular due to the impact of the COVID 19 pandemic. Strengthening flyway conservation can only materialize with sustainable funding, compliance, and increased implementation.
Last updated on 24 September 2022