Toxic lead left by game hunts ‘kills 100,000 birds a year’

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A cross-party alliance of MPs and Lords have set up a parliamentary group to push for a ban on lead shot used to kill wildlife for consumption, which they say also causes the death of 100,000 other birds each year.

The Lead Ammunition All Party Parliamentary Group joins forces with the UK’s largest wildlife organizations to oppose toxic ammunition, which is commonly used to kill animals such as pheasants, partridges, rabbits, grouse, hares and even wood pigeons.

Its members say people also suffer the effects of lead pollution by eating game meat as well as coming into contact with wildlife, plants, soil and domestic animals that have been contaminated.

Experts estimate that up to 100,000 waterfowl each year in the UK are killed by ingesting spent pellets left in the countryside.

Experts say up to 400,000 more birds survive but suffer the effects of lead poisoning, including being more susceptible to disease and less able to reproduce. Birds such as golden eagles and red kites that feed or forage on small mammals are particularly susceptible.

The parliamentarians are supported by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) and Wildlife and Countryside Link, England’s largest environmental and wildlife coalition, which represents 65 organizations including Greenpeace, the National Trust and WWF.

The shooting industry presented a five-year plan two years ago to voluntarily phase out lead shot, and the government is considering a ban. Last month the Health and Safety Executive published a report with options, including proposed bans.

But members of the new caucus say a ban must go ahead – and quickly.

It is estimated that 6,000 tonnes of lead from shotgun and rifle ammunition is discarded each year, and at least 2,000 tonnes used for ‘game and varmint’ shooting are left outdoors. Wildlife experts point out that this is equivalent to the weight of 3,000 cows or 19 blue whales.

Chris Packham’s Wild Justice organization found pheasants sold in supermarkets and butchers were contaminated with potentially dangerous lead, with no reduction since the start of the five-year phase-out.



Now is the time to make effective policy change that will put an end to this continuing scandal.

Lord Browne

The Food Standards Agency says that eating lead game can often expose people to potentially harmful levels of lead and that anyone who eats it should minimize the amount they eat.

The WWT says compliance with legal restrictions and a broader voluntary ban is poor.

Lord Browne of Ladyton, former Labor Defense Secretary and co-chairman of the group, said: ‘There are no safe levels of lead.

“The latest largely unregulated release of lead into the environment comes from lead ammunition.

“Non-toxic ammunition is widely available, effective and comparably priced.

“Now is the time for an effective policy change that will put an end to this continuing scandal, because I am convinced that the vast majority of parliamentarians agree.”

(Getty Pictures)

Lord Randall of Uxbridge, former Conservative Deputy Chief Whip and environmental adviser, said: “Other countries have successfully proven that the transition to other materials can be done without difficulty. It’s time to stop poisoning our environment.

In England and Wales, by law, lead-free alternatives must be used for shooting waterfowl, coots and moorhens and in certain wetlands, while lead shot is already banned in all wetlands in Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The Independent asked the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to respond.

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