Parliament pulls trigger on lead ammunition in wetlands

The bullets are often ingested by water birds, like swans and ducks, resulting in the death of over one million water birds annually, according to the European Chemicals Agency. [Thomas Landgren / Flickr]

The European Parliament voted on Wednesday (25 November) to ban the use of lead ammunition in wetlands, triggering cries of victory among conservation groups, who said history has been made.

In a desperate attempt, the far-right Identity and Democracy group submitted an objection to the motion, but in the final vote, 499 MEPs voted in favour of the ban with 153 against and 39 abstaining.

In adopting the ban, the European Parliament followed the advice of its environment committee, which voted on the subject last month.

“Everyone knows lead is toxic,” said Ariel Brunner from conservation group BirdLife Europe.

“It’s a relief and encouraging to see MEPs refuse to fall into the trap of disinformation and scaremongering that was spewed around on this issue,” he said.

Lead shot, favoured by many hunters as ammunition, consists of tiny bullets, which spray out from the rifle with few hitting the target.

It is estimated that around 21–27,000 tonnes of lead is dispersed into the EU environment per year because of this.

The bullets are often ingested by water birds, like swans and ducks, resulting in the death of over one million water birds annually, according to the European Chemicals Agency.

“History has been made!” said Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, a wildlife NGO, which took to Twitter to celebrate the Parliament’s vote.

“Lead shot will finally be banned in all EU wetlands! This historic ban paves the way for a healthier, toxic-free future for our environment, wildlife and people – at a time when the stakes for our planet couldn’t be higher,” WWT said.

Before the ban comes into force, the two motions will now need to be passed by the Council of the EU, a process which should only be a formality.

“Following the final approval of member states, the EU can finally remove lead from our wetlands and save millions of wild birds from slow painful death. And hopefully that will be the steppingstone the EU needs to ultimately ban lead ammunition everywhere,” said Brunner.

The European Federation for Hunting and Conservation has criticised the motion, saying it will automatically criminalise citizens.

While they support the ban of lead ammunition, they say the motions contain serious errors, “including reversing the conventional due process rights meaning it would be for the citizen to demonstrate that they are acting legally”.

Hunters also criticised the lack of a clear definition of “wetlands” saying that game hunting in most member states includes terrestrial and wetland hunting, so the ban of carrying lead ammunition within 100m of wetlands may mean hunters are wrongly accused.

[Edited by Frédéric Simon]

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe