Update on threats to lead shot from the European Union (September 2019)
This update on the threat to lead shot from the European Union follows on from our Question and Answer briefing note of August 2018 (below), which explained where the current threats lay when it came to the future use of lead ammunition.
The European Commission’s (EC) proposal on the restriction of lead shot over wetlands is expected to be sent to Member States shortly, with a vote on those proposals then taking place.
Along with other members of FACE (UK), we have written to the Environment Secretary, stressing the importance of Defra pushing for a clearer definition of wetlands, restricting it to areas of visible / standing water, and excluding dry peatlands, and how the issue of ‘possession’ of lead shot has been approached.
The EC has also asked the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) to prepare a restriction proposal addressing the risk to wildlife and humans (via the consumption of game meat) from lead in all ammunition (shot and bullets) including target shooting. Lead in fishing weights is also included in the request. In its letter, the EC has also asked ECHA to assess issues linked to animal welfare, potential accidents to hunters using lead ammunition, and its alternatives.
If ECHA’s proposal recommends that further action is necessary, the Agency will begin preparing a restriction on all lead in ammunition with both its Committee for Risk Assessment, and Committee for Socio-Economic Analysis. At that stage, there will be consultations with relevant stakeholders including FACE, which also sits on those committees. Although FACE supports the phasing out of lead shot over wetlands as define as areas of visible / standing water, and excluding dry peatlands, it does not support general bans on lead in ammunition. From FACE’s perspective, any further measures beyond lead shot over wetlands must be proportional with the demonstrated risks to wildlife populations and human health via game consumption, having taken into account risk management measures. The Countryside Alliance is a member of the FACE Ammunition Working Group.
Where do the current threats lie when it comes to the future use of lead ammunition?
The major threat we are currently facing is at the European Union level through a body called the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA). The European Commission has requested ECHA prepare a dossier on the restriction on the use of lead shot in wetlands “in order to properly control the risk to the environment and human health”. Following previous pressure from the African Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), most parties, including the UK, have already introduced measures to restrict lead shot in wetlands. However, the Commission requested that the “harmonisation of the use of lead shot in wetlands is a priority”, effectively imposing identical restrictions on lead ammunition across all EU member states, this will affect the UK.
In addition, ECHA have also been asked by the European Commission to collect evidence on the risks and socio-economic impacts of lead ammunition in terrains other than wetlands.
As of September 2018, ECHA have provided the European Commission with their proposals relating to harmonisation of lead shot in wetlands. The collection of evidence on an outright ban of lead ammunition is still at report stage.
What proposals have been made by the European Chemicals Agency to harmonise the use of lead shot over wetlands?
One proposal calls for restriction of lead shot across all land meeting the full Ramsar definition of a ‘wetland’ – this includes peatlands. This will have wide ramifications for northern Europe, where many countries, including the UK, do not currently include peatlands within legislation relating to lead shot. If the definition used in the UK is expanded to include peatland it will force a ban on lead shot over large swathes of shooting in the UK, including the majority of grouse shooting.
The Alliance’s position is final; the introduction of peatland to the legislation will not decrease the risk to wetland birds ingesting lead shot. There is neither evidence to show that wildfowl are picking up lead shot over peatland habitat nor that the restriction will reduce the risk to wildfowl.
As there are multiple reports highlighting that compliance with existing lead restrictions is poor, including several reports from the UK, ECHA have sought ways to improve enforcement. A second proposal would make it illegal to possess lead shot when on or passing through a wetland. The Alliance considers this as an unenforceable recipe for chaos and confusion for game shots.
One proposal, pushed by the RSPB among others, was the inclusion of a buffer zone around wetlands where lead shot would be illegal. Following lobbying from shooting organisations, ECHA agreed that this would not be necessary and impossible to enforce.
Are these proposals a done deal?
ECHA’s opinions are currently making their way through various bodies including the World Trade Organisation, DG Env (Environment) and DG Grow (Business) where they will be subject to discussions and debates. From there the proposals will head to the European Council and Parliament where Member States and MEPs will get their say and the ratifying vote. There is still plenty of time for organisations, manufacturers and individuals to have their input.
What is the feeling from the other EU countries?
The call for harmonisation of legislation for the use of lead shot over wetlands has been welcomed by Member States to varying degrees. There are some countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, whose legislation on the use of lead shot is already more restrictive than what ECHA has proposed. Meanwhile Southern European countries will be hardly affected by these proposals.
On the other hand, there are some countries, including the Republic of Ireland, that have yet to introduce any restrictions on the use of lead shot, even in wetlands, and therefore risk being greatly affected by these changes in a short time period.
Where does the Countryside Alliance stand on these new proposals?
The Alliance fully accepts the requirement to restrict the use of lead shot over wetlands as currently legislated for in the UK. There is a growing body of scientific evidence showing the impact of lead shot on wildfowl at the individual and, potentially, population level.
However, there is no evidence showing that our current restrictions are not satisfactorily reducing the risk to wildfowl. Efforts should be focused on improving compliance with existing regulations and introducing restrictions on the use of lead in wetlands in countries that yet to do so. The Countryside Alliance will not accept any new restrictions in the UK without being shown the evidence of a risk that is not already addressed through existing legislation.
How will Brexit impact our continued use of lead shot?
It will be a tight deadline to get these proposals ratified and into law before Brexit D-Day, 29th March. However, if they do not make it in time they will certainly be finalised during the ‘transition period’. All current indications point towards the UK staying with ECHA after Brexit, unless there is no deal, meaning that we will remain committed to ECHA.
What is certain is that any legislative changes in the EU will have an impact on post-Brexit UK. The pressure will remain on both sides of the Channel to restrict the use, and if the European market moves decisively against lead then the UK could very well follow.
What other challenges are coming down the track?
ECHA is not the only body turning the screw on the future use of lead shot. Another European-level body called REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals) has recently placed lead shot on the ‘candidate list’ as a Substance of Very High Concern (SVHC). This does not mean much for now, however, in the next five years lead shot will be chosen to be taken forward to the Authorisation List. When this happens, if the lead shot alternatives being marketed are determined to be unacceptable, then lead shot will continue to be ‘authorised’ for sale. This provides a huge incentive to manufacturers to produce a cost-effective and efficient alternative, because once a viable alternative to lead is developed REACH could move lead from the Authorised List to the Restricted List, giving an enormous commercial advantage to whoever develops the alternative.
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS), of which both the EU and the UK are signatory parties, signed a Resolution in 2014, which adopted guidelines that recommend a ban on all lead ammunition. The Resolution currently states “it is for each Party to determine whether or how to implement the recommended actions considering the extent and type of poisoning risk, whilst having regard to their international obligations and commitments”. Pressure to adapt the guidelines to something more restrictive is growing every year.