BirdWatch Ireland has warmly welcomed the banning of lead shot ammunition in wetlands which was made illegal across all 27 EU countries, as well as in Iceland, Norway, and Lichtenstein.
The law comes into force following a two-year preparation period given to the EU member states.
National authorities will now be required to enforce a ban on the carrying and use of lead shot in, or within 100 metres of wetlands. Birdwatch Ireland estimates that as a result, the lives of one million waterbirds which currently die of lead poisoning across the EU will be saved.
The organisation adds that the perpetuation of extreme poisoning of wetland wildlife will now be finally tackled.
Wetlands are defined as “areas of marsh, fen, peatland or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.”
Lead shot cartridges consist of hundreds of tiny, round lead projectiles which are used to hunt waterbirds and other small animals, in wetlands and elsewhere.
It is estimated the use of 4,000 tonnes of lead shot annually is polluting EU wetlands, despite the existence of competitively priced alternatives, such as non-toxic steel shot.
Birdwatch Ireland points out that lead shot is particularly problematic for waterbirds which ingest pellets mistaking them for grit – small particles of stone or sand.
Birds swallow small pieces of grit to act like teeth in their gizzard, a specialised organ they use for grinding up their food. The grit helps break down hard foods, such as seeds.
The ban will also decrease the secondary poisoning of birds of prey and scavengers, which are regularly poisoned while eating prey contaminated with lead shot.
The BirdLife Partnership has been working to have the ammunition banned for more than 20 years.
Barbara Herrero (EU nature policy officer, BirdLife Europe) said: “This is huge. Despite banning lead from paint, petrol and virtually everything else several decades ago, it was still allowed to poison our shared environment – even when alternatives exist.
“With this ban, the EU has addressed a significant part of the problem. We now call on EU countries to make sure the ban is enforced.”
The ban does not go beyond wetlands. Lead ammunition in hunting and outdoor sports-shooting away from wetlands, as well as lead used in fishing sinkers and lures, will continue to be used. However, the European Chemicals Agency is working on a second restriction which proposes a complete ban on their use.