Lead bullets finally banned for hunting in wetlands throughout the European Union

From today, February 15, 2023, it is illegal to use lead bullets in all wetlands, and the 100 meters around them, in all 27 European Union (EU) countries plus Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein. EC Regulation 2021/57 now finally comes into force after EU countries were given 2 years to prepare for the change.

Lead is a highly toxic heavy metal. When ingested by aquatic birds it can cause death. With this legislation in place, an estimated 1 million aquatic birds that currently die from lead poisoning from firearm projectiles will be saved annually, and the contamination of wetland ecosystems and wildlife by this heavy metal will be halted. Lead exposure can also have serious consequences for people, especially children.


The bullets used in aquatic bird hunting contain small lead pellets, which after firing are dispersed and accumulated at the bottom of estuaries, lagoons, bogs, dams, weirs and rice paddies. It is estimated that these munitions are polluting European wetlands with 4000 to 5000 tons of lead annually. The use of lead ammunition continues, even though competitively priced alternatives are now available.


Lead bullets are particularly problematic for aquatic birds that ingest the lead berries because they mistake them for small particles of rock or sand. These birds swallow small grains of stones to act as teeth in their gizzard, and facilitate digestion.


The ban that takes effect today will also reduce secondary poisoning of birds of prey and necrophagous species, which are often poisoned by feeding on prey contaminated with lead ammunition. There will also be a reduction in the risk of lead poisoning for people who regularly consume game meat.


The C6 Environmental NGO Coalition has worked intensively with European partners and institutions and with the guardianship and the hunters' confederations in Portugal for the past 20 years to ban the use of this type of dangerous ammunition.


According to Domingos Leitão, Executive Director of SPEA, "Lead was already banned in plumbing, paint, batteries, fuel and just about everything else several decades ago, so it made no sense to continue to allow hunting activities to spread lead in wetlands - there being alternatives. With this new legislation, the EU has addressed a significant part of the problem. Now we expect Portugal to ensure that the ban is effectively implemented."


In our country, until now the use of lead bullets was only prohibited in hunting in wetlands, within a limited list of protected areas. However, the application and enforcement of this rule has always been surrounded by doubts and difficulties. The EU regulation that comes into force today extends the ban to all wetlands. It is a European legislation of direct application to all citizens. In other words, as of today the use of lead bullets in all types of hunting is prohibited in all wetlands, up to 100 meters around them. But for effective application and enforcement of this Regulation in Portugal, C6 believes that it is important to clarify. The Ministry of the Environment and Climate Action, which is responsible for hunting, should promote the necessary changes in hunting legislation, so that it is clear to hunters and inspection entities that lead ammunition cannot be used in any type of hunting in all wetlands. If this is not done, we run the risk of non-compliance with the European standard, with all the negative consequences that can result.


Unfortunately, the ban does not go beyond wetlands. Lead projectiles in hunting and sport shooting, as well as the use of lead in fishing, will continue to poison the environment. But that may soon change. The European Chemicals Agency has assessed the health and environmental risks of these activities and props and concluded that an EU-wide restriction is warranted.


C6 and its European partners will continue to work to ensure that Portugal and Europe have the non-toxic environment they deserve.



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