This week the Sustainable Hunting Intergroup at the European parliament in Brussels organised a hearing on the use of lead shot in shotguns.
For centuries, wildfowlers and other shotgun users have been peppering the countryside with lead shot, and rather large amounts of lead are spread around the fields and especially the wetlands, where they represent a threat to wild-life, and indirectly to people.
It seems that shot made with alternative materials is already on the market (steel, bismuth and tin, for example) but the majority of them show other problems like fragility, ricochet, high prices and possible damage to shotguns. During the meeting, Professor Trujillo from the University of Madrid made an interesting presentation on the present status of research and on the characteristics that a viable alternative to lead should have, to be affordable and realistically competitive. He mentioned various technical aspects such as minimal impact on the weapon, and not requiring modification of the gun, plus the possibility of recycling, and suitable dispersion characteristics.
Following Professor Trujillo’s presentation, a slightly different point of view was expressed by an industry representative from AFEMS (the European Manufacturers of Sporting Ammunition). Although they agreed on the need to find alternative materials to substitute for lead in civilian ammunition, they seem to believe strongly that no material so far is close to the same overall performance as lead. Within the ammunition industry, lead remains the dominant offer on the market, followed by steel and tungsten. AFEMS rightly pointed out that it is important not to condemn lead out of court, as the use of it in ammunition is a really small percentage in the global use of lead.
With regard to the legislation, I was surprised to hear that no European directive or regulation limiting the use of lead in ammunition yet exists. In fact, the use of lead shot for hunting in wetlands has by now been phased out by national or regional legislative decisions in most parts of Europe. However (surprise surprise) the EU is keen to start regulating. This intention was clearly confirmed by the third and last speech, from Angus Middleton of the European Federation for Hunting and Conservation (FACE) which collaborates with national groups such as The British Association for Shooting and Conservation and of course the Countryside Alliance.
Angus went through the negative effects of the use of lead with regard to wildlife health (waterfowl and white tailed sea eagles), wildlife welfare, human health, human safety and the environment. The phasing-out of lead shot for hunting in wetlands is in line with the European commitments related to the conservation of wild resources, in particular the African Eurasian Water birds Agreement and the agreement between Bird Life International and FACE on Directive 79/409/EEC.
A general, strong concern was generally expressed during the SustainableHunting Intergroup meeting with regard to the lack of progress in ending the use of lead shot for hunting in wetlands. I understand and support the effort made by industry and universities to find a new and viable alternative to lead, but I fear that knee-jerk European regulation could once again fail to take account of the particular characteristics that each country faces. Member states must be allowed to legislate for their own local and regional situations.