One of the hot topics in field sports circles is the use of the lead shot in UK Wetlands. Jack Knott waded in on the issue to give the Countryside Alliance’s take on the rulings, regulations and knock-on effects for the future of shooting.
Jack explains: “In short, the continued use of lead ammunition has never been under greater pressure. The major threat is coming at the European Union level through a body called the European Chemicals agency (ECHA). The European commission has requested ECHA to 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’.”
ECHA has also requested that the “harmonisation of the use of lead shot in wetlands is a priority” and that evidence be collected on the risks and socio-economic impacts of lead ammunition in other terrains.
As of August 2018, the restriction annex on the use of lead shot in wetlands has been verified and consulted on in two committee stages, and the final proposals are close to being sent back to the commission for ratification. The second request on collecting evidence on an outright ban of lead ammunition is still at report stage. Of course, restrictions are already in place, but the four nations of the UK have varying restrictions on lead shot usage in wetlands – introduced in 1999 (England), 2002 (Wales), 2004 (Scotland) and 2009 (Northern Ireland).
Jack explains how difficulties can arise. “The legislation results from the varying forms of both shooting and landscape present in each nation,” he says. “The European commission’s purpose of harmonising the legislation was to improve the enforcement and therefore compliance, and to ensure that the risks of using lead shot were accounted for. The finalised proposals to be sent to the commission have yet to publicised, but it is highly likely that the restrictions will enforce changes to one or all nations.”
The current proposals are still in a draft phase, however it is clear that proposed changes could have a limited impact across Southern Europe whilst greatly impacting more northern nations such as Britain. Calls to define the term wetland – a move that could include peatland – would also force a ban on lead shot over large swathes of British shooting, including all grouse shooting.
Jack continues: “The Alliance’s position has not changed on this; the introduction of peatland to the restriction to improve harmonisation will not decrease the risk to wetland birds ingesting lead shot. There is no evidence to show that wildfowl are picking up lead shot over peatland, or that the restriction will reduce the risk to wildfowl.
“As there are multiple reports highlighting the current compliance as low – including several from the UK – ECHA have sought ways to improve the enforcement. the current proposal suggests enhancing the definition of ‘possession’ as a potential formula. Under the plans it will become illegal to possess lead shot when on or even passing through a wetland.
“The Alliance considers this as an unattainable pipe-dream causing chaos and confusion for many shoot days. Fortunately, ECHA recognises our serious concerns and alternative proposals are being developed.
“ECHA have proposed these restrictions will be phased in over a three-year period. The alliance continues to lobby for a longer transition period to help manufacturers and traders adapt to the new legislation. Even on the back of a strong lobbying effort from Birdlife international, the ECHA proposal for a buffer zone around wetlands was dropped early in the committee stage as unfounded and unenforceable.”
But Jack also assures that these proposals are by no means a done deal. Once proposals have been finalised, the dossier will be prepared into a legal draft by the commission. It must then go through the World Trade Organisation and various European departments before being passed into legislation by a majority vote in the EU. It is unlikely that any new rules will be brought in circa 2022.
And the UK are not alone. Calls for unity between European nations have been met with mixed reviews. There are some countries, such as Denmark and the Netherlands, whose legislation on the use of lead shot is already more restrictive than ECHA’s 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.
With any potential deadlines not coming for several years, the UK will have already within drawn from the EU, however this may not make us exempt from European law. Jack explains: “It looks like these new restrictions of using lead shot in wetlands will not be ratified before Brexit D-Day, 29 March 2019, however, it will be completed whilst we are still in the ‘transition phase’. We simply do not know whether it will be passed over into uK law or not after the transition is complete, nor do we know whether ECHA will continue to take affect in the UK after Brexit.
“What is certain is that any legislative changes in the EU, will have an onward affect in post-Brexit UK. The pressure will remain on both sides of the channel to restrict the use, and if the european market sways it could easily be followed by the UK. However the processes being completed by ECHA are not the only bodies turning the screw on the future use of lead shot. another european- level body, 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).
Jack adds: “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 it makes it to the next level, it will be the responsibility of the manufacturers to keep lead shot authorised and on the market. If the lead shot alternatives being marketed are unacceptable then lead shot will continue to be authorised for sale. this places the emphasis on the manufacturers to produce a cost-effective and efficient alternative.”
Jack adds that the Countryside Alliance accepts the requirement to restrict the use of lead shot in wetlands. He agrees: “There is a growing level 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 satisfactory at reducing the risk. Efforts instead should be focused on improving compliance over further unenforceable restrictions. We will not accept any new restrictions without satisfactory evidence of the risk which cannot be mitigated for.”
And what of the alternatives to lead? Plastic shells are touted as replacements but they too have their critics, with the quantity of single-use plastics also on the governments agenda. Jack says: “This includes plastic wads that are used with both lead and steel shot. Following a study into plastic waste found on Danish shores, the country is the first to introduce a three-year phase out of all plastic wads.
“This is an easy enough move for lead shot, that can move back to fibre wads, but difficult for steel shot that requires a plastic cup. Whether a cost-effective and efficient non-plastic wad can be marketed in under three years we cannot say for certain; what can be said is that it will provide the manufacturers with the impetus to increase their research and development.
“We have to accept that in the majority of cases plastic shells are single-use. The Countryside Alliance welcomes all efforts afforded to recycling plastic and the manufacturers development and marketing of paper shells.”