Written evidence submitted by the Wildfowl &Wetlands Trust
1. The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT) is a UK-based international charity conserving wetlands and wetland wildlife including waterbirds. WWT’s conservation actions are evidence-based and the organisation tackles threats to wetland wildlife by undertaking high quality research and monitoring, policy and advocacy work, intensive species management, habitat creation and restoration, and capacity building.
2. WWT wishes to respond to the enquiry into wildlife crime with respect to two issues, namely lead poisoning and illegal shooting of swans.
3. WWT has been conducting research into lead poisoning in wildfowl and the illegal shooting of swans since the 1970s.
4. Lead poisoning through the ingestion of spent lead gunshot is a significant cause of mortality, morbidity and suffering in wildlife, especially in waterbirds.
5. English legislation, introduced in 1999, to address the problem of lead gunshot is not working: there is widespread non-compliance; understanding of the spirit of the law appears good but motivation to comply is poor; and the restrictions have produced no measurable decline in incidence of the disease. There is nothing to suggest the situation is any better or worse in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
6. Action needs to be taken to ensure that wildfowl and other birds do not continue to suffer and die of lead poisoning resulting from spent gunshot ingestion. Several European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and parts of Belgium have introduced total bans on the use of lead gunshot. This appears to be a more practical solution than partial bans introduced in many countries based on the shooting of selected species (i.e. wildfowl) or in selected habitats (i.e. wetlands).
7. There is evidence to suggest that UK-wide legislation restricting the use of lead angling weights has reduced lead poisoning in Mute Swans in England although lead poisoning continues to affect the species to some degree.
8. Poisoning caused by the highly toxic metal lead is a widely accepted and well documented global problem for humans, domestic animals and wildlife, and remains an important cause of morbidity, mortality and suffering in waterbirds and terrestrial birds1-8.
9. Waterbirds are poisoned following ingestion of spent lead gunshot, either inadvertently or mistaken for food particles or grit 9-13. Predatory and scavenging birds, primarily raptors, are also exposed to embedded lead ammunition in their prey or carrion7: a high proportion (e.g., a third), of both legally and illegally shot living birds of some species can carry embedded shot14.
10. The ingestion of discarded lead angling weights has also caused significant illness and death in swans and other bird species15-17.
11. Based upon the incidence of lead shot ingestion, it has been estimated that from a population of just over 11 million waterfowl of 17 species, approaching one million (8.7%) might die from lead poisoning in Europe during the wintering season from November to February each year5. In Britain, over 10% of waterfowl found dead were diagnosed as dying of lead poisoning, with no significant change over the last 30 years despite legislative changes designed to reduce poisoning18.
12. As a response to the issue of lead poisoning in wildlife in the UK, restrictions on the use of lead in angling weights were introduced in 198619. In addition, as a Contracting Party to the African-Eurasian Waterbird Agreement (AEWA), the UK is obliged to phase out the use of lead shot over wetlands19-21 and thus introduced lead shot restrictions in England22-24, Wales25, Scotland26 and Northern Ireland27.
13. There is evidence to suggest that legislation restricting the use of lead fishing weights has reduced lead poisoning in Mute Swans in England18,28,29 although lead poisoning continues to affect the species30.
14. Although measuring compliance with the various Regulations restricting the use of lead shot is complicated31, in 2008, Defra commissioned WWT working with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), to undertake an 18 month study to assess compliance in England32.
15. A game dealer survey found high levels of non-compliance across England with 70% (344/492) of ducks sampled having been shot illegally with lead32. This represents no improvement since a similar but smaller study in 2000/2001 which found 68% (27/40) to have been shot illegally with lead33. Although not an offence, 73% of game suppliers in the study sold illegally shot ducks27.
16. Questionnaire surveys of shooters and shoot providers found, that despite a good understanding of the spirit of the law (i.e. education about the Regulations does not appear to be the problem), 45% of respondents admitted that they sometimes or never complied with the Regulations. There was an apparent lack of motivation to comply as reasons for non-compliance included: disagreement with the rationale for the Regulations and a widely held belief that lead poisoning was not a sufficiently great problem; misperceptions about the alternatives to lead shot; and also the lack of enforcement32.
17. Compliance with the Regulations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland has not been measured but there is no reason to assume the situations there to be any better or worse.
18. There has been little enforcement of the Regulations to date. We are aware of only one case, that of R-v-Quince (Harrogate Magistrates Court, 16th May 2011) where a man was fined £100 as a secondary offence for shooting a protected species (i.e. a swan) with lead33.
19. A range of alternative gunshot types to lead are widely available the UK, along with advice on their properties and the most appropriate non-toxic shot types for different types of shooting34.
Recommendations for actions
20. Motivation to comply with Regulations restricting the use of lead shot seems to be poor in England. Further education about the Regulations may not make a significant difference as there is currently good understanding of the spirit of the legislation in England, although raising awareness of the scale of the problem and unpleasant suffering caused by the poisoning may be valuable.
21. A substantial increase in efforts to police and enforce the Regulations may be beneficial although this would be complex and resource-intensive. Without significant resourcing we therefore consider that this would be ineffective.
22. The introduction of ‘liability of a principle’ may help improve compliance with the existing legislation, as might regulatory restrictions on the sale of wildfowl shot with lead ammunition. However, as with the existing regulations, these would be complicated and potentially costly to enforce. Also, many wildfowl are also exposed to lead shot through feeding on agricultural and other ‘dry’ land where lead may be currently used legally. Therefore while, given adequate resourcing, such actions could potentially reduce the level of wildlife crime they would not solve the conservation and welfare problem.
23. Several European countries, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and parts of Belgium have introduced total bans on the use of lead gunshot (these vary from bans on use for all game shooting to bans on use, possession and trade). This appears to be a more practical solution than partial bans introduced in many countries based on the shooting of selected species (i.e. wildfowl) or in selected habitats (i.e. wetlands), and we consider that this would be the most efficacious and enforceable solution in the UK countries.
1 EFSA Panel on Contaminants in the Food Chain (CONTAM). 2010. Scientific Opinion on Lead in Food. EFSA Journal 2010, 8(4), 1570. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2010.1570.
2 Franson, J.C. & Pain, D.J., 2011. Lead in Birds, in: Beyer, W.N., Meador, J.P. (Eds.), Environmental contaminants in biota. Interpreting tissue concentrations. Taylor & Francis Group. Boca Raton, USA. pp. 563-593.
3 Pokras, M.A. & Kneeland, M.R., 2009. Understanding lead uptake and effects across species lines: A conservation medicine approach. In: Watson, R.T., Fuller, M., Pokras & M., Hunt, W.G. (Eds.), Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: implications for wildlife and humans. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho, USA.
4 Beintema, N.H., 2001. Lead poisoning in waterbirds: International Update Report 2000. Wetlands International, Wageningen.
5 Mateo, R., 2009. Lead poisoning in wild birds in Europe and the regulations adopted by different countries. In: Watson, R.T., Fuller, M., Pokras & M., Hunt, W.G. (Eds.), Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: implications for wildlife and humans. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho, USA.
6 Pain, D.J., 1996. Lead in waterfowl. In: Beyer, W.M., Heinz, G.H. & Redman-Norwood, A.W. (Eds.), Environmental contaminants in Wildlife: interpreting tissue concentrations. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, Florida, USA.
7 Pain, D.J., Fisher, I.J. & Thomas, V.G., 2009. A global update of lead poisoning in terrestrial birds from ammunition sources. In: Watson, R.T., Fuller, M., Pokras & M., Hunt, W.G. (Eds.), Ingestion of lead from spent ammunition: implications for wildlife and humans. The Peregrine Fund, Boise, Idaho, USA.
8 Scheuhammer, A.M., Norris, S.L., 1996. The ecotoxicology of lead shot and lead fishing weights. Ecotoxicology 5: 279-295.
9 Gionfriddo, J.P., Best, L.B., 1999. Grit use by birds: A review. In: Nolan, V., Ketterson, Jr., E.D. & Thompson, C.F. (Eds.), Current Ornithology. Volume 15. Plenum Publishing Corporation, New York, USA. pp. 89-148.
10 Hall, S.L. & Fisher, F.M., 1985. Lead concentrations in tissues of marsh birds - relationship of feeding habits and grit preference to spent shot ingestion. Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology 35: 1-8.
11 Mateo, R. & Guitart, R., 2000. The effects of grit supplementation and feed type on steel-shot ingestion in mallards. Preventive Veterinary Medicine 44: 221-229.
12 Moore, J.L., Hohman, W.L., Stark, T.M. & Weisbrich, G.A., 1998. Shot prevalences and diets of diving ducks five years after ban on use of lead shotshells at Catahoula Lake, Louisiana. Journal of Wildlife Management 62: 564-569.
13 Pain, D.J., 1990b. Lead poisoning of waterfowl: a review. In: Matthews, G. (Ed.), Managing waterfowl populations. The International Waterfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau, Slimbridge.
14 Newth, J.L., Brown, M.J. & Rees, E.C., 2011. Incidence of embedded shotgun pellets in Bewick's swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii and whooper swans Cygnus cygnus wintering in the UK. Biological Conservation 144: 1630-1637.
15 Simpson, V.R., Hunt, A.E. and French, M.C. 1979. Chronic lead poisoning in a herd of mute swans. Environmental Pollution 18: 187-201.
16 Birkhead, M. 1982. Causes of mortality in the mute swan Cygnus olor on the River Thames. Journal of Zoology 198: 15-25.
17 Birkhead, M.E. and Perrins, C.M. 1986. The Mute Swan. Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd, UK.
18 Newth, J.L., R. L. Cromie, M. J. Brown, R. J. Delahay, A. A. Meharg, C. Deacon, G. J. Norton, M. F. O’Brien & D. J. Pain 2012. Poisoning from lead gunshot: still a threat to wild waterbirds in Britain. Submitted to Biological Conservation.
20 African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) (2002). Resolution 2.2 Phasing out of lead shot for hunting in wetlands. Second Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), 25-27 September 2002, Bonn, Germany.
21 African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA) (2008). Resolution 4.1 Phasing out of lead shot for hunting in wetlands. Fourth Meeting of the Parties to the Agreement on the Conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbirds (AEWA), 15-19 September 2008, Antananarivo, Madagascar.
28 Kirby J., Delany S. & Quinn J. 1994. Mute swans in Great Britain – a review, current status and long term trends. Hydrobiologia 280: 467–482.
29 Delany S., Greenwood J.J.D., & Kirby J. 1992. The national Mute Swan Survey 1990. 1992. JNCC Report No. 74. JNCC, Peterborough.
30 Perrins, C. M., G. Cousquer, and J. Waine. 2003. A survey of blood lead levels in mute swans Cygnus olor. Avian Pathology 32: 205–212. CrossRef, PubMed, CSA.
32 Cromie, R.L., Loram, A., Hurst, L., O’Brien, M., Newth, J., Brown M.J. & Harradine, J.P., 2010. Compliance with the Environmental Protection (Restrictions on Use of Lead Shot)(England) Regulations 1999. Report to Defra, p. 99, Bristol.
33 Cromie, R.L., Brown, M.J., Hughes, B., Hoccom, D.G. & Williams, G., 2002. Prevalence of shot-in pellets in Mallard purchased from game dealers in England in winter 2001/2002. In: RSPB. (Eds.), Compliance with the Lead Shot Regulations (England) during winter 2001/02. RSPB, Sandy, UK.
34 Lead Shot Substitutes: What you need to know. British Association for Shooting and Conservation booklet. 8 pages.
Illegal Shooting of Swans
24. Illegal shooting continues to affect all three species of migratory and resident swan in the UK despite each being legally protected from hunting throughout its range. This is a particular conservation issue for Bewick’s Swans as their numbers are declining, yet 22.7% of living birds have been shot at (and others undoubtedly killed). Illegal shooting occurs in UK as well as overseas.
25. Greater compliance with legislation should be encouraged, both through increased public awareness and through engagement with local authorities and communities across the swans’ ranges including the UK.
26. There is a need for stricter enforcement of legislation throughout the swans’ ranges including the UK.
27. Illegal shooting continues to affect all three species of swan in the UK (the migratory Whooper and Bewick’s Swan and the resident Mute Swan), despite each being legally protected from hunting throughout its range.
28. Despite a reduction in hunting pressure on Bewick’s Swans since the 1980s, the incidence of illegal shooting remains high, with 22.7% of live Bewick’s and 13.2% of Whooper swans caught and X-rayed in Britain in the 2000s found to have been shot at¹.
29. Bewick’s and Whooper Swans are known to have been shot dead in Britain as well as other countries along their migratory route¹´² and there are annual reports in the UK of Mute Swans being shot at by vandals or mistakenly by hunters e.g. R -v-Quince, Harrogate Magistrates Court, 16th May 2011.
30. Illegal shooting is of particular concern for swan species as they are long-lived and slow to mature (with delayed onset of breeding and low annual productivity), and therefore sensitive to increases in adult mortality. The threat of illegal shooting is of particular conservation concern for the Bewick’s Swan population because its numbers are declining ³⁻⁶.
Recommendations for actions
31. Greater compliance with legislation should be encouraged, both through increased public awareness and through engagement with local authorities and communities across the swans’ ranges including the UK.
32. There is a need for stricter enforcement of legislation throughout the swans’ ranges including the UK.
¹ Newth, J.L., Brown, M.J. & Rees, E.C. 2011. Incidence of embedded shotgun pellets in Bewick’s swans Cygnus columbianus bewickii and whooper swans Cygnus cygnus wintering in the UK. Biological Conservation 144: 1630-1637.
² Rees, E.C. & Bowler, J.M. 2002. Bewick's Swan Cygnus columbianus. In: (C.V. Wernham, M.P. Toms, J.H. Marchant, J.A. Clark, G.M. Siriwardena & S.R. Baillie, eds.), The Migration Atlas: Movements of the Birds of Britain and Ireland, pp 149-153. T. & A.D. Poyser, London, UK.
³ Beekman, J.H. 1997. Censuses of the NW European Bewick’s Swan population, January 1990-1995. Swan Specialist Group Newsletter 6: 7-9.
⁴ Delany, S., Reyes, C., Hubert, E., Pihl, S., Rees, E.C., Haanstra, L. & Van Strien, A. 1999. Results from the International Waterbird Census in the Western Palearctic and Southern Asia 1995 and 1996. Wetlands International Publication No 54, Wetlands International, Wageningen, the Netherlands.
⁵ Delany, S. & Scott, D. 2006. Waterbird Population Estimates – Fourth Edition. Wetlands International Global Series No. 12, Wetlands International, Wageningen, the Netherlands.
⁶ Rees, E.C. & Beekman, J.H. 2010. NW European Bewick’s Swans: a population in decline. British Birds 103: 640-650.