Good and bad news for birds

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The Independent Online
STAND by for the ecological shotgun cartridge. No, I kid you not. After the Glorious Twelfth, some of those grouse will be able to expire happy in the knowledge that they are dying ecologically friendly deaths.

The new green cartridges are needed because the lead shot in the conventional old ones has been killing birds. Yes, I know that's supposed to be the point of it. But it's been polishing off birds that weren't meant to be killed.

The trouble is that for every shot that successfully pumps a bird full of lead, at least two missed and the pellets are left lying around. Wildfowl mistake it for the grit that they need to help them digest, and gobble it down. One-fifth of all the ducks shot in Europe have been found to have eaten lead literally before having to do so figuratively.

A duck that eats just eight pellets will die within two weeks. The Government estimates that up to one-tenth of Britain's wildfowl die from lead poisoning each year; three million birds are thought to die worldwide. Jolly unsporting, I'm sure you'll agree.

Now a Hull firm, wonderfully entitled Gamebore (so that's what they call those people holding forth in the corners of Cotswolds pubs!) is trying to sell a cartridge with non-toxic tin pellets, complete with testimonials: "These cartridges appear to be fine for heavy use on the foreshore for ducks and geese" - British Association for Shooting and Conservation.

By the Glorious Twelfth, says Gamebore's managing director, Stephen Dales, the company will be marketing an environmentally friendly cartridge, made of biodegradable materials as well as tin pellets. Which is good news for hunters as well as the birds: eating the liver of just a single lead-poisoned duck can put your blood over the maximum level for the toxic metal permitted by the World Health Organisation.

o SOMETHING like that, you may remember, happened to swans who swallowed the lead weights left by anglers on riverbanks, leading to carnage up and down Britain's rivers. These weights were banned a decade ago, and since then the number of swans has risen by 73 per cent.

I remember at the time mentioning to the then Conservative ministers that surely lead shot would pose the same kind of problems as the weights - only to be met with derision. Eventually, they introduced a "voluntary phase-out" of using the shot over wetlands - which had very little effect.

Now the Government says that it will ban lead shot in these areas "as soon as parliamentary time permits". Am I being unduly cynical to note that the Conservatives were quite happy to ban lead used for angling, a sport traditionally associated with Labour voters, and that it has taken a Labour government to go after the nobs in the shooting set?

o TALKING of lead, new figures published last week by the European Environment Agency explodes a widespread myth that Britain has been good at getting lead out of petrol. One international report after another has praised the way taxes have been raised higher on leaded than on unleaded petrol as proof that such "economic instruments" are the best way to tackle environmental problems. But, in truth, it has not worked very well.

After a decade of steadily increasing the price gap, nearly four million cars that could use unleaded petrol are still filling up with the leaded stuff.

In fact the biggest cuts in emissions of the toxic metal from car exhausts came through old-fashioned regulation when the last government unilaterally cut the amount of the toxic metal in leaded fuel by two-thirds 10 years ago.

Now the Agency, in a major report last week, records that Britain has the fourth worst performance in Europe at getting the metal out of petrol in the first half of this decade.

It did worse, for example, than Slovenia, Ukraine, Estonia and Georgia, and only beat Lithuania, Croatia and Bulgaria.

o ATTENDING a party at the Cabinet Office, with a grandstand view of the "Beating of the Retreat" in Horse Guards Parade, I found my name badge misspelt, as Geoffrey Elan. Now that's an anagram I can live with.

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