When shooting ducks and geese over the seashore, estuaries, lakes and other wetlands, wildfowlers will have to use shotgun pellets of a different, non-toxic material - or risk a fine of up to pounds 5,000.
The ban is intended to end the lead poisoning of water birds, which ingest spent shot when taking in grit to aid digestion, and subsequently suffer a lingering and painful death. The action follows the successful ban on lead weights in angling in 1987, which has allowed mute swan populations to expand greatly.
The ban should be in place in England in time for the new wildfowling season on 1 September. The timing of the ban in Scotland and Wales will depend on the new Scottish and Welsh assemblies. A similar ban is to be introduced in Northern Ireland.
Michael Meacher, the Minister for the Environment, said the ban did not constitute a restriction on shooting as a sport, to which the Government remained unopposed. "The aim is to prevent the gratuitously painful and unnecessary deaths of birds," he said.
A typical 12-bore shotgun cartridge contains about 250 pellets of lead, weighingabout 35g. It is thought that about 2,000 tons of shot are used by wildfowlers in Europe each season, much of which falls directly into wetland habitats.
As birds suffering from lead poisoning tend to seek cover and die isolated deaths, there are no figures for how many British waterfowl are lost each year. It has been estimated that 2 to 3 per cent of the United States' autumn wildfowl population (1.6 to 2.4 million birds) dies each year from lead shot ingestion. According to the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust, levels of lead ingestion in northern Europe are similar.
The ban will affect the 16,000 members of wildfowling clubs and up to 100,000 other shooters who take ducks or geese occasionally. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, the wildfowlers' representative body, said yesterday that it accepted the ban, although it would entail more expense for wildfowlers, with alternatives to lead shot cartridges costing up to four times as much.Reuse content