Published online by Cambridge University Press: 15 October 2009
Many years of waterfowl hunting have added thousands of tonnes of lead shot to European wetlands. Effective and non-toxic substitutes for lead shot have been developed and are commercially available throughout Europe, but few nations (Denmark, Finland, Norway and the Netherlands) have statutory requirements for their use. Governments can induce hunters to use non-toxic shot by regulatory measures and/or non-regulatory steps, but economic incentives to increase the affordability of lead-free shot have never been used by any nation and might be politically inappropriate. Educational programmes to increase the hunting public's understanding of the poisoning problem, and to provide accurate information on the non-toxic shot, are the best long-term way for governments to focus their spending and induce change, whether on a voluntary or regulated basis. Each of the six nations which has moved to end lead poisoning of waterfowl has adopted a regulatory approach, but these nations have acted independently of each other, and yet the use of non-toxic shot should apply to all countries of a flyway.
Several European treaty and policy precedents could form the basis of a pan-European regulation requiring the use of non-toxic shot. A proposal to eliminate the use of lead shot in wetlands has been made under the Bonn and Bern Conventions. An European Union-USA proposal to reduce the use of different categories of lead under an Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development Council Act has been made, but has deleted an earlier recommendation that lead shot be included. The substitution of lead shot by nontoxic alternatives is also consistent with the European Council Directive on the Conservation of Wild Birds of 1979. The passing of a European Council regulation, stipulating the minimal acceptable standards for shot used for waterfowl hunting, is seen as the most effective way to remediate this transboundary toxic problem. This type of action by the European Union, while recognizing the Principle of Subsidiarity, would still allow other member states to enact more rigorous legislation pertaining to the use of lead shot within their jurisdiction, as have Denmark and the Netherlands. Although responsibility to enact and enforce a European Council regulation is the prerogative of each member state, a single regulation would promote consistency of action amongst all states.