Lead poisoning of British birds

We all know the story about the Romans poisoning themselves because of their ingenious use of lead water pipes. This ingenuity ultimately resulted in their demise. Although lead is a strong pliable metal, it has deadly properties and can affect the body’s ability to function. The banning of lead in paints as well as bullets for hunting is due to the potential threat of its toxic nature. However, a recent report suggests upwards of 100,000 wading birds die each year as a result of lead poisoning. A staggering figure wouldn’t you agree?

The use of lead bullets has been (mostly) banned across the British Isles for over ten years; however, rules can vary depending on the local jurisdiction. Despite this, it seems that the rules are somewhat ignored as lead is still found in bullets.

Using lead bullets can have a devastating twofold effect: Firstly if using a shot-gun when hunting, the lead pellets end up scattered in the animal which results in lead entering the food chain, and is ultimately consumed by animals and humans alike. Even small concentrations can cause memory loss, muscle pain, miscarriage and even death. Lead products are largely band and yet lead is sneaking into our diet through game hunting.

The second dilemma results from less accurate hunters missing their target scattering the pellets in the forest or wetland. This results in increased concentrations of lead in the wetland habitat, which slowly poisons the wetland birds that filter the water. The impact of this thoughtless behaviour continues its way up the food chain; buzzards and other raptors that prey on smaller wetland birds find themselves affected. It can also effect the development of young birds of prey, even from the smallest concentrations of lead. The wading birds suffer the same fate, with small concentrations, they will likely struggle to breed, giving some explanation about why many British waders are decreasing in number.


Buzzard at the top of the food chain will sequester more lead over time-consuming the British waders with lower concentrations.

This suggests that lead poisoning could be one of the significant factors contributing to the decline in our wetland birds. Even small amounts in the environment can have far-reaching effects.

The lead deposited in wetland areas by hunting and such, is likely to increase over time, creating a silent killer, harming us and all the wildlife that we love. Further laws need implementing to help protect us and our wildlife from this silent killer.

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I am a trained geologist who has a passion for conservation and working with wildlife. I write articles that interest me and that I am passionate about using skills and knowledge to highlight issues related to climate change. I don’t write articles for views, I write them to change views.

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