The researchers estimate that, for 10 species of birds, poisoning by this metal is responsible for the disappearance of 55,000 specimens in the European sky.

Lead from hunters’ ammunition leads to a reduction of at least 55,000 raptors in the population of birds of prey in Europe due to contamination of their food by lead from hunters, according to a study published on Wednesday March 16.

Conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge, this study is presented as the first to calculate the impact of these poisonings across Europe. She analyzed the lead concentrations in the liver of 3,000 raptors of 22 species found dead or dying in 13 European countries (France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, United Kingdom and Greece).

The researchers estimate that for 10 species of these birds, which feed on live prey and carrion, lead poisoning of hunters’ ammunition lead to a reduction in their population of 55,000 adult individuals in European skies. – compared to what their number would be without this poisoning. The models indicate that their population is thus 6% lower than it would be without the effects of lead, which promises contaminated birds death. “slow and painful”.

The avoidable suffering and death of many raptors from lead poisoning should be enough to require the use of non-toxic alternatives. »

Debbie Pain, study co-author

The population of white-tailed eagles is thus 14% lower than it would be without exposure for more than a century to lead, those of the golden eagle and the griffon vulture respectively by 13% and 12%. It is 3% for common birds such as red kite or marsh harrier. The population of common harriers is 1.5% lower, but this low percentage corresponds to 22,000 birds as this species is widespread.

Unsurprisingly, the researchers observed a correlation between the density of hunters and the number of poisoned raptors. And “the fact that no lead-poisoned raptors have been found in Denmark after the country banned lead ammunition in 1996 indicates that the lead causing the problem comes from hunters’ ammunition”Professor Rhys Green, lead author of the study, told AFP.

“The level of decline in raptor populations suggested by our study would be considered worthy of strong action, including legislation, if caused by habitat destruction or deliberate poisoning”he denounced in a press release. “The avoidable suffering and death of many raptors from lead poisoning should be enough to demand the use of non-toxic alternatives”said Debbie Pain, co-author of the study, stressing the urgency to act.

Hunting is held responsible for the dissemination of around 14,000 tonnes of lead each year in the European Union, the study points out. Two European countries have banned lead shot: Denmark and the Netherlands. Denmark plans to ban lead rifle bullets as well. The EU and UK plan to ban all lead ammunition, the authors point out, but face opposition from hunting groups.