Lead buckshot ban in king's sights

29th February 2008, Comments 0 comments

Experts claim that thousands of birds die annually from ingesting the metal

29 February 2008

MADRID - Thousands of hunters are expected to throng to the streets of central Madrid tomorrow in protest of a new law that would ban the use of lead buckshot in all of Spain's protected wetlands. Many of those that will take part in the march are confident that they have a powerful ally.

A spokesman for the Royal Palace confirmed on Wednesday that King Juan Carlos has approached Environment Minister Cristina Narbona about the legislation that would affect one of his favourite pastimes: hunting partridges and other wildfowl.

"King Juan Carlos has expressed an interest in the issue," a spokesman said. "The king is a hunter, but he is also a great defender of the environment and that is why he is concerned by the issue."

Apparently, the king did not only discuss the draft Law of Natural Heritage and Biodiversity with Narbona, but also turned to representatives of Spain's arms and ammunition industry for information. "In cases such as this... he will gather information from everywhere," the spokesman said.

When Spain's Hunting Federation called tomorrow's march, just a week before the general election, the Royal Palace distanced itself from the issue. "The king does not believe that hunting and politics should mix," the aide said.

It is not the first time the king's hobby has come under the public spotlight. In October 2006, Russian newspaper Kommersant reported that he had shot a drunk and tamed bear during a hunting trip northwest Russia the previous summer.

The Royal Palace firmly denied the claim and used the occasion to point to the Spanish Royal Family's conservationist credentials. Crown Prince Felipe, though an avid hunter like his father, is a self-declared environmentalist, while his mother Queen Sofía, who dislikes hunting, does not eat meat and has made sure that all royal properties recycle waste.

The king, palace spokespeople repeatedly say, supports all measures that aim to protect the environment.

The ban on lead buckshot in protected wetlands is a necessary measure, according to conservationists. In the delta of the Ebro River alone, researchers believe there are more than three million tiny toxic pellets per hectare. These are responsible for the deaths of thousands of birds, some of which are endangered species, which ingest them with small stones to assist their digestion.

Hunters claim that the proposed ban will hinder them from practicing their hobby and do harm to the sport.

The Hunting Federation's protest tomorrow coincides with Madrid's International Hunting Fair.

[Copyright EL PAÍS / M. GALAZ / R. MÉNDEZ 2008]

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