Lead poisoning of waterfowl through the ingestion of spent gunshot and discarded anglers' weights continues to be a problem worldwide. We took blood samples from 363 whooper swans Cygnus cygnus at wintering sites in Britain and Ireland and at moulting sites in Iceland during 2001–2005, and analysed them for total blood lead. Lead levels were generally low in swans in Iceland; 6% of samples exceeded 1.21 μmol L−1, the level indicative of elevated lead and above background levels. The proportion of swans with elevated lead was much higher in the wintering range, varying between 43 and 70% at three sites monitored over the winters 2003/2004–2005/2006, and with blood lead levels ranging up to 19.6 μmol L−1. The highest levels were in samples taken from swans in Scotland, with a mean value of 3.0 μmol L−1, but nevertheless they indicated a marked decrease compared with blood lead levels measured for whooper swans at the same site 20 years ago. There also appeared to be a significant long-term decrease in the proportion of swans with elevated blood lead in Iceland, from 60% of birds in 1984 to 8% in 2005, although this may be due to the birds being caught in different parts of Iceland. The most likely source of elevated lead in whooper swans is spent gunshot. Management measures to reduce the impact of lead in the environment on the birds are discussed.