New study shows pheasants still full of poisonous lead shot one year after start of ‘voluntary transition’ to non-toxic shot

A year ago, nine UK game-shooting organisations made a massive u-turn after years and years and years of defending the use of toxic lead ammunition, and said they wanted to drag the industry into the 21st Century by making a five-year voluntary transition away from lead ammunition (see here).

A lot of us were sceptical because (a) we rarely trust anything the industry tells us; (b) previous ‘voluntary bans’ by the industry on a number of issues have been unsuccessful (e.g. see herehere and here); (c) the ongoing failure of the shooting industry to comply with current regulations on many issues, including the use of lead ammunition over wetlands (here), means there should be absolutely zero confidence in its ability and/or willingness to stick to any notional voluntary ban; (d) the Scottish Gamekeepers Association refused to sign up to the proposed five-year transition period because they believe there is insufficient evidence to support the claim that lead can have damaging impacts on humans, wildlife and the environment (here); and (e) in the very same year that nine shooting organisations committed to the five-year transition, BASC announced it was set to fight a proposed EU ban on the use of lead ammunition on wetlands (see here).

Fortunately for us, a new project has been established to monitor the professed voluntary five-year transition from toxic lead to non-lead ammunition in the UK. Called SHOT-SWITCH, the project intends to test wild-shot pheasants offered for sale across Britain each year and determine if they have been killed using toxic lead or non-lead shotgun ammunition. Interestingly, the project is supported by funds from the RSPB, Waitrose (who you’ll recall are the only supermarket to be heading towards a ban on selling game meat shot with lead ammunition (see here) and Lincolnshire Game.

To find out more about the SHOT-SWITCH project please visit the webpage here

The project is being led by three prominent scientists who have been studying the effects of toxic lead ammunition for years – Professor Rhys Green, Professor Debbie Pain and Dr Mark Taggart – and today they have published the results of the first year’s study.

It doesn’t look good for the shooting industry. Of 180 pheasant carcasses examined, 179 were shot with lead ammunition.

These results have been reported in the press (BBC news here) and Mark Avery’s take is also well worth a read (here).

[Lead shot pellets removed from a pheasant carcass. Photo by Rhys Green]

The study results have been published by Conservation Evidence and the paper is open access, meaning nobody has to pay to read it.

I thoroughly recommend reading it – especially the introductory background section which provides a well-written overview of the recent science and politics associated with this issue. The paper can be downloaded here:

Project SHOT-SWITCH is completely separate to Wild Justice’s project examining Sainsbury’s gamebird meat for toxic lead ammunition (see here) although obviously there are many parallels.

25 thoughts on “New study shows pheasants still full of poisonous lead shot one year after start of ‘voluntary transition’ to non-toxic shot”

  1. I seem to remember something like ‘delicious game meat’ from – I think it was Sainsburys – was going to be tested for any traces of lead. Anyone seen any results yet?

  2. I would like to know how many of the approx. 50 Million Pheasants are consumed by humans?? How many are fed to dogs?? How many are buried or dumped?? Such figures would be interesting when the shooting lobby try to justify their reason for the slaughter. I would suggest that the answer to my first question will be extremely small otherwise someone would be “farming” Pheasants in a similar way to chickens.

  3. It is quite telling that the study concludes that despite “the shooting and rural organisations’ joint statement, and their subsequent promotional actions”, that to date there has been no “detectable effect on the ammunition types used by shooters supplying pheasants to the British game market.”

    If the shot being used to kill pheasants is indicative of the shot being used to kill other game, then we are now 1/5th of the way through the voluntary five year transition period, with no apparent reduction in the use of lead shot by the vast majority of shooters! That’s a good start then!!

    This is perhaps not surprising when as the study correctly identifies, the mixed messages coming from some of the shooting organisations who claim on one hand to want to phase out the use of lead shoot, but then oppose any new regulations to restrict or prohibit the use of lead ammunition.

    Why would these organisations not want to use a voluntary transition period to phase out the use of lead ammunition before new regulations were introduced banning its use? Wouldn’t this give shooters and the industry a generous grace period before new rules were enforced? Do these organisations really want to protect the environment and wildlife which is being effected by the lead toxicity that lead shot causes?

    But I can see other parallels from this study, to other statements from the shooting industry regarding illegal raptor persecution. Again it would appear to be one of deja vu, with a confusion of mixed messages. The shooting organisations claiming on one hand to want to eradicate raptor persecution, but on the other, opposing any new regulations to tackle the actual criminality which is taking place!

    If the organisations representing the shooting industry want to be taken seriously, then surely they need to put their money where their mouth is, and accept that the only way to bring about meaningful change is to introduce legally binding regulations and a proper functioning system of enforcement, so that their so called “codes of good practice” are legally enforceable and adhered to be everyone who picks up a gun and heads off into the countryside!

  4. Interesting that use of lead shot in angling was simply outlawed donkeys years ago, the exception being tiny size 8 shot or smaller.
    Anglers would have distributed only a fraction of the lead shot that is sprayed over the UK countryside by shooters.Why the voluntary ban, clearly won’t work any way……

    1. I believe the photographs of poisoned swans with distorted necks helped there. That had an effect on the public, swans being familiar birds, common on the lowland rivers and lakes where the majority of the population live.

      I suspect it will take similar emotive publicity to put an instant stop to lead shot. Which seems unlikely.

  5. The lead shot ban in angling affected almost entirely coarse anglers who lacked – then and now – large wealthy landowners behind them. I speak as a coarse angler who worked in conservation at the time of the ban.

  6. Lead shot has been used for shooting game for well over 120 years and while lead is toxic the countryside isn’t littered with the corpses of those who chose to eat game. A huge number of older homes in the UK have drinking water that passes through lead pipes, again the cities aren’t strewn with the bodies of those who drink this water.

    Alcohol, tobacco, junk food, all of these are known to be responsible for a great many deaths every year but people are aware of the risks and make their choices.

    The honest truth is that those who want to see shooting banned have decided that their best chance of success is to adopt a death by a thousand cuts approach and banning lead is just another way of inflicting one of these cuts.

    1. Hi Jim, partly agree that the issue is important to some simply because it is a way of putting the boot in to the shooting fraternity. But the shooting organistions could turn this around and make it into a positive PR story instead of just attracting bad publicity, but they won’t. The industry is leading itself slowly to the grave in terms of public opinion in the age of social media. The continuation of shooting depends these days mainly on friends in the corridors of power to dodge firm regulation. I know all about the complexity/expense of the alternatives to lead – I know my own pitted & gently rusting guns could not make the switch. But then again if I modernised my house (up to robust modern standards) I wouldn’t stubbornly cling on to my (current) lead pipes! Like gradual poisoning from all sorts of old paints, mortar additives and gases (like radon) that occur in old houses – you don’t drop down dead instantly but it does you only harm and no earthly good – just like lead shot, of which I have likely ingested well above average down the years.

    2. Of course Jim.

      Let’s pass on the research about the effects on lead shot on human health for now. Though I think most sensible-thinking people might suggest staying away from lead a bit.

      Have you actually tried reading the published research on the effects of lead shot on wildlife? Try this:

      A real peachy highlight for me is the 50,000-100,000 wildfowl dying each year in the UK, with sub-lethal effects on several hundred thousand others. I’m sure they’re aware of the risks and have made their choices.

      I find it interesting that nearly all of the shooting organisations are working (sic) to bring in an end to the use of lead shot.

      It could be such an easy win for people who shoot who want to shoot responsibly. What is the problem?!

    3. Your ridiculous whataboutery (which has been addressed by Bowland Bruce) aside…

      “The honest truth is that those who want to see shooting banned have decided that their best chance of success is to adopt a death by a thousand cuts approach and banning lead is just another way of inflicting one of these cuts.”

      I suggest thay you put that claim to Danish shooters. There is no reason whatsoever that shooting would be curtailed by a ban on lead…

      “During the phase-out period many Danish hunters feared that the process would cause a decline in numbers of hunters and weaken the socio-political power of the hunters’ community. However, today, 30 years after the first regulation of lead shot and almost 20 years after the total ban, the number of hunters in Denmark is the highest (177,000) since the registration of hunters was introduced in the 1930s.”

      Click to access OLS_proceedings_kanstrup.pdf

    4. There is a link, above, to a previous posting about the attitude of Waitrose towards lead shot. It includes a video. I suggest you watch it.

      Within five years there may no longer be a market for lead-shot game via that or any other supermarket. Once one changes, the others will follow. There may remain smaller butchers selling the stuff. One just closed in my town.

      In case you CBA reading the above post, or perhaps never bothered…

  7. Re the above I don’t deny that I find the killing or maiming of wild animals for fun, and the pointless and damaging introduction of millions of non-native birds every year quite repulsive and I’d happily ban the lot. Most of my neighbours in Teesdale feel the same, except a few who make some income from the shooting industry and the tenant farmers who are afraid to speak out against their landlords.

    Re lead shot is it possible to find out how much is still being sold in the UK and compare this to previous years? We know from experience the shooters are unlikely to be honest but perhaps reliable figures are on record via manufacturers, importers and retailers.

  8. Lead will be used until its no longer available, steel shot cartridges are much more expensive and most old guns cannot safely fire them, they will never be able to use steel.

  9. “Lead shot has been used for shooting game for well over 120 years and while lead is toxic the countryside isn’t littered with the corpses of those who chose to eat game. A huge number of older homes in the UK have drinking water that passes through lead pipes, again the cities aren’t strewn with the bodies of those who drink this water.”……..Funny then how government has spent millions on replacing those lead pipes, maybe they just do it to keep plumbers employed?..or how about the ban on lead in petrol, brought in by Thatcher’s government as I recall..maybe that was just for a laugh?..Lead is a poison, it also used to be put in paint, that killed people too until they realised the problem…As we say around here “sort yerself oot”.

    1. Anglers banned the use of most lead shot, way back in 1987. Some of the tinier shot, no.8 and below are still used though. The shooting industry are so far behind, frightened of change, probably because the landed gentry shooters don’t want to relinquish the use of their Purdey shotguns.

  10. A few years ago in a Hampshire village, I knew a woman who was hospitalised due to a mysterious illness and they found lead shot in her stomach. Pheasant was always readily available in the village.

  11. Is it any surprise that the shooting fraternity are ‘taking time’ to move forward on the change over from lead shot to a less environmentally harmful shot? It’s long been know that exposure to lead, even in small quantities, over time, slows down brain development and impedes thinking. I wonder just how often, & for how many years, members of that shooting fraternity have been eating wildfowl, grouse, partridge, pheasant, hare or rabbit, which were shot using lead ammo? Nuff said!

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