Westminster finally agrees to consider lead ammunition ban

DEFRA press release (23 March 2021)

Plans announced to phase out lead ammunition in bid to protect wildlife

  • Government sets out the restriction work to be carried out in the first year of UK REACH, the UK’s new chemical regime
  • Evidence shows lead ammunition harms the environment, wildlife and people
  • Consultation will seek public’s views on restriction proposals

Lead ammunition could be phased out under government plans to help protect wildlife and nature, Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced today (23 March).

A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people. The government is now considering a ban under the UK’s new chemical regulation system – UK
– and has requested an official review of the evidence to begin today with a public consultation in due course.

[Lead shot ammunition, photo by iStock]

Research by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (here) shows that between 50,000 to 100,000 wildfowl die in the UK each year due ingesting lead from used pellets. Despite being highly toxic, wildfowl often mistake the pellets for food. A further 200,000 to 400,000 birds suffer welfare or health impacts, and animals that predate on wildfowl can also suffer.

Lead ammunition can also find its way into the wider environment and the food chain, posing a risk to people if they eat contaminated game birds. Studies have also found that lead poisoning caused lowered immune systems in wild birds, potentially aiding the spread of diseases such as avian influenza (bird flu).

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said:

Addressing the impacts of lead ammunition will mark a significant step forward in helping to protect wildlife, people, and the environment.

This is a welcome development for our new chemicals framework, and will help ensure a sustainable relationship between shooting and conservation“.

The announcement today has been welcomed by environmental organisations.

Dr Julia Newth, Ecosystem Health & Social Dimensions Manager at the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust (WWT), said:

Conservationists, including WWT, shooting organisations and game meat retailers have recognised the toxic risks from lead ammunition to people and the environment. Regulation of its use in all shooting, wherever this may happen, is very much needed as soon as possible to protect human and animal health and to enable us to move towards a greener and safer future“.

Shooting organisations are also supportive of transitioning away from the use of lead ammunition and are working with government to bring this about.

The Environment Agency, together with the Health and Safety Executive, will now start a two-year process to review the evidence, conduct a public consultation and propose options for restrictions.

Now we have left the EU we are able to make our own laws. UK REACH allows decisions to be made on the regulation of chemicals based on the best available scientific evidence, ensuring chemicals remain safely used and managed.


This is a complete U-turn for the Westminster Government, who, for years, have ignored the best scientific evidence that they should have used to protect humans, wildlife and the environment, but chose instead to support the shooting industry’s refusal to get rid of toxic lead ammunition (e.g. see here and here).

Why the change of direction? They must have seen the writing on the wall.

Just as many of the shooting industry’s organisations did last year when they announced, after years and years and years of defending their position of firing poison in to food, that they were going to support a ‘voluntary ban’ on the use of toxic lead ammunition and wanted to see it phased out within five years. The industry leaders had decided to jump before they were pushed, although many of their members were furious with this u-turn.

However, this ‘voluntary’ approach by the rest of the industry just wasn’t convincing. A lot of us were sceptical because (a) we rarely trust anything the shooting 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 poison 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).

A scientific paper published last month, one year in to the so-called ‘voluntary transition’, supported our scepticism when it demonstrated that of 180 pheasant carcasses bought from across the UK and scientifically examined, 179 had been shot with lead ammunition (see here). Not much evidence of transitioning there.

The ‘letter of the week’ in this week’s Shooting Times provides some insight in to the mindset of the shooters. They know that shooting poison in to the environment isn’t ‘the right thing to do’ but they’re going to continue to do it so they’re not left out of pocket and for the price of some lead ammunition, sod humans, wildlife and the environment in the process:

It’s not clear to me why the Government has suddenly done a u-turn, although I’m glad it has. But why on earth is it embarking on a two-year process to ‘review the evidence, conduct a public consultation and propose options for restrictions’? We don’t need two years of more time-wasting. The evidence has been done to death – just look at the amount of science here – another two year’s worth is not going to change the fact that poison is bad for humans to eat and bad for wildlife to eat and shouldn’t be sprayed around the countryside. And why the need for a public consultation? Lead ammunition is poisonous – for us and for wildlife. Who in their right mind is going to argue against getting rid of it?

And is the Government going to impose a ban after its two years of time-wasting? If it does, it’d better make sure that ban is enforced because three separate scientific studies have already shown that compliance with the ban on using lead ammunition over wetlands is appallingly low. These three studies showed that compliance with the regulations was 32% (2001-2), 30% (2008-9 and 2009-10) and 18-23% (2013-14)  – see here.

This is an industry that cannot be trusted, being regulated by a Government that cannot be trusted. Not a great combo for those of us who want to see lead ammunition gone for good without any further delay.

22 thoughts on “Westminster finally agrees to consider lead ammunition ban”

  1. Sadly your post just shows how completely clueless you are regarding the issues of switching away from lead ammunition, and I’m actually a supporter of it happening. There are many reasons lead has been used for hundreds of years and it can’t be banned immediately. Testing has shown damage to guns from other heavy metals. None of the current alternatives work as well or are anywhere near the same cost. In your example from the magazine article those 2000 cartridges probably cost the guy £800 and non toxic would be 50% more. He’d be losing £800 and laying out a further £1200 to replace but then you don’t care about hundreds of thousands of peoples financial losses at a particularly difficult time. Nobody has ever died from eating lead shot game and that’s a fact. Any transition will take many years for alternatives to be developed, which is why a 5 year transition period was negotiated with government and that was before covid stopped testing and shipping in of raw materials from China since this time in 2020.

    1. ‘Banned immediately’, how many years have you had to phase this out? Stop whingeing and do something worthwhile for a change.

    2. A Deadpool indeed. Why DO you pick such a name ?Just bare the costs and stop whinging and whining; this has gone on far far too long already; its decades man and there you are still moaning.

    3. If they made you pay the true cost of dealing with the pollution you cause, having the police charge full price for licensing and monitoring gun ownership and charging a levy to enable them to properly fund the prevention of the wildlife crime associated with your filthy little hobby, it would dwarf whatever you have spent on lead shot – so be grateful you have led a privileged and subsidised life for decades and stop whingeing.

    4. Well, Deadpool, someone from the shooting community was bound to blunder into that one…and you really have. The door of the trap has closed behind you & you have shown why shooting is going down like the Titanic in the court of (esp social media) public opinion. As an example, any Estate or individual who can afford to stockpile more cartridges than they are going to use within a year or so, is not going to attract the sympathy of the average lay person. Likewise, bleating about what will happen to their cabinet full of expensive guns whose barrels are not going to make the transition, is another ignorant shot in the foot.

    5. The issue of lead ammunition has been around for decades and the realistic prospect of a ban is at least 5 years old because it was an EU policy initiative that we would have had to comply with were we still members. To imply that this is some kind of ‘surprise’ and that ‘years’ will be needed to adapt is disingenuous. You’ve already had years to adapt.

      Stockpiling 3 years worth of ammunition while knowing it could be banned any time soon is simply idiotic. However, the lack of care or consideration for the environmental impact of lead shot whilst moaning about the costs really sticks in the craw. Shooting is not a cheap hobby. Even the basic outlay on guns and associated equipment is going to cost several thousand pounds, plus licencing, clothing, transport costs etc. How is it any different to any other hobby like golf or scuba diving? It’s your choice and, like everyone else, you have to obey the rules and have consideration for others as well as the environment.

      Shooting is a discretionary leisure activity. You don’t have to do it and it doesn’t contribute anything to our society or to the countryside itself (don’t try and play the ‘conservation’ card, that’s arrant nonsense and you know it). It is entirely destructive, selfish, exclusionary and completely unnecessary. You having to lay out for a new kind of gun is no more a tragedy than me having to update my scuba diving cylinders to conform to any new regulations. You bear the cost if you want to continue or you give up the hobby. If you vcan’t afford it don’t do it. It’s your choice but you won’t get a lot of sympathy if you whinge about it.

    6. This smacks of CA /Trumpist propaganda, hasty bullshit in the face of overwhelming evidence. No-one ever died from lead shot poisoning….really? The Food Standards Agency is very anxious that we avoid any food containing lead shot, perhaps you know something they dont. What about mental health implications.
      Just missing is the ” the government has far more important matters to consider in a period of unprecedented pandemic disaster” etc etc We’ve heard all this sort of diversionary crap before from you guys. Action please!

  2. Sorry, I am very sceptical about this announcement from DEFRA.
    I suspect this announced ban on lead shot, will be about as effective as the ban on heather burning.
    I only have to go up onto the moors near where I live to see that the heather burning this year is as rampant as ever.
    I expect that just as with the heather burning, there will be so many exemptions, that the reality will a very minimal reduction in the use of lead shot.
    There is too much money involved in an outright ban, whether that be the cost of ammunition or the replacement of guns.
    It is very apparent this government are very adapt at using “sound bite headlines” – when in reality the substance underneath is far from the image the headline conjures up.
    For all the noise about protecting wildlife and the environment – nothing really changes.
    We are almost 2 years on from the State of Nature Report in 2019 and practices which damage the natural environment and wildlife are still permitted.
    Some credit does have to be given to those land owners and estates who are genuinely working hard at conservation, and my hope is they will ban or discourage the use of lead shot on the land they control.
    But the concern is that they are a drop in the ocean of a game shooting industry, which like any business is driven by money and profitability.
    Can any estate afford to turn away a shooting clientele, the majority of who use lead ammunition, and will probably continue to do so, unless the ban on its use is absolute?

    1. Broadly true; but the biggest export hit re Brexit is “live exports”; that will be a massive problem to upland farmers who thought by voting Brexit they could escape EU environment law and have their “Cake and Eat It”. I do not relish this but there will now be a massive restructuring to scale and potentially abandonment ,falling land prices etc etc (scrub err rewilding for the first 50 odd years) as most farmers are 60 plus and they have lost their lucrative Southern EU lamb market………..so opportunities at scale ?

      1. Ok – slightly off-piste reply to the overall thread, but there is already pressure on upland farmers to sell their land to forestry investors and we are seeing a return to the type of large scale conifer afforestation across the UK that brought about the planting of the Flows in the 70s. This is especially the case in the north of England and Scotland.

  3. Ok commercially sold lead cartridges may be banned, but what is to stop people stockpiling and using them for years. Who will police this, random checks by wildlife police at shoots? Not really effective.

    1. Just how much ammunition can Jo Shooter store on his premises? Does it need to be in a fireproof safe, perhaps?

      1. Ammunition is required to be securely stored. The police have the power to inspect it. Should this become law, they would have, I hope, the power to confiscate lead shot should they find it during an inspection. Trouble is, when, if ever, would they inspect it?

        1. Thank you. Perhaps the police might start checking for lead shot when investigating other offences. Drunk driving might be one such.

    2. I hear you, Mike. I have thought for years why is there not an equivalent system (for shooting) of regulation and on the ground checks to freshwater angling in E & W, i.e. funded through fishing licences. The average angler has to pay several tens of pounds for their Licence, so surely Lord Dangle-Berry & Chums can fork out something towards an equivalent shooting regulatory enforcement system.

  4. Defra and their masters really are a bunch of filibustering buffoons, but I suppose it’s no real surprise to many of us … words like ‘consider’ after copious scientific research has shown lead is toxic is just not good enough. It’s time politicians were prevented from having links with any topic under discussion? I doubt disclosure or potential conflict of interest is in their ancient dictionaries ….

  5. A return and (partial) refund policy would bring in some of the stock-piled lead ammunition. Scrap lead is currently worth about £1/kg. The policy would be more effective if a deadline was set, after which possession of lead would be illegal.
    At low levels, lead poisoning, caused by ingestion for example, leads to reduced mental capacity. I sometimes wonder why, in the face of such over whelming evidence against the stuff, it still has so many supporters?

  6. I, personally, feel the whole issue has been drawn out as a PR exercise. When Westminster refuses to change any of the laws regarding DGM’s and the practises associated with them they will point to this ongoing saga to “prove” how unbiased they, the Government, really are.
    If my fears prove justified we will be hearing a lot more about the “revolutionary positivity” and “financial hit” endured by the shooting community thus underscoring their commitment to a new envronmentally aware, direction.
    All BS, of course.

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