New study shows pheasants still full of poisonous lead shot two years after ‘voluntary transition’ to non-toxic shot

Two years ago today, 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 were the first supermarket to be heading towards a ban on selling game meat shot with lead ammunition (see here, but who seem to have been duped by the shooting industry this season – here) and Lincolnshire Game.

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

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

Last year, exactly one year after the shooting organisations’ announcement that the industry would make a five-year voluntary transition to non-toxic shot, scientists from the Shot Switch Project published research that showed of 180 pheasant carcasses examined from the 2020/2021 shooting season and found to contain shot, 179 of them had been shot with lead ammunition (99.4%).

Today, exactly two years after the shooting organisations’ announcement, the Shot Switch scientists have published another paper showing that of 215 pheasant carcasses examined from the 2021/2022 shooting season and found to contain shot, 214 of them had been shot with lead ammunition (99.5%).

And although the paper documents significant efforts made by at least two shooting organisations to educate their members (GWCT and BASC), it’s clear that they’re being ignored. You only have to read the letters pages of Shooting Times to see that, two years on, some shooters are still raging about what they see as an imposed ban and are refusing to engage. There’s even a new campaign group called ‘Save Our Lead Shot’!!

That’s hardly a surprise since the shooting organisations have spent decades arguing for lead ammunition and refusing to accept the toxic threat it poses to humans and wildlife. They only U-turned in 2020 because they could see the bans being implemented in Europe and knew it was only a matter of time before the UK followed. The industry wanted to be seen as responsible, forward-thinking and capable of self-regulation.

That’s not going so well, is it?

18 thoughts on “New study shows pheasants still full of poisonous lead shot two years after ‘voluntary transition’ to non-toxic shot”

  1. Talking of poison, Chris Loder, our West Dorset MP is still peddling his misinformation campaign about the threat of white-tailed carrying off cats and dogs from residents’ gardens, etc. (See the letters page in today’s issue of The Bridport News).

    In haste,

    Brian J.

    1. Thanks for drawing attention to Loder’s letter which I have just read. Apparently, he thinks that those who agree with him are “sensible, balanced people” whilst those who do not are all “unpleasant social media ‘trolls’ or activists”.

      1. I believe this is a deliberate new strategy orhestrated by Conservative Party Central Office. I expect others might have noted the same tactic being used following the vote on sewage discharge into rivers. Tory MPs were describing those who criticised their vote as “activists” “spreading hatred”. It’s a deliberate attempt to conflate dissent with terrorism and subversion

          1. Luckily for my sanity, I dont have access to the mind of every Tory MP, but not all of them follow the orders of Central Office

              1. You have missed the point of my comment. Suggesting dissenting views are necessarily those of “activists” who are set on “subversion” is consistent with a Government that is intent on marginalising and criminalising protest. The current Police Bill provides unequivocal evidence of this.

                1. So, you have no evidence of ‘orders’ from Tory Central Office, and no evidence to support your ‘belief (that) this is a deliberate new strategy orchestrated by Conservative Central Office’.

                  Making up untruthful conspiracy accusations may serve your purpose of attacking the Tory Party but it diverts from the wildlife issue of what Loder said, and it serves to alienate Tories in Government who have isolated Loder on the issue.

                  I do not think that helps our case at all.

    1. Just in case you don’t know: on the last series of “The Life Scientific” on radio 4, one of the scientist being interviewed had done a lot of studying of lead shot – her conclusion high-lighted its dangers

  2. I remember as a young boy in the 1950s living in a Victorian house with lead water pipes. It was common practice to run the tap for a while first thing in the morning to clear away lead contaminated water. So what is there to prove?
    Doesn’t anybody do history at school any more. Clearly not with Ukraine.

  3. I totally agree that lead should be banned ,I use steel shot and find it copes very well with killing wildfowl efficiently however no known deaths of people through eating lead through game consumption ,also the wads that carry the shot are mainly plastic the ammunition makers are leading the way in making biodegradable wads and to be fair this is slowing them down no big corporations that use more plastic than us (pespi.coca cola.etc )are even looking or putting research into this .we are getting there but slowly

    1. As far as I know, you’re right that there are “no deaths” unequivocally linked to lead in game, but there is good evidence that the families and children of shooters are exposed to harm. For instance, a review of European data said, “approximately 5 million people in the EU may be high-level consumers of lead-shot game meat and tens of thousands of children in the EU may be consuming game contaminated with ammunition-derived lead frequently enough to cause significant effects on their cognitive development.” (Green et al 2019)

      It isn’t just whole shot that present a risk, but the fine lead dust that shot can leave behind and that is difficult to remove, even with cleaning.

      I struggle to understand how anyone – including shooters – could look at this evidence and not campaign for an immediate ban.

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