According to a survey, a voluntary phase-out of lead shot in the UK had almost no effect, with 99.5 percent of birds killed containing the hazardous metal.
While other sectors have been compelled to phase out lead, which has been banned from paint and fuel for decades, shooters are still allowed to use it, despite the fact that it may damage land and wildlife.
In 2020, the British Association of Shooting and Conservation, along with other shooting organizations, declared that lead will be phased out by 2025, and encouraged its members to begin transitioning.
However, experts from the University of Cambridge discovered that nothing had changed since this goal was proclaimed. Their study last year showed that 99.4% of recovered pheasants contained lead shot. This year, the amount has marginally increased to 99.5%.
The study, published in Conservation Evidence, states: “We found that 99.5% of the 215 pheasants from which shotgun pellets were recovered had been killed using lead ammunition. We conclude that the shooting and rural organisations’ joint statement and two years of their considerable efforts in education, awareness-raising and promotion, have not yet had a detectable effect on the ammunition types used by hunters who supply pheasants to the British game meat market.”
The scientists obtained 336 whole birds or oven-ready prepared carcasses from 70 businesses of various types, and at least one shot and/or shot fragment was recovered from 215. Chemical analysis then found that of the 215 pellets analysed, lead was the principal element in 214 pellets.
Wild Justice, a wildlife campaign group, said “Another 12 months of zero progress from the shooting industry. All talk and no action. UK governments should simply ban the use of lead ammunition rather than let this charade continue.”
Research by the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust showed that between 50,000 and 100,000 wildfowl die in the UK each year as a result of ingesting lead from used pellets.
Despite being highly toxic, the pellets are often mistaken for food by wildfowl. A further 200,000 to 400,000 birds suffer welfare or health impacts, and animals that predate on wildfowl can also suffer.
Some shooters complain steel is more difficult to use, as it is lighter, spreads less and has denser shot patterns, resulting in less margin for error in gun handling and trigger timing. Others are concerned that older guns cannot safely be used with steel shot, meaning they will have to buy a new one.
The government is currently considering plans to ban lead, and Waitrose announced in 2019 that it would not be stocking game meat shot with lead pellets.
Adrian Blackmore, director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance said: “The Countryside Alliance remains firmly committed to a voluntary transition away from lead shot and single-use plastics for all live quarry shooting using shotguns by 2025. We are only two years into that five-year transition period; a period during which we have had to live with the Covid pandemic. Cartridge manufacturers are also committed to this. However the industry has been under immense pressure due to disrupted global logistics supply chains and commodity shortages caused by the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.”
This article by Helena Horton was first published by The Guardian on 24 February 2022. Lead Image: A male pheasant. Of pellets analysed from 215 birds, lead was the principal element in all but one. Photograph: Major Wildlife/Alamy.
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