Where are we on lead shot?

by Deborah Hadfield

 Where are we on lead shot? A study by Cambridge University, reported in the Guardian, finds that 99.5% of 215 pheasants killed with shotgun pellets contain lead.

In 2020, BASC and other shooting groups agreed that shooters in England would phase out lead shot over a five-year period after they agreed there is no ‘safe level’ for lead in the human body.

Andrew Venables is the managing director of  WMS Firearms Training. He says it is interesting to see different perspectives on the issues. He says: “A couple of years ago, nine of the shooting NGOs got together and announced that there would be a five-year working moratorium virtually on actually looking to see how the shooting industry can move away from LED on a voluntary basis. This was due to proceed any sort of ban that may come at governmental or international levels on the use of land in different ammunition types, notably in this case, shotgun ammunition.

“I am in no way surprised that the results of the two surveys that have been done in the first and second years of what is a voluntary moratorium following up the work that has been done over the last 15 or so years on the ban on lead shot in wetlands for the shooting of ducks, geese, and things.”

Mr Venables says there is still a huge amount of ammunition in circulation. He says: “While I do read the science with concern and interest in great detail, I remain unaware at this stage of anyone in my 62 years of life in the shooting community who spent an awful lot of time eating game meat who has yet to come to any harm from eating it.”

The firearms trainer has worked with lead-free rifle ammunition. He says: “I’m working for choice. I am actually not working for a ban. If a ban comes we should be ready to meet it. This is a process of voluntarily looking at the alternatives spreading the news through the shooting community, which is a fairly conservative sort of institution. Country people look like they did ten, 15, 20, 30 in some cases 60 years ago. Country folks are slow to change. They need good reasons to change. They believe very much in their own lifestyle and what has been going on in the past because much of it is proven to be best practice. The research being done is good because it tells us what’s going on.”

Cartridge manufacturers have struggled to raise the finance for the machinery to replace lead shot with steel shot. The industry has been under pressure due to restrictions caused by the pandemic. Mr Venables says the research may be a call to the shooting community. He says: “Some may wish to accelerate their potential embracing of alternatives, should law make them change, that’s great. I am not surprised; I am not appalled.

“I note that the profile of some newspapers is much keener to actually knock shooting sports and the people who are providing most of the country’s conservation and the payment and labour behind that rather than to congratulate them on work done.”

Wild Justice is calling on the Westminster government to ban the use of lead ammunition, and DEFRA confirms it may introduce a ban via a government order called a statutory instrument. Mr Venables says the campaign group is always critical of the fieldsports community. He says: “Wild Justice, in my experience, has never had a good thing to say about anything to do with the countryside, country sports, and the people who do deliver almost all of the country’s viable conservation projects.

“They are strapped to a socio-economic whipping post. I am not in the least bit surprised. They have nothing good to say because they are so subjective. They ignore all the good science which demonstrates the work that is done in conservation by the countryside and fields sports community. Then they cherry-pick their way through any sensational rumor mill or scaremongering that they can in order to attack the people who deliver most of the UK, and indeed the world’s, conservation wildlife management and habitat preservation.”

Mr Venables says that Wild Justice is desperate to raise money. He says: “They’ve lost every single legal case they’ve tried to force into the judiciary with regard to shooting sports over the last four or five years and perhaps they’re going broke.”

Mr Venables is having a positive experience with lead-free ammunition. He says: “I regard myself as a fairly experienced practitioner in shooting, despite some of the science indicating differently I’ve actually opened my mind to the lead-free steel shot and focusing on the steel over the last four or five years, actually, for all of my shooting game, rough shooting, pigeons or whatever. For my own needs and the shotguns, I own, which is a reasonable cross-section of shotguns available. I have had no problem. I have been quite pleasantly surprised myself, that as far as I can shoot a shotgun and put a pattern in the right place. If I do it at a reasonable distance, which I would say is about 35, 40, 45 yards or metres, if you are if you’re metric. Nobody on the little syndicate shoots I’m on seems to have any problem with my shooting or my ability to humanely down birds.”

He says his personal experience without lead shot is going well. He says: “I stopped using lead four or five years ago now for all my game shooting. I did it on a voluntary basis, so I am not trying force anyone else. Nothing that I have actually shot at, at what I regard to be a reasonable and humane and sensible distance, seemed to have any complaint.

“My freezers are full of meat which I’m happy to feed myself, my family and my grandchildren on the basis that I actually do believe it’s perhaps better to move away from lead.”

Mr Venables says it is with rifle shooting where the lead dispersion is different in the animal and therefore small particles of lead could enter people’s bodies. He says: “In my own personal subjective opinion, I know a lot of 80- and 90-year old’s who have eaten game all their lives and they seem to be fine.

“I do not seek a ban, but if one’s coming and we can’t do anything to stop I will be fine with it because I’ve embraced the future.  I’m happy I have alternatives for my rifle shooting and my shotgun shooting.”

The firearms trainer believes it’s important the shooting community embraces change. He says: “We live in democracies. The farming and field sports community is less than 2% of the population of any European country. If the overall vote is to ban it I am happy I have alternatives. If I have to change some small aspects of my shooting practices to help the whole thing work even better gas, well, I can do that because what’s wrong with a bit of improvement and change in life?”

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