Firing blanks

When I worked at the RSPB I got a media summary every day.  I would look forward to Thursday as the Shooting Times would always deliver a few laughs.  You could tell that when there wasn’t anything of great interest to write about in the shooting world they would fill their pages with lurid stories about the RSPB.  Thursday’s media summary would often have an ‘and finally’ piece, just like the 10 o’clock News does, but relating to the Shooting Times.  The Shooting Times was treated as light relief.

, via Wikimedia Commons”]This week the Shooting Times is pretending to have some real news about the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust and their position on wanting a total ban on lead ammunition use in the UK and I expect there will be a few chortles over at Slimbridge about it.

It’s hardly surprising that a conservation organisation which works on wetland wildlife is worried about the use of lead ammunition which is a major killer of that wildlife – and not just when it is propelled into bodies at high speed but also when it is ingested accidentally.

Also in the Shooting Times, Tim Bonner, the Countryside Alliance’s director of campaigns, writes of his ‘sadness that an organisation that was founded by a wildfowler, is supported by so many of the shooting community and which shares exactly the same aim of conserving ducks, geese and waders and the habitats they rely on, should engage in what is (despite the many protestations) a blatant attack on shooting’.

The Countryside Alliance seems to me to be these days an organisation in search of a cause and casting around for a role but to suggest that replacing toxic lead shot with non-toxic non-lead shot is anti-shooting should be laughable to everyone.  The need of the shooting community to paint every criticism as a threat is pathetic really.  There are people who want shooting to be banned but I haven’t met many of them engaging much in the discussions around replacing lead shot with steel, bismuth etc.  Anti-shooters want lead to be replaced with fresh air!

And Sir Peter Scott was indeed a wildfowler in his early years.  I have a copy of his excellent autobiography, The Eye of the Wind, which I received from the great man himself, when as a schoolboy, I won a competition at Slimbridge. In Chapter 26 he writes as follows:

But there comes a time for some men when their first reaction even to the traditional quarry is no longer to kill.‘ and goes on ‘They reach a certain stage, or age, some sooner, some later, when the old phrase which is supposed to epitomise the English country gentleman, ‘It’s a lovely morning; let’s go out and kill something,’ is no longer funny but obscene’. and later ‘After many years of wildfowling the first inklings of this changing attitude came to me on a marsh where, one early spring day in 1932, David Haig Thomas and I had shot twenty-three Greylag geese. Among them were two wounded ones, and as soon as we had picked them up we hoped that they might not die.’.

There are many in the shooting community who have realised for many years that lead shot will, one day, be banned and have come to terms with that change and actually agree with it.  But unfortunately they have been unsuccessful in working for change within the shooting community – although I remember well being told at a Game Fair once that the shooters are riven with factions and in-fighting and don’t really represent a community at all.

, via Wikimedia Commons”]But I am grateful to the Shooting Times for giving me a nudge on this subject.  Its treatment of it has reminded me how little chance there is that the shooting community will move on this issue without being forced to do so by an external force.  And that’s despite the fact that the Danes and many others manage perfectly well without lead ammunition to carry out their shooting.  So I will return to this issue through the summer (if we get a summer).

The one thing that is a bit nasty about this story is that someone within WWT, presumably on their Council or staff, leaked the information to the Shooting Times.  It’s never nice to think that one of your colleagues is a snitch.  I don’t blame the Shooting Times for printing the story but the person who leaked it should be somewhat ashamed as he (or she) has betrayed the trust that has been given to them as either a trustee or staff member of WWT.

Even if Sir Peter Scott had remained a keen wildfowler it is difficult for me to imagine that he would not have suggested to his fellow fowlers that a move to non-toxic shot was not the end of their sport and would inevitably happen eventually because of the impacts on wildlife and potentially on human health.  I think a man as wise as Sir Peter would have advised moving to non-toxic alternative shot quickly and voluntarily rather than looking as though shooters were reluctant to make such an an obvious and sensible change.

Every time some idiot with a gun goes on the rampage, or a fatal accident occurs, or there is any misuse of a firearm all shooters are often unfairly blamed.  But when shooters remain obstinately opposed to small and reasonable changes to the way they carry out their sport then they are shooting themselves in the feet.  Come on wildfowlers, pheasant shooters and grouse shooters – see the bigger picture.  There is a PR victory to be grasped here if only you raise your sights and stop firing blanks in the Shooting Times.

WWT is doing quite well in our poll of UK nature conservation NGOs (which closes on Monday so vote now!) and BASC is doing very badly.


41 Replies to “Firing blanks”

  1. I’m sorry but wounding birds with bad shots and poisoning birds are two wholly unrelated issues and the lead shot poisoning is flawed pseudo science madquerading as facts. The original US results were never tested nor proven just accepted and jumped on as a convenient bandwagon by anti shooters!
    When proper scientific surveys can prove that ingested lead shot is a big nationwide issue and does poison then I will look at alternatives. Until then lobby away for ill judged biased anti shooting legislation as that is the only way I will change when firced to by law as you can’t win an argument when your points are based on half truths and lies!

    1. Tim – welcome to this blog and thank you for your views which I think are wrong, and help to reinforce my own.

    2. Tim, the relationship between lead poisoning in birds and the wounding of birds by bad shots is quite simple really. Birds that are shot but not killed immediately are likely to die soon afterwards (and certain to die eventually!) whereupon the corpse is likely to be scavenged. The scavenger ingests the pellets and, if these are lead, may be poisoned as a consequence. Where an area has a high level of shooting activity using lead shot, birds with strong scavenging tendencies – including various birds of prey – can potentially build up a lethal dose of the toxin or a dose sufficient to cause significant debilitation.

      1. Hi Jon, surely that’s the theory and what Tim is talking about whether their is any evidence that this occurs to any great extent? I’d have thought that tests could be done on dead buzzards, foxes in shooting areas etc to see how much lead they had in them.

        1. Giles – and do you think no-one has done that? Ah it doesn’t appear in the Shooting Times does it? Watch this space.

  2. As some one who is not scarred to give away information when I personally feel wrong has been done the so called ‘sneak’ in WWT is only acting according to his feelings. [In my case it was an RSPB warden causing damage to an SSSI!] If it caused death to humans then you may have a point to mention. As for Tim but dim lead is a massive problem and it seems only the rich want to use it as most wildfowling groups are keen to keep to the law. Did fishermen get upset when it was banned from fishing for killing waterfowl! There were alternatives as there always are in life. So on a positive note lets hope the RSPB join the WWT and not sit on the fence like they do for Hen Harriers.

  3. Did Tim read a different blog to the one I saw?

    My father started as a wildfowler and taught me to shoot when I was very young (but only at tin cans and paper targets). He moved later in life to a conservation focus. I’m proud to be following in his footsteps (just missing out the shooting at wildlife bit)

  4. Blog as good as it gets Mark,well done,there must be a day sometime that you will bite your tongue and sit on the fence but for sure I won’t see the meantime wildlife benefits enormously from your efforts.

  5. Did I not read somewhere recently that in the States (OK it must be wrong!) that the increase in Californian Condor numbers, post reintroduction, was being seriously hampered by them ingesting lead from scavenged carcasses. Which suggests (i) lead is dangerous to wildlife, (ii) Americans wound a fair bit of quarry which doesn’t get recovered and dies later or (iii) they shoot so much they don’t bother picking it all up – none of which are good.
    How much lead has been fired into our environment over the past 150 years from shot guns, where does it go and by how much is it increasing the natural lead content of the soils locally?
    Non-toxic alternatives exist, it’s not rocket science – poisonous or not poisonous the choice is there

    1. David – indeed you did read that. And you will read more about it on this blog over the next few weeks now that the Shooting times has poked this subject with a stick!

  6. Tim,

    Please read the white paper in this link for a summary of “proper scientific surveys” which show that ingested lead is poisonous to wildlife. You can even click on the citations in the reference section to read the original papers.

    This summary was written for the US Congress who were also claiming there was “no credible science” that lead from spent ammunition is negatively impacting wildlife. Even though it has a US-slant the scientific evidence is just as applicable to UK wildlife.

    1. Ruth – thanks for this. You saved me a job – but I will be blogging about the lead issue here more often over the next few weeks thanks to the Shooting times and Countryside Alliance.

  7. That was a particularly unpleasant bit to write Mark. I’m starting to agree with several other views I’ve heard about your agenda and that you want as much conflict and agrument as possible. Everyone seems to be in the firing line these days and just comes in for a bashing. I don’t think you have many friends left now in the farming comunity so I suppose trying to allernate people in the shooting press that you had previously engaged with (your recent bit in ST) is quite conserning.

    1. Julian – thanks for your comment. I have re-read my blog and am struggling to find the bit, or bits, that were ‘particularly unpleasant’. Maybe you could come back and explain which bits were unpleasant and why? And how they rate in unpleasantness compared with the Shooting Times’s articles? But this blog is called ‘Standing up for Nature’ and that’s what it will try to do. And, thank you, I have many friends in the farming community – they don’t think much of the NFU either. But thank you for your comment.

  8. Dear Mark, Thank you for you reply and its a shame that you can’t see how obstructive your comments are to obtaining a consensus which would allow more people to engage willingly in these issues. I am a member of the RSBP, GWCT and the NFU and I have no intention of allowing my prejudices (or anyone elses’) to alienate me from any of these organisations. It’s a far greater challenge to listen and work with people with opposing views to your own but if you’re succesful the rewards are always far greater. The easy option is to always attack and oppose, as you do, people who’s views you don’t like or understand. My issue with you is that I know you do understand these issues in detail, in this case on lead shot, but that you choses not to give any credit at all to thoses on the other side of the issue when they express these concerns and grandstand your morals to their detrement.

    I’m more than happy to discuss things with you further but I feel I’ve made my point and I’m sure you have better things to do than talk to me.

    Kind regards Julian Swift

    1. Julian – no I have nothing better than to discuss your views and my views here. You are very welcome to express your views here. But what you have done is exactly what you accuse me of doing (not that I am complaining – just pointing it out) – you have come on to this site to criticise me for criticising others. That’s quite funny really.

      People often say, as you have done, that it is easy to ‘attack and oppose’ but I don’t think that’s true actually. If it were so easy then we’d see a lot more of it. And although I let the standards slip sometimes here, generally speaking my attacks and opposition are to the views of organisations and aren’t personal.

      I did recognise that there are some in the shooting community who would like to see lead shot removed from the environment when I wrote ‘There are many in the shooting community who have realised for many years that lead shot will, one day, be banned and have come to terms with that change and actually agree with it. But unfortunately they have been unsuccessful in working for change within the shooting community’ but they have made no progress at all over many years. reason is rarely an effective response to intransigence. there may be some examples out there but can you point me to examples in the public domain of the shooting community saying that there is a case for lead shot being banned, phased out, removed or regulated? I’d very much like the references please.

  9. Some of the comments here are unbelieveable! There is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for Wildfowlers not changeing to lead free shot. Anglers made the move years ago with no argument (I was one at the time). And while we’re at it can they pick up their spent cartridge cases when they finished blasting wildfowl from the sky.

  10. Mark – The web version on the Shooting Times article appears to just report the leaked facts and does not offer an opinion on the principle of banning lead shot. Is there explicit opposition expressed in the printed version?

    1. Matt – see the article in the Shooting Times by Tim Bonner of the Countryside Alliance. And the editorial in the Shooting times. And the full article. But read it in the newsagents and then put it back on the shelf!

  11. Dear Mark,

    I’m pleased than I havn’t wasted your time.

    Kind regards Julian Swift.

    p.s you should have picked up on your answer to Andy that lead shop is banned from use over the forshore, all water and sssi, as you well know.

    1. Julian

      You are welcome.


      PS As you know, or should know, compliance with lead regulations is spectacularly poor. This is evidenced by the proportion of lead shot found in waterfowl bought in supermarkets and game dealers. The law is one thing but compliance with it is another. I will come back to all these matters, as promised, through the next few weeks. You will be welcome to comment.

  12. Dear Mark,

    Just to get ready for your debate your contributors might like to read up a bit on the report done in 2009 by the School of Natural Sciences and Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University “Source-pathway-receptor investigation of the fate of trace elements derived from shotgun pellets discharged in terrestrial ecosystems managed for game shooting” which can be found at:-

    “Detailed environmental analysis of soils and biota exposed to
    a lengthy period of game shooting has demonstrated that neither
    display excessive accumulations of potentially toxic metals and
    metalloids. There is some evidence for accumulation of lead in
    selected biota (ryegrass foliage, moss and earthworm gut contents)
    associated with the shooting sites but there is no evidence for the
    mobility of Pb, As or Sb in the labile phase within impacted soils.
    Earthworms and small mammals did not show any clear relationships
    between trace element content of body tissues/hair and trace
    elements in soils that could be explained by bioaccumulation. It is
    concluded that managed game shooting presents a minimal environmental
    risk in terms of transfer of elements such as Pb, As and
    Sb to soils and their associated biota in both shooting woodlands
    and shooting pastures.”

    This of course does not tackle any issues to do with human consumption of game or any build up of lead in raptors etc. nut its a useful point of reference.

    Kind regards Julian Swift

  13. Wildfowlers havent used lead shot for a long time, whats being proposed here is a full ban regardless of the consequenses regardless of the lack of proof regarding actual blood poisoning of birds by lead shot ingestion. Still no real proof out there and you wont find it because lead poisoning takes more years to kill than the average bird ever lives.
    Do some real research and dont just use google!

  14. Have to smile when I see comments like lead shot is banned over waterways 🙂 Yes in Scotland it is but down south it’s species specific.

  15. What we are talking about here is a complete lead ban.

    I accept the necessity for banning lead on wetland, where the toxic effect of ingested lead on wildfowl is beyond doubt. Secondary toxicity from scavenging carcasses – I’d like to see some toxicological data that highlights the incidence of secondary poisoning from this vector.

    Non-lead alternatives are ballistically poorer than lead – you may get less poisoning but that is offset by more wounding. Tungsten and Bismuth are just as “toxic” as lead – numerous studies show the association between Tungsten fragments and a variety of cancers. Steel is ballistically very poor (it’s too hard) and there is current concern that ingested steel shot remains in the GI tract and presents a very real threat to those who undergo MRI scans.

    A targeted ban of lead (which we already have) where there is demonstrable benefit, such as wetland is sensible and the right thing to do. Banning lead ammunition altogether will lead to more wounded birds and a potential threat to human health.

    Is this your preferred option?

    1. Richard – interesting and well-made points, thank you. Point me in the direction of the Tungsten/cancer link please. We have a targetted ban of lead which is widely ignored – see Eirik’s comment – and so further measures are needed to deal with just the issue that you acknowledge (let alone those that we haven’t got onto yet). If shooters ignore the law then it will be their own fault when lead ammunition is banned.

      1. Ok, let’s break this down a little further.
        Lead as it exists in a shotgun cartridge is inorganic. Skin absorption of this is pretty poor, so main routes to toxicity are inhalation and ingestion. Lead is far more toxic as as a volatile inhalant in comparison to ingestion. For particulate lead that is inhaled about 40% ends up in the lungs, of which approximately 90% is absorbed into the blood stream, where it is (without going into the complicated bio-toxicity, it’s a lot more complicated) pretty toxic. Inorganic lead that is ingested has approximately a 15% absorption rate, so in real terms is a much less “toxic” vector. (However I realise that the chances of wildlife being poisoned by inhalation of lead is minute). However, that means you have to ingest approximately 6 times more inorganic lead to have a similar effect to that absorbed by inhalation. So, ingestion of inorganic lead is a relatively poor way of eliciting a toxic effect.
        However, approx. 95% of absorbed lead is deposited in bone. Lead stored in bone has a half life of approximately 25 years. So it hangs around for a long time, leaching out and being potentially toxic. Lead has a exposure index of approx 30 micro grams/dl of blood, with toxicity seen at anywhere between 30 – >80 micro grams/dl of blood.
        What does this mean? Well, it means you will get very sick if you inhale lead fumes, but you have to eat a fair amount of it before you will be poisoned. In wetlands that have a high density of shooting research shows that lead accumulates in the crop/gizzard where it is gradually absorbed as it is used to grind food. Over an extended period of time, this will undoubtedly lead to toxicity, and potentially death.
        In a non-wetland environment, where the density of feeding wildfowl will be considerably less, the incidence of lead ingestion will be less. Not negligible, but certainly considerably less. Does this not argue for a geographic ban of lead shot rather than a species specific one? I suspect that you non compliance with non-toxic, which is undoubtedly the case is a factor of foreshore vs inland wildfowling.

        Let’s turn to the toxicology of the “non-toxic” alternatives.

        The ballistically acceptable alternatives to lead tend to be tungsten and bismuth. Both relatively dense, heavy metals. Both have a significant toxicological profile. Tungsten is pretty inert in it’s metallic form, however tungsten shot is not pure tungsten, there is a relatively high degree of contamination with cobalt, which can react in the body to form free radicals, which are implicated in the aetiology of cancer. There are a number of studies looking into this at the moment; results are not conclusive as yet; but it is certainly a cause for concern (Mark I will PM you further peer reviewed papers if you would like)
        Scientific literature concurs with the idea that bismuth and its compounds are less toxic than lead or its other periodic table neighbours and that it is not bioaccumulative. Its biological half-life for whole-body retention is 5 days but it can remain in the kidney for years in patients treated with bismuth compounds.
        Bismuth poisoning exists and mostly affects the kidney, liver, and bladder. Skin and respiratory irritation can also follow exposure to respective organs. Bismuth’s environmental impacts are not very well known. It is considered that its environmental impact is small, due in part to the low solubility of its compounds. Limited information however means that a close eye should be kept on its impact.,_Often_Mild,_Can_Result_in_Severe.12.aspx

        1. Richard – that is a brilliant comment. Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to post it. Very much appreciated.

          Yes I’d be interested to receive any more references, thank you.

          The problem with lead is not just waterfowl ingesting it but predators ingesting it from a variety of prey species, dead and alive. Birds such as white-tailed eagles feed on waterfowl – including injured ones of course, and also on carrion such as rabbits and deer. California condors recovery is prejudiced by lead ingestion from carcasses shot with lead bullet and shot.

  16. Its now two years since DEFRA-funded research showed “Non-compliance with the Regulations was high and widespread across English Government Office regions with 70% of ducks (344/492) overall having been shot with lead.”

    I wonder how many more years will pass before there is a policy response from government to the fact that this legislation is clearly ineffective at achieving its aim?

    1. Eirik – welcome and a very good point. 70% non-compliance is extreme. And as I remember it further studies showed that shooters were deliberately ignoring the law, they weren’t ignorant of it.

  17. Taking a bit of a step back isn’t it rather surprising that we’re discussing the whole issue of launching significant quantities of a known extreme toxin into the environment, especially as we know it can enter the food chain ?

    Imagine for a moment what would happen if someone came up with the bright, new idea of using lead for shot today – how far would it get ?

    We’ve seen increasing restrictions on a range of pesticides/herbicides in recent years, aiming quite rightly for close to zero risk to humans. Surely we need to think again rather more fundamentally about this whole issue ?

  18. Dear Mark, are you not going to put up my last reply about toxins in the enviroment and especially lead shot ?. It might go some way to answering Roderick’s point.


  19. We in the uk have the most tested deceased birds in possibly the world. I have never noticed lead deposits in the reports but most do have rodenticides !!
    So if we are having a logical argument then a ban on rat poisons should be high on the agenda.
    Don’t start me on neonicotinoid’s that are wiping out the worlds bees.
    Lead shot pales into insignificance considering the above !!

  20. Mark

    Wildfowlers in general do not shoot ducks or geese over wetlands with lead, where it is believed to cause harm. I’ve been a Wildfowler since the 90’s and I have never seen anyone pull the trigger with a lead cartridge in it over wetland. Hands on heart and ice shot with hundreds of other wimdfowlers over the years. The 70% of ducks, shot contained lead is misleading. Most ducks that are shot, are reared for shooting and shot over dry land. This is where the law is ingnored. As the shooting community cannot understand the logic of being able to shoot a pheasant that comes over the trees with lead, but not the duck that follows.

    I have eaten a significant amount of meat that I have shot, both with a rifle and a shotgun. I personally prefer to eat wild meat, than farmed animals. I have a huge number of colleagues that have done the same. We have all consumer tons of meat that has been shot with lead and have shown no ill effects. We all have healthy children etc etc.

    The shooting community have eaten more lead shot meat than, says a fox would, if it consumed the odd carcass, from a bird not found and retrieved.

    This brings me to another point. I as most of us do, shoot with a gun dog. It’s a very rare day indeed that between us we don’t find and retrieve what we shoot.


  21. Mark

    Another quick point. I have known that Peter Scott was a Wildfowler. Most of us know this? It’s not a leak. I, as have hundreds of other wildfowlers over the years, did my bird identification course in order to join my local wildfowling club at WWT Slimbridge. This was resposibly, run by the trusts wardens (employees), to ensure that we could accurately identify legal quarry. They were always very open and honest about the trusts origins. We all as a result have a deep respect for our quarry and would never use lead over wet land.


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