Leading the way

By Rev. Thomas Davidson 1856-1923 (ed.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Do you remember that the Shooting Times were given a copy of a WWT Council paper on their position on lead ammunition  back in the spring?  As I said at the time, it’s hardly surprising that a nature conservation organisation is against the use of a type of ammunition that poisons some of its victims as well as killing some by more conventional means.  Accidental ingestion of lead by wildfowl (who mistake the shot for grit or in some cases perhaps for snails or seeds) and raptors (who ingest tiny fragments which distribute themselves through shot carcasses) are important causes of mortality.

And so, it comes as no surprise to learn that the RSPB has recently hardened its policy stance on lead ammunition to be against the use of lead gunshot and will also seek controls on the possession and sale of lead gunshot and the sale of birds shot with lead.

Denmark did all of this, and more, years ago.  It’s not a threat to shooting, it’s a threat to irresponsible spreading of poisons through the environment and food chains (including human food chains).



31 Replies to “Leading the way”

  1. Once again thanks for making us aware of this issue. Wish our govts would be a little more pro active like our neighbours . As you not a threat to the shooting fraternity …. Is there any scientific evidence of human ingestion , if so I would imagine this this would hasten policy change on lead shot !

  2. As always very interesting! Wouldn’t it be good if shooting and conservation organisations would come together on this. This and other issues always seem to divide the worlds of shooting and conservation. Really shooting and conservation are motivated by the same values (difficult to believe after recent news items) and more co operation would be beneficial to all. As the world of NGO’s fight in their own corner the goals of the RSPB and BASC don’t seem so far apart!

    1. Mark – shooting organisations have been well aware of the impacts of lead as a poison for many years. In private, many senior members of the shooting community express the view that the days of lead ammunition are numbered. They look at the evidence of environmental damage, of some human health dangers and the fact that other countries where shooting is a large rural pastime have switched to non-toxic ammunition and they realise that change is inevitable. However, in public there is no move towards the inevitable. An ill-led bunch.

  3. Banning lead weights (??) in fishing didn’t end fishing, I don’t understand why lead ammunition hasn’t been banned already! Let’s hope changes happen soon for wildlife and human health!

    1. Emma – very good point. No it didn’t, although there was the same type of ‘dig-your-heels-in’ opposition to removal of lead weights. And, i am old enough to remember that the motor industry were against the removal of lead from petrol – driving was going to grind to a halt and/or become lots more expensive too.

  4. As a shooter and a conservationist (I was actually a conservationist and ornitholigist before taking up shooting in my teens) I really do wonder about the subject of spent lead shot in the environment.

    Lead is a poisonous metal, of that there is absolutely no doubt. However, I really do wonder exactly how much of a threat spent lead shot really is, both for wildlife and humans who consume game shot with lead.

    If duck, for example, are taking in lead pellets with grit, mud or sand, and are subsequently being poisoned by it, how come I don’t find any dead or dying duck when I’m out either bird watching or wildfowling?

    Please don’t tell me that they’re all immediatelty scooped up by predators (and, if the predators happen to be raptors, then they subsequently go on to die from ingesting lead) as I know this isn’t the case. My years of experience conducting beached bird surveys for the BTO back in the 1970s, as well as common sense, tells me that plenty of dead birds get washed up around the coast without being consumed immediately by predators or scavengers.

    1. Gethin – thank you. A common riposte. I’ve hardly ever seen a dead bird considering how many die! And I have never seen a sparrowhawk kill a songbird (certainly that I can remember) and yet I have a feeling that they do!

      For more on lead, on both wildlife impacts and human impacts – watch this space (in fact, come back tomorrow and on Friday and probably some time next week). Also put ‘lead’ into the search engine on this site for some previous blogs etc. But how about this quote from the USA as an example ‘It was estimated that about 1.6 to 3.9 million waterfowl died each year in North America from lead poisoning before the national ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991’?

      But denial of the science would make more sense (not much, but more) if there weren’t non-toxic alternative ammunition available that is used widely elsewhere in the world. Why do British shooters make such a fuss about using non-toxic ammunition? The Danes use nothing else.

      I think you’ll find that the Beached Bird Surveys were for the RSPB.

  5. I believe that the International Game and Wildlife Conservation Council – a pro shooting organisation – has recognised both that lead ammunition presents a genuine risk to wildlife through ingestion of spent shot and that satisfactory alternatives to lead are available. There seems to be no good reason to persist with the use of lead shot.

  6. Lead paint was banned from sale in the UK back in 1992 and yet lead shot is still being used for shooting purposes. Doesn’t make any sense at all to me.

      1. Mark – the list goes on but still doesn’t make any sense to me! Maybe I’m missing something?

  7. Thanks for your response, Mark but the last thing I am doing is denying the science, as you will see if you read what I posted. I repeat, Lead is a poisonous metal. If you ingest enough of it, whether you’re a mallard or a human being, then you will be poisoned.

    What I have considerable doubts over is spent lead shot causing mortality among wild bird populations. How many wildfowl are poisoned, fall ill and, at worst, die, directly because of ingested lead shot? How do these numbers, whatever they may be, compare to other causes of mortality among wild bird populations? What species are affected? Are some specied of duck, for instance, more at risk due to their feeding habits? (e.g. mallard dabbling in mud compared to wigeon grazing in plants).

    My simple point is that if birds, and not only wildfowl, were dying in significant numbers from the effects of lead ingestion, then people like you and I who spend lots of time observing birds out in the countryside would find them.

    As for lead alternatives, I use nothing but non-toxic shot (bismuth ans tungsten) for wildfowling and have used nothing else since 1999. It’s more expensive than lead and hasn’t the same effective range from a 12 bore that lead has but I use it and don’t grumble. As a wildfowler, for me, the welfare of the birds comes first every time.

    I can’t remember seeing a sparrowhawk kill a songbird either though but I did see a hobby spectacularly take a swallow in flight earlier on this month (just on the outskirts of Moscow)

    1. Gethin – thank you. Keep watching this blog for more evidence but I just wish more wildfowlers would do what you do – as you know, many do not and break the law.

      I struggle to remember seeing any raptor take anything except for once in Kenya (I might blog about that some time). Hobby – seen them eating dragonflies often; peregrine – have seen the beginning of several chases that looked like they would end in kills but not the conclusions; golden eagle – never; kestrels and owls – often seen voles caught and eaten; buzzard – can’t remember anything except eating earthworms in ploughed fields! But they all kill lots! If you go back to my blog of 2 October 2011 you will read of the closest I have got to seeing a peregrine make a kill.

      1. I have twice seen a sparrowhawk make a kill and once a peregrine. Perhaps it’s better to be lucky than good.

          1. The evidence would suggest luck. Both sparrowhawk kills were witnessed through the kitchen window whilst washing-up (several years apart) so pure fluke. The peregrine kill even flukier, a case of looking up to the sky at precisely the right time whilst surveying some very bland grassland in deepest Cheshire.

  8. It is still legal to use lead shot for angling but only in size 8 (0.06g) down to size 13 (0.01g). It is also legal to use lead weights over 1oz.

    It strikes me that this needs re-examining. Are wildfowl capable of deciding that size 6 (0.8g) shot are safe to ingest but that size 8 or smaller should be avoided ?

    I am a fisherman by the way.

  9. Mark, I must take you up on your suggestion that ‘many wildfowlers break the law’ and use lead shot when shooting wildfowl.

    The particular problem of lead shot being used to shoot duck, as revealed by the RSPB when testing samples of duck sold at game dealers and supermarkets, lies with inland commercial shoots where a duck drive may form part of the day’s shooting. This is, of course, a clear breach of the law and shoot captains should strictly enforce a lead ban during duck drives with their Guns.

    Wildfowling takes place on the foreshore and any wildfowler worthy of the name hasn’t used lead for years, and I suspect would be highly unlikely to shoot enough duck to sell his surplus to a game dealer – every wildfowler I know shoots for the pot.

    1. Gethin – I stand corrected. You are right. But the level of non-compliance was 70% in that survey of ducks in game dealers etc wasn’t it? 70% illegally shot?

  10. I saw a spectacular sparrowhawk kill of a Great Tit on a bird feeder at the Lodge whilst getting some air at lunchtime ! And I’m pretty sure I had one in the next door garden two weeks ago – Sparrowhawk came in very, every quiet, swept up to the tree and I’m pretty sure struck a bird.

    I know its a bit different, but the death of Swans from fishing weights was incredibly obvious and public – as the poison took hold the birds were unable to hold their heads up and their long necks sagged towards the water – very sad.

    I’ve made comments before about shooting putting its own house in order and this is one issue where, if as a result of possible breaches in a reasonable law for wildfowl, all lead ends up getting banned it will be another example of the consequences of loss of public support leading to restrictions. Its a pity because I’m convinced the responsible core of shooting understand this only too well – I wish they would stand up for what they know is right, even if only behind closed doors.

  11. Mark Hi, I was interested in your comment on non lead shot and the Danish experience. I have several Danish farming friends and have been both a guest and observer on Danish shoots. I was alarmed by the number of wounded birds and also by the patterning of the non lead shot after firing. I was a bit surprised as the Danes have led the pack in this so I spent some time discussing this with them as it will come on the UK and some point. The commonly held view was that non lead was inferior at range than lead and that at shorter ranges it clumped in the pattern. I can’t comment as I’m not a ballistics expert but I would be reluctant to use it without a better explanation of its effects on shot birds. Another point they were keen to make was the effect of steel shot on the forestry industry where it has apparently cause damage to milling machines in lumber mills as its harder than lead.

  12. “it’s a threat to irresponsible spreading of poisons through the environment”

    Mark’s blog is subtitled “Standing up for Nature” – for understandable reasons the debate here is often bird-centred – but protecting Nature requires a bottom-up approach. If there were titles like “Fighting for Archaea”, “Marching for Mycorrhiza” or “Heroic free-living Nematodes” – who wouldn’t go out and buy those books? Well, nearly everybody wouldn’t – no “Ahhh!” value, an impossible number to tick off your list, and rank outsiders for the Countryfile calendar.

    But what with them being essential for the survival of “higher” life-forms and all, we should be if anything more concerned about them. So perhaps we should not worry about the shot which hits the target, which the shooter then eats at his own risk, but the shot which misses and accumulates over time in the uppermost soil horizons.

    All because people like playing with guns …

  13. Anyone who does not believe lead shot poisons need to speak to a customer of mine whose Harris Hawk eat a maimed shot squirrel and nearly dies, costing him thousands in vet fees and a heck of upset.

  14. Why not just shoot clay pigeons always seemed more fun than blowing some birds brain out. Or just join the army? Be warned the wildlife can shoot back though, not fair….I know!

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